How They Did It: Bringing Creatures to Life in Discovery Networks’ Online Promos Making Big Fish Swim Outside YouTube’s Box

They’re ferocious, vicious, dangerous and they’re headed straight for you … online. Discovery Network’s Web promos for hit shows River Monsters andShark Week offer up a heart-pounding view of some frightening underwater creatures brought to life with Maxon’s Cinema 4D and Adobe After Effects.

River Monsters YouTube promo

River Monsters host Jeremy Wade stands atop a banner ad talking about underwater creatures as they swim past him in the online promo.

Known for presenting informative and entertaining programming on the unusual and unseen lives of animals and insects around the world, Discovery Network looked to New York City-based 3D animator Jean Marco Ruesta to create the imaginative River Monsters promo in which creatures appear to swim out of the frame.

“I like doing stuff that makes me think outside of the box,” says Ruesta, who teaches C4D classes at the New York’s School of the Arts and works at Alien Kung Fu in Manhattan. Admitting that he doesn’t sleep much, Ruesta says he is also a busy freelance 3D artist who takes on as many projects as he can manage. “I take on jobs without thinking about how something can be done, and then I run around like a chicken without a head trying to figure out how to do it.”

Given just five weeks to complete the River Monsters project, Ruesta began working when Discovery Network gave him some reference boards, a basic YouTube page created by their in-house design team, and footage of the show’s host, Jeremy Wade, standing in front of a green screen on a sound stage in London. With all of that for inspiration he came up with an online promo that at first looks like a typical YouTube page with one main player window and several River Monsters videos to click on.

3D net created in Cinema 4D

The net Wade appears to pull across the screen was created by 3D animator Jean Marco Ruesta in Cinema 4D.

Suddenly, the action ramps up when Wade steps out of a nearby banner ad, grabs a fishing net and throws it across the screen. Catching the play button for the main video, Wade fast-forwards to footage of an episode of the show in which he struggles to hold on to a giant salamander as it writhes and twists in his hands. “This is the good bit,” he says, smiling at the memory.

Perched atop the ad, Wade warns, “Stay away from the ‘Flesh Ripper’ — it likes to bite off certain male body parts,” as the fish swims past menacingly. Next, the dreaded “Chainsaw Predator” swims into view, followed by the giant salamander. Once the parade of critters is safely out of the way, Wade jumps down off the banner into the unseen river below, sending water splashing every which-way on the page. (See the full spot live on YouTube.)

3D net created in Cinema 4D

An eel swims gracefully along a spline path created by Ruesta in the “River Monsters” online promo.

In the promo, Wade’s toss of the net looks effortless. In fact, it was a bit of a challenge for Ruesta to pull off. Though he had green screen-footage of Wade actually throwing the net and pretending to throw it, none of the shots worked well in Ruesta’s overall design plan. So he reached out to the online C4D community for help with creating a net for the host to throw. It took a couple of tests, but soon the ideas he got from everyone came together and he was able to make a net by creating a plane and an Atom Array Object.

After applying Cloth Dynamics to the plane, he constrained points of the net to a few control objects and began animating. “Without my gurus Jack Myers and Dr. Sassi from Ciniversity, I would have been lost,” recalls Ruesta. Ruesta used a variety of approaches to create the show’s creatures. The giant salamander model, for example, was purchased on TurboSquid and refined by Ori Gellman, one of his C4D students. After adjusting the lighting and reflections, Ruesta used BodyPaint 3D for the salamander’s body.

Animating the salamander went smoothly, with Ruesta using the Spline Wrap deformer to define the path along which the creature moved. He also added a few nulls to the surface of the salamander, and with the help of the C4D-to-After-Effects connection tools, he was able to get the nulls’ position data into After Effects. Bubbles streaming off the surface of the salamander were created using Trapcode’s Particular.

Shark Week

Ruesta’s work on River Monsters surpassed the client’s expectations, and he was soon asked to create another online promo for Discovery’s Shark Week. More ambitious than the first project, this promo again used green screen footage, this time of actor Andy Samberg standing in a room talking to viewers about Shark Week. He’s interrupted when two big bumps shake the room just before a shark bursts through the wall, shakes his head back and forth and swims off the screen and out of sight leaving Samberg drenched. (Watch the promo live on YouTube.)

shark animation

Ruesta animated the shark’s movements by hand using Cinema 4D.

To get the shark’s movement right, Ruesta watched several videos of them doing things like swimming and biting. Like he did with “River Monsters,” Ruesta bought a shark model on TurboSquid. Though it was already rigged and animated, the movement wasn’t what Discovery was looking for so Ruesta re-animated the shark from scratch using C4D.

breakaway wood panels

Ruesta designed the wood panels the shark bursts through to realistically burst apart and float away. A large, hidden sphere was animated to “bump” into the wall from behind just before the shark comes crashing through.

“I animated the shark as if it were swimming in place,” he explains. “Once I did that, I used the same technique as I did for River Monsters, where I used a spline wrap to create a path and then I had that shark follow along that path and swim past the audience.”

the interface crumbles

Using the C4D-to-After-Effects connection, Ruesta was able to bring the position data of the crumbling wall pieces into After Effects to enable the YouTube interface to break apart along with the wall.

One of the biggest challenges Ruesta faced was figuring out how the shark would break through the website interface as though it were breaking through a wall. For this he relied on C4D’s dynamics tools for a natural breaking and crumbling effect. Using the YouTube interface as a template, he modeled and textured a wall of wooden planks and then broke them up in the area that the shark would burst through. Ruesta added tags to all the pieces so their position data would be available in After Effects.

comments wash away

Water footage and plugins in After Effects were used to create the illusion of the comments washing away and bobbing around on the page.

After Effects was used to create the water that fills the screen after the shark’s dramatic entrance. Ruesta used an image of the sea as the background behind the C4D renders of the wall so when it broke away the sea was revealed. Footage of water falling and splashing also helped add to the final look. Bubbles were added with Trapcode’s Particular and Wondertouch’s particleIllusion 3.0.

Happy but exhausted after completing both projects, Ruesta says he “can’t wait till they put a chip in my head so I can work while I’m sleeping.”

Check out the River Monsters promo live on

Check out the Shark Week promo live on


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