VINAMILK: Cowville

Vinamilk´s Cowville was the very first international pitching in which The Frank Barton Company would participate as an animation Production House, so when we were chosen to produce these TVCs in September 2010 we were excited and scared, but really happy to get the opportunity to work with clients like Vinamilk and Ogilvy & Mather in Vietnam. That after this project became one of our favorite clients!
The first idea was to produce two 30 seconds TVCs for Vinamilk’s kids oriented milk. An entire town inhabited by cows. The script shown how the milk would help children to grow, using a nice choreographed song. The main technical challenge the project had was that the client wanted it to look like a clay stop-motion commercial, and we had to create in CG the small town and the cows as if they were made in miniature.
After the success of Cowville, the cow family has grown and we are still proudly producing and directing commercials with Vinamilk.
We hope that with this making of, we can share a bit of the process for creating the Cowville world.



With the script in mind, our team started with the designs for the cow characters. This was a key point of the process, as it was the first thing that creatives and the client were about to see from us. We knew that we needed some adult cows, baby cows and some key characters as the Mayor of the town. We drawn many options…

“Square Head’s Cows”…

“Crazy Cows”…

“Round Head’s Cows”…

…And at the end of the design process, we had a full Cows´ Family, including baby cows, the adults and our town Mayor.


As some members of our team worked with the characters, another small team worked to develop the concepts for the environments. An important part of the TVC happened in a barn that opened itself to discover a Broadway musical barn-stage. This kind of transformation required some pre-production development to know how the stage would transform itself and to make it as physically correct as possible. For that we started planning and making some maps and schemes…


For the look of Cowville land, client had in mind a European countryside set with green grass, lots of vegetation, colorful and happy. So we started working with these ideas in mind and painted some concepts…


We knew that the look of the commercial should resemble stop-motion. And with that in our mind we started studying the 3D look, making some tests with the characters to achieve the clay stop-motion miniature look…

…Also modelling and making some lookdev for the sets and props.
For the country hills, we needed lots of trees, some of them had to be seen pretty far from camera, but one of them in particular needed to be detailed enough to be seen pretty near. This was a “main-prop”, and we ended with a very poly-dense oak tree with more than a million polygons. We created then variations from this tree, and used the standins in Arnold to scatter a lot of “more than 1 million polygons trees” all over our hills. But we do not only needed trees, we also needed bushes, grass, leaves, flowers, a lot of “country tools”, stones, and of course a barn…All with a miniature look.

Our cows were finally getting some texture…

And summing it up, our Cows´ family was approved and prepared for setup and animation…


While all the lookdev and modelling process was being developed, our team was working on shaping the script from the agency into a sequence of shots. We planned and draw a storyboard and from there we started working on some raw editing, to get the timing and number of sequences and shots that we would need for the story to be told.


Once we had a 2D animatic, we worked on developing a 3D Previz animatic based on the 2D animatic, that later on we could use as a starting point for the 3D layout for the final shots. With the animation we also tried to mimic the stop-motion animation style, the process involved animating at 24fps but with keys more or less every 2 frames with some exceptions like the camera movements or some other actions and character movements that needed to look more fluid.

FINISHED FRAMES – Lighting and compositing

At this point we had all the elements: characters, props, sets and while the team was animating the shots, the lighting process begun. It was pretty straight forward, we lighted the environment for the day shots as it was noon in a sunny day. The lighting set was pretty natural, one key light acting as the sun, one back main fill light and for the far backgrounds some fill lights (3 or 4) to match intensities. We placed the animated characters into the set and added some minor retouching in shaders or lighting when needed in some shots. Then we finally started rendering the shots, and after some very long render queue we could start compositing while the process of lighting and rendering was still in process.

For the Broadway show at night, the lighting was a little bit more tricky and we ended with a few light sources to fill dark areas and to match the lighting of a musical show. We did not used AOVs back then as they were not yet supported by Arnold, but that was not a big problem as we really wanted to keep everything as simple as possible, as we had the goal of the look of a stop-motion production. So we ended having just 3 main rendered layers to render. Main layer, secondary background layer, far background and finally the mattepainted plate for the sky that was a 2D painted layer. The composition involved mainly color grading and mixing all the layer/terms together, and also mixing the different renders for the transition from day to night. Finally after the work of our composition team, the Cowville world was created. Here you can check some of the final frames and above the first two commercials. But as you’ll notice this was not the end…

VINAMILK: 35th Anniversary

Vinamilk and Ogilvy & Mather contacted us again to celebrate Vinamilk’s 35th anniversary in Cowville. With some new characters, a new story and some stickers as promotional gifts.



As a promotional gift to their customers on Vinamilk’s Anniversary, they decided to prepare a series of 35 stickers with different situations and actions with our cows from Cowville dressed up. A parachutist, a painter, a traditional Vietnamese student, a swimmer or two cow-cyclist were ones of the stickers series. We matte painted props, wardrove and some sets (i.e. the water!) on top of our 3D rendered posed cows.


For this new script the action took place also in Cowville, but we had to design and develop additional props, as a photograph booth and dress up props that would allow our cows to make their stickers…


This is the animatic that we edited for the commercial.


And these are some of the final frames.


Last year we visited Cowville again. This time the script wanted to reinforce the first two commercials idea. This time a shoemaker tries to sell his products, high-heeled shoes that make the cows look taller, and glasses to help them see. But the cows in Cowville do not need any of these, as they drink Vinamilk that helps them growing strong and tall.


For this commercial we had to design a new character, the shoemaker/seller cow and also more props and environment elements as the vehicles… All keeping the look from the other commercials. This is the final result of the process.


This time babycows should be taller than in the previous TVCs. So we transformed them a little bit to make them look older. We also revamped the Mayor look and added our new Vendor character to the Cowville inhabitants.


This is the vehicle in which the Vendor, our new character, comes to visit Cowville.


Once again before we start animating, we divide the story in sequences and shots. This exercise helps us also to know the timing of the story. We cannot stress too much how important is this step on our process.


Some of the final frames for this commercial.


At the end of 2012 Ogilvy contacted us to work on a new commercial but with a distinctive feature: our cows where travelling outside Cowville. We started working with Cowville’s world but recreating famous places in the real world with Cowville’s characteristics. This time the client wanted to launch a series of magnets as promotional gifts for the customers. And this made our little cows to travel all around the world.



We developed more that 40 still images to use for the creation of the magnets. The main idea was to show our cows traveling around the world. Greece, Japan, Spain, Turkey, Tibet, Korea, France, Italy, Switzerland or Philippines were only a few of the countries that our cows visited this year. Again with the still images, using a mix technique of 3D and matte painting.


Again we had to develop some concepts for the new props and characters that we needed for the story.


This is the animatic we used for this commercial.


And the finished frames.

Client: Vinamilk
Agency: Ogilvy & Mather Vietnam
Production company: The Frank Barton Company
Director: The Frank Barton Company