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Nike Athletars

September 19th 2023

Final Frontier combined forces with Nike Shanghai Studio to create a huge and eclectic cast of digital avatars to elevate the brand's cutting-edge e-commerce experience in China.

When Nike set out to redefine its Membership program through immersion and a brand-new customizable IP approach, Final Frontier was approached to collaborate with their team again. 

With the goal of elevating engagement, the Nike Avatar project also involved a 365 digital representation of users that could be leveled up and offer unique customization as they shop and play with Nike.

The year-long creative partnership that followed unfolded across multiple layers of production, including creating dozens of 3D characters and animations, collectible toys, gamified assets for the metaverse, and celebrity avatars, including NBA star Luka Dončić and Chinese National Team player Guo Ailun

On the concept behind the Avatar platform/world, Nike senior director of digital product design, Jason Cheah, says:

"The goal was to give Members a new way to express themselves and be recognized online through the language of Nike and to reward Members personally at scale through virtual product drops and experiences."

Phase 1: New Look Avatars

In late 2021, Nike called us to redesign the existing IP into a more premium look and feel while upgrading the static video Avatar to fully device-rendered characters with customizable wardrobes and looks.

Final Frontier executive producer Gus Karam says:

"We were briefed with creating a new design system which would work with all possible future outfits and adapt to different characters and personalities. We were laying the foundations for a potentially long-running campaign. Regarding the Avatars' visual and technical requirements, flexibility was key."

CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

We were tasked with designing a male and female character for four initial categories, based on the different ranges of Nike outfits: Running, Street, Dance, and CNY (Chinese New Year) - the latter including special outfits. Each character needed an animation loop, including a walk cycle and a 'special move.'

Jaime Álvarez:

"We explored every part of the body down to the tiniest detail, experimenting with everything, including the number of fingers, anatomy proportions, the level of detail for the head, a vast amount of hairstyles, and various different possible personalities for the characters."

CHARACTER ANIMATION

For the animation, the goal was for the audience to relate to these characters and feel they were the ones wearing the clothes, so we worked on creating appealing expressions and a cool, casual walk. The hardest thing in animation is always the subtle movements that make characters feel natural and believable.

Chinese New Year Avatars

Along with the first round of designs, Nike wanted to create an anthropomorphized tiger character to showcase in 2022, the Chinese New Year of the Tiger. The collaboration had such excellent results that Final Frontier created a Rabbit Avatar for 2023, a year later.

Phase 2: 6.18 Avatars

For the 6.18 shopping festival, Nike asked us to develop more than 30 additional characters, which saw the Avatar categories expanding to five Tiers each, and a new Basketball category was created.

Final Frontier executive producer Julieta Zajaczkowski:

"The sheer scale of this phase was a challenge, with particular mention to translating the clothes and the sneakers, which have very complex designs, into the Avatar design language. I'm proud that we could design, model, rig, and animate more than 100 perfectly matching characters."

Phase 3: 6.18 Launch Film

Nike returned to us to produce an animated 3D film to accompany the 618 launch. Made in collaboration with R/GA Shanghai, the film would see the Avatars animated in extended sequences for the first time.

Nike senior designer Kiki Wong:

"The more you see the Avatars, the more connected you feel, and the more motivated you will be to engage with the program. We wanted to showcase them in fun and interactive scenarios and incorporate Nike's Street Dance brand story. We knew collaborating with Final Frontier would result in an amazing piece."

We brought Ralph Karam from Le Cube to direct the piece, one of our top-tier talents who we've worked with for Nike on more than one occasion and who's known for the dynamism of how he captures movement.

Phase 4: Celebrity Avatars

Such was the success of the Avatars to date that Nike decided to create Avatars for two sponsored pro basketball players: Luka Dončić, NBA player for the Dallas Mavericks and Slovenian national team, and Guo Ailun, CBA player for the Liaoning Flying Leopards and the China national team, and the first Chinese player to sign with the Jordan Brand. Besides designing the Avatar, the brief to Final Frontier was to create a set of two outfits (Casual and Sports) for each.

Phase 5: Going Physical: Toys

Nike briefed us to adapt the designs into physical collectible toy figures with detachable parts that would be gifted along with purchases. The chosen characters were Luka Dončić, the CNY Tiger, and a male and female dancer inspired by the 6.18 film. We took the new dancing Avatars from the film and the existing Luka and Tiger models and prepared them in a low-poly version ready for manufacturing.

Phase 6: Entering the Metaverse with Athletars

For the next phase, we needed to create two interactive and customizable Avatars for Tmall, known as 'Athletars.' Users could choose their Avatar, customize the outfit, sneakers, and hairstyle, and level up to access more of each, as well as special animations, the more they engage and shop. The goal was to gamify the avatars.

> 233k possible avatar combinations

Jason Cheah:

"For this phase, we learned a lot about the process of creating fashion assets with a gamification mindset. We needed to produce the characters in low-poly and worked closely with Nike to test the prototype in the Tmall app. It was a process of iteration and R&D until we achieved high-quality realism in the products that would work perfectly in the app, especially in the sneakers."

The Case

Take a full trip across the Nike Athletars adventure in the case film below!

PROCESS

Jason Cheah:

"Final Frontier has been an outstanding partner in helping bring the creative vision of the Athletar to life and in figuring out a whole new seasonal virtual production pipeline. They've helped us continually push the limits creatively and optimize production every season."

Credits

FULL PROJECT

Client: Nike Greater China

Design Studio: Shanghai Design Studio
Executive Creative Director: Jason Cheah
Studio Operations Manager: Jamie Chiu
Design Lead: Harry Liang
Senior Designer: Sammy Ge
Senior Designer: Silvia Lin 

Creative Agency & Production Company: Final Frontier

Executive Production: Chris Colman, Gus Karam, Julieta Zajaczkowski
Creative Coordinator: Agustina Kröl
Project Managers: Damian Velasco, Yanyie Tran, Florencia Di Tomaso, Mariia Pavlenko
Development Agencies: Duiba, Mofan, WiredCraft

AVATARS 2.0: AVATARS RE-DESIGN & LAUNCH

Art Director and Character Design: Jaime Alvarez
CG Team: Juan Miyagi, Pablo Lorenzo, Alejandro Ohanian, Tadeo Soriano
Composition: José Salto del Giorgio

AVATARS 618: PRODUCTION & IMPLEMENTATION

Producers: Rosario Picard, Paula Magariños
CG Team: Lui, Nogueira, Juan Miyagi, Esteban Pedrozo, Nicolás Iturre, Lucas Martinez
Directors & Assets Production

Animation Studio: Ronda
Modeling: Matias Fernandez, Santiago Graziano
Rigging: Martin Ollo
Animation: Matias Fernandez, Fernan Graziano
Render, Lighting & Shading: Miguel Cesti 

Animation Studio: Believe
EPs: Marcelo Stephani, Cristóbal Pérez-Gazitúa, Karola Tapia
Project Manager: Javiera Torres
CG and Animation Dir: Oliver Lueiza
CG Supervisor – MC: Carolina Fabiani

Animation Studio: Detuco
Executive Production: Sol Rulloni
Production Coordinator: Rocío Brizuela Sturzenegger
Designs: Evelin Unfer, Abril Puente
3D Supervisors & Lead Artists: Flavio Bianchi, Mariano De Apellaniz
3D Models; Mariano De Apellaniz, Pablo Focaretta
Animation: Mateo Pavanel, Martin Fox Douglas
Compositing Supervisor & Lead Artist: Claudio Langsam
Compositor: Esteban De Bonis

XR - ATHLETARS & TOYS

FFXR:
EP: Nicole Naguil
PM: Mariia Kolomentseva
PA: Liza Fung
CD: Jaime Alvarez Sobreviela, Claus Cibils
CGI Lead: Pablo Arismendi Rabe
Tech Lead: Kirill Lokaichuk
3D Team: Anton Koren, Maksim Nikitin, Nasty Pikanova, Ruslan Shumeiko, Yura Kuganov, Alex Glushenko, Alex Pelypenko, Oleksii Korchyk, Maxi Balbo
Animation: Veronika Yesypenko, Nicolás Itture, Nicolás Quintar, Ignacio Carlos Ochoa
Comp: Guilherme Vasconcellos, Lautaro Azcuy
Testing Phase: Overlat
Javier Garcia-Lajara - Manager
Fernando Perez - Main developer
Javier Martinez Velasco de Centenera - 3D artist
Rigging: Many Worlds

AVATARS 618 FILM LAUNCH

Nike GC Brand Creative: Kiki Wong, Neo Chen, Lu Jin

Agency: R/GA Shanghai
Lokfu Wong: Creative Director
Justin Phang: Creative Director
Alan Chen: Associate Creative Director
Barry Peng: Executive Producer
Candice Gu: Producer
Edie Zhang: Account Director
Grace Wen: Account Manager

Production Company: Final Frontier
Director: Ralph Karam
Director’s Assistant: Agostina Carrera
Animatic: Andrés Moncalvo
Motion Capture Production: Get Motion – Mariano Mena
Choreographer: Martina Santamaria
Dancers: Martina Santamaria, Esteban Masco, Gabriel Conti, Tatiana María Laura Saavedra
Animation Production Co.: Believe TV
Music & Sound Design: Facundo Capece