Behind the Scenes: Axe – The Long Journey

Ordinarily for these kinds of projects where a human character is riding on top of a fully CG creature, the best practice would be to make a digital double in CG of that human character and animate them secondary to the creature that they’re on. However, due to circumstances, UNIT had to marry the live action rider with the CG bull, which is about as hard as it gets in this industry! 

First and foremost was the creature design. UNIT knew that in order to tell the story correctly, the bull had to be big, muscular and scary in order to drive the message across that the hero had managed to tame something so ferocious and feral. After studying numerous references, UNIT found a dozen or so photographs of a particular bull that all parties were happy with, so the task began of matching the proportions and sculpting the musculature in 3D. Once complete, UNIT began the task of grooming all of the fur across the animal, except adding more matted and roughed up patches to really make the bull feel wild. Further imperfections like dried mud and patches of grass and straw helped to reinforce his feral nature.

By the time that the creature was nearing completion, the shoot had begun in Mexico, which was being supervised on-location and also remotely by members of the team at UNIT in London. The team in London studied footage of people riding various cattle and bulls at differing speeds, so an idea had been grasped on how a person atop should be behaving. For one of the two main riding shots, the bull needed to be angrily bucking the rider off its back. For the actor’s performance here, it was decided it would be best to shoot him on a mechanical bull, which would then be painted out and replaced with the animated 3D creature. For other shots, it was decided to either use the mechanical bull in a different mode, or for any walking shots, the production company were able to source a local bull that was comfortable to be ridden! In the last case, UNIT were able to match the movement of the live action bull in 3D, which unfortunately was white, but exactly the same height as the modelled creature.

In terms of Sound, UNIT were told to have some fun with it and not be too serious – music to Sound Designer Jamie Thomas’ ears. With sound design, UNIT designed the entire piece from scratch, using a mix of FOLEY, SFX already stored (recorded and Library) and SFX made (to replicate the angry bull – a pitched down human snort). The quick cuts at the beginning in the vein of Edgar Wright set the tone for the comedy element and kept with the light hearted-nature of the spot to go with fairly clunky sounds (cloth whoosh, zipper, laces etc), whilst maintaining the rhythmical and light tone.

There were many environments to account for and UNIT were mindful of this, ensuring each one felt different. The last few shots were all about the awkwardness and anticipation when the hero gets to the door, which was magnified by the heightened village atmosphere and birdsong to accentuate the calm after the journey, with the addition of a few nondescript shuffles to build on the awkwardness.

The grade brief provided to UNIT’s Creative Director of Colour, Denny Cooper, was to make the colours pop but keep the overall look natural and a little desaturated. With the spot being filmed on anamorphic lenses, accompanied with the grain added by UNIT, the cinematic feel of the piece was considerably enhanced. UNIT’s CG team collaborated with Denny supplying him with mattes for the bull so this could easily be adjusted independent of the rest of the scene. Once the final conform was completed, a DCP was done to help sit in the sky replacement that had been comped into the raw shots. 

A VFX-heavy project such as this works seamlessly when all artists involved have an open channel of communication. UNIT’s fully integrated all under one roof facility ensures quick and efficient contact throughout the team, and paired with one producer overseeing every element, it’s the collaboration of dreams!  UNIT are extremely pleased with the final product and look forward to building upon their creatures portfolio further!


Client: Axe
Title: The Long Journey

Agency: MullenLowe London
Agency Producers: Alex Pemberton, Claire Toms & Alexia Saunders
Creatives: Gavin Nastili, Tarik Bedevi & Gavin Cumin
Global Business Director – IPG: Federico Duberti
Group Account Director: Gavin Fullick & Samar Rezvan

Production Company: Rebolucion
Director: Luis Gerard
Producers: Germán Sánchez & Florencia Arrizabalaga

2D Lead: Fraser Cleland
Nuke: Leanne Pletersky
3D Lead: Sid Harrington-Odedra
3D Artists: Arnaud De Mullenheim, Jofre Balboa, Fabio Messina, Felip Docolomansky & Josh Barlow
Shoot VFX Supervisor: Miguel De Hoyos
Design: Matt Rowley
Colour: Denny Cooper
Sound Design: Jamie Thomas
Sound Mix: Hannah Webster
Producer: Isabella Wakley