Run for It

How MNFST studio used 3D animation, holograms and more to create an energetic spot for Puma’s NITRO collection.
By Helena Swahn

UK-based MNFST Studio used Cinema 4D, Redshift, Houdini and more to create a playful spot for Puma’s NITRO running shoes that featured morphing fluid and foam in a futuristic lab with holographic environments.

Intended to visualize what contributes to the NITRO line’s grip, softness and comfort, the spot showcases MNFST Studio’s ability to focus on design and high-end 3D motion projects. We talked with Nikita Shestakov and Magdalena Zalewska, the creative director/motion design duo that founded the studio in 2020.

Here’s what they told us about working with Puma and advertising agency Output, who gave them the creative freedom they needed to design, animate, direct and produce the engaging spot.

Cultivating a Distinctive Style
Already working remotely due to the pandemic, Shestakov says 2020 was a good time for MNFST (a contraction of manifest and a reference to manifesto) “to push ourselves and create something that allowed us to choose our direction, have more control over what and how we create and be able to navigate the design process from start to finish.”

It helped, too, that the success of a personal project called “Cycle” led to a stream of projects that helped push the studio forward.

With a focus on design-driven 3D animation, Zalewska describes MNFST’s style as synthetic photography, “A space where things are photoreal and crisp, but then you push them that little bit further, so the viewer starts questioning what is real and what is not. This is the area we definitely want to explore more in our work.”

Believing strongly in the importance of R&D, the duo relies mainly on Houdini and Redshift, as well as Cinema4D for modeling, Substance Painter for texturing, Nuke and After Effects for compositing and Marvelous Designer for fashion-related projects. “In our field, you have to be open to trying new things and getting out of your comfort zone, whether that’s software or anything else, so we often try to experiment and include other creative tools,” Zalewska explains.

Redshift proved essential on the NITRO project, she adds because “Redshift is powerful, customizable and works great with both Houdini and Cinema 4D. It’s also great for look development, allowing us to get feedback on changes quickly, saving us a lot of time and helping us fine-tune the direction at any stage of the process.”

Realizing a Complex Brief
The Puma Nitro brief was unusual for many reasons, Shestakov recalls, particularly because there were so many elements that needed to be squeezed into the 30-second video. From the concept of NITRO foam to three different shoe design stories — each with a completely different outdoor scenario and references to running styles and types of terrain — MNFST was given the create freedom to bring all of the spot’s elements together in a visually compelling way.

To simplify and connect the three stories, Zalewska and Shestakov proposed setting the entire concept indoors in a futuristic lab environment rather than vast landscapes. “We wanted to concentrate on the NITRO foam, the common denominator for all three designs, while keeping the idea that each product lives in a different environment with the foam offering unique features for each shoe.”

After re-topologizing 3D scans provided by the client, MNFST partially remodeled some elements in Cinema 4D before animating them for use in simulations. One of the key challenges they faced was how to incorporate animated running cycles into the environments.

“We ended up filming our friend, mostly his feet, to be precise, running and jumping around East London, in locations that were similar to our animatic, Zalewska explains. “That helped a lot with getting the pace of movement and shoe animations right.”

They needed an enclosed space for the lab testing zone, so they came up with the idea to have a glass-walled loop – an infinite running-simulation space — that they could change completely to showcase specific terrain or environments. Hologram backgrounds were created as full environments rendered with some glitches added in post.

“One of the biggest ways Redshift helped was by giving us the ability to adjust ray depth for the refraction,” Zalewka says. “Half of the film is a shoe running behind the glass wall, and there was frosted glass as a background, so initial render times were massive!”

Reflecting on the project, she and Shestakov agree that the project really helped them evolve their skills and studio. “Only after the delivery do you usually realize how much work went into a project of this scale,” she says. “No matter how experienced you are, if you are open to pushing yourself a little more with every project, you’ll never stop learning, and that is the beauty of our profession.

Helena Swahn is a writer in London, UK.