If the success of a commercial is measured by the number of heads it turns, then Galaxy chocolate's latest ad is nothing short of triumphant. Set against the idyllic Mediterranean coastline of the 1960s, the company's one-minute spot features ostensibly authentic footage of Audrey Hepburn — the late film and fashion icon whose slender, elfin visage evokes a Golden Age beauty that, for most, is beyond the realm of imitation. Yet that's exactly what production company Framestore pulled off for Galaxy, thanks to advanced VFX techniques and a meticulous attention to detail.
Framestore began by searching for a suitable Hepburn double — someone, ideally, who would "share as many of her features and characteristics as possible." Once identified, the doppelganger's face was scanned using a facial action coding system that allowed Framestore to extract the muscle movements and textures needed to build a more faithful, CG Hepburn. Upon the completion of live shooting along the Amalfi Coast, the team returned to its in-house Capture Lab to further refine their actress' face, smoothing out transitions and expressions for animation.
But their facial scans proved rather inexact. "Facial scanning usually provides exact shapes of the person who needs to be recreated," Framestore explains on its site, "but in this instance, the scans only provided a template based on the double who, although she looked similar to Audrey Hepburn, was nonetheless a different person with different nuances." As a result, they had to build a 3D model of the iconic actress, using footage from her film catalog as well as old images and documentaries.
Imitating the inimitable
Framestore finalized its recreation after using the Arnold renderer to "perfect the soft, translucent feel of real skin," though there were major challenges along the way. According to the company, Hepburn's feline eyes and trademark smile proved most difficult to recreate, largely because they're her most instantly recognizable features. Although Framestore originally chose the double because of her eyes and planned constructing Hepburn's face around them, the team soon realized that "full CG was the only way to get it right."
This isn't the first time that a company has appropriated Hepburn's likeness for marketing purposes. In fact, recent years have seen both Gap and J'adore release similarly retro, Audrey-themed commercials, though neither is quite as impressive as what Framestore and ad agency AMV BBDO achieved for Galaxy — a feat that Framestore VFX supervisor described as "very much on the edge of what's possible."