That’s not all: a new golden age of animation | Marketing
Empty streets, stock footage, Vera Lynn’s crooning promise that “We’ll meet again”.
The first crop of ads released during the UK’s first Covid-19 lockdown shared similar elements and began to merge into one. But the production constraints posed by the pandemic quickly made creativity flourish in another area: animation.
With live shootings limited or facing new restrictions, 2020 has brought a wave of exceptional animated announcements from brands such as Heinz, McDonald’s, Childline and O2.
John Lewis & Partners and Waitrose & Partners’ highly anticipated joint Christmas campaign, for example, featured nine different animation styles, from claymation to CGI.
Even before the pandemic, technological innovations helped usher in new talent and techniques in animation. The changes have led some animators to suggest that they are entering a golden age for their profession.
Andy Gent, a puppet and model maker who owns stop-motion and cinema studio Arch Model Studio in London, started 2020 assuming his busiest time would again be during production of Christmas commercials, when animation is often popular. However, from the start of the first lockdown, his studio received an influx of work. This meant that last year Gent and his team produced commercials for John Lewis and Waitrose, Beagle Street and Greenies, among others.
“When we understood that [the studio] was actually a safe environment and we could shoot again, it went completely crazy. This is what motivated the take-off of animation, ”Gent, who is best known for his collaboration with director Wes Anderson on films such as Isle of Dogs and Fantastic Mr. Fox, said.
He attributes this “free for all” in animation to brands and creatives who have adopted experimental techniques that push the limits of the medium.
“Important and positive change”
Nexus Studios, a production company that has collaborated with Gent on animated commercials for the cereal and lager brand Cheerios Corona, has also observed “a significant and positive change in the animation industry,” according to its co – Founder and Executive Creative Director, Chris O ‘Reilly.
An example of this is the development of real-time animation, the process of using a motion capture system to puppet a live 3D character, who has gone from “cheerful or visually unpleasant graphics” to something. more dynamic, he said.
Nexus Studios created an animated version of a performing arts school play during the lockdown for client Cox Communications.
After learning that the pandemic resulted in the temporary closure of the buildings at the Thurman White Academy of the Performing Arts in Nevada, Nexus reinvented a ‘school play for the Covid era’.
Using real-time technology (in this case, a camera and voice recorder), the Nexus team and director and host Patrick Osborne kept the show going by helping young stars express and marry their characters ever since. their own home. They used face tracking technology to record student performances and create an animated version of the play.
Projects like this show how real-time animation can be “a really effective tool” in enabling brands to be more “agile, iterative and conversational,” says O’Reilly – traits that have become even more important. for advertisers in the digital age.
Marketers are already trying to be more conversational in the digital realm. There is no need to look any further than the (non-animated) image Weetabix posted on Twitter last year of its Heinz bean-covered cereal, which sparked a wave of trademark banter about social networks. The ‘faster turnaround’ of real-time animation has the potential to make these interactions more fun and creative, and allow brands to stand out when responding to daily news or social media trends, according to O ‘ Reilly.
“We are witnessing a change in audience and distribution, which will fundamentally realign the economy and animation, but we are also witnessing a technical innovation,” he adds.
“These are pretty magical things happening at the same time, so it wouldn’t be too melodramatic to call it a golden age. [of animation]. “
The rise of realism
Photorealistic animation is also on an upward trajectory, a process by which an artist attempts to create something that closely resembles real life. Photorealism has been a regular style of choice for production house Untold Studios. Previous projects include “Excitable Edgar” by John Lewis (Adam & Eve / DDB), “Money Calm Bull” by Moneysupermarket and Churchill’s new and improved Churchie Bulldog Mascot (photo above), which received a CGI makeover in 2019 (both by Engine).
In Churchill’s latest spot, “Slide,” the brand’s cuddly bulldog casually descends a metal slide, capturing what Darren O’Kelly, co-founder and CEO of Untold Studios, calls “a whiff of fresh air in what looked like a fairly noisy world ”.
In animation, “viewers are either in a world where there’s a suspension of disbelief – that’s really what John Lewis is – or a completely believable world where you relate to the characters. that surround them, like Churchill and Moneysupermarket ”.
Bart Yates, executive producer at Blinkink, believes the industry is ready for “animation diversification,” extending beyond the charming and elegant aesthetic of Hollywood animation houses, such as Disney and Pixar. , in favor of “fast 2D comedy”. .
Blinkink put this approach into practice with the Mini Cheddars ‘Welcome to Cheddar Town’ ad (by TBWA, photo above), released in 2021, which follows a community of cartoon characters (both human and dairy) as they engage in questionable behavior to get their fix of cheese, from chasing terrified civilians down the street to capturing of unsuspecting residents in nets.
Two-dimensional animation tends to lend itself better to comedy or content for adult audiences, such as TV series like Bojack Horseman or Bob’s burgers, while 3D and visually rich styles, as seen in Pixar movies, are better for emotional storytelling, Yates says.
“If you want to do emotional storytelling [in the style of] Bojack Horseman, it will never work, ”he adds. “It’s like telling a story rather than a gag – you can generate some laughs with some pretty straightforward lo-fi animation, but once you get into the heavy lifting of an emotional story it s. ‘it’s about relating to that character and being taken on a journey. “
While there has been a greater variety of animation styles recently, the circumstances of the pandemic have also put more pressure on animators, who have had to adapt to faster turnaround times and to work. remotely, says Yates. He uses the oft-quoted analogy of “building the plane as it rolls down the runway.”
The driving force behind diversity
Animation also faces a long-standing problem in the advertising industry – the lack of diversity. According to a 2019 UK Screen Alliance report, only 14% of the animation workforce was of black, Asian or ethnic minority origin (compared to 20% in IPA member agencies, according to the census of this year’s IPA, unveiled in March).
But Samia Ahmed, a London-based creative producer specializing in 2D and 3D animation, is optimistic about some of the changes brought by the pandemic. The rise of remote working has given more opportunities to international talent, which in turn has helped create more “ethically responsible”, diverse characters who are “truly representative,” she says.
Ahmed recently worked on a 2021 commercial for Chobani yogurt brand, “Dear Alice” (pictured above), which was created in-house and featured a diverse group of animated characters, including a Bengali protagonist from the Caribbean. There, a lively woman talks to her granddaughter about how companies can take care of the environment and their workforce.
Ahmed and Wesley Louis, director and co-founder of The Line Animation, developed the character from their respective Bengali and Saint Lucian roots.
“In animation, [minority-ethnic people] don’t see each other much, ”says Ahmed. “I really don’t think I’ve seen a Caribbean Bengali girl or a racially ambiguous woman as the protagonist in an advertisement.
“Having a say in the protagonist’s ethnicity was very important to me, especially at a time when everyone wanted to be represented.”
There are a growing number of initiatives to champion diverse talent in animation, such as Black N ‘Animated, Black Women Animate and BAME Animation UK.
Greater opportunities are also opening up for ethnically diverse directors outside of advertising. For example, Pixar artist and director Domee Shi, who has worked on animated films Upside down, The Incredibles 2 and The good dinosaur, directs the studio’s next feature film Turn red, a coming-of-age story about 13-year-old Mei Lee who transforms into a giant red panda whenever she’s too horny.
Bigger budgets are coming
O’Reilly says an increased focus on diversity will result in “incredible independent director-led animation” and “richer storytelling diversity.”
Greater demand for animation and more opportunities for diverse talent could also soon lead to bigger budget projects, such as the “Game of thrones of animation ”on television, predicts O’Reilly.
New animated series released or to come in 2021 include Star Wars: The Wrong Lot on Disney +, Marvel’s What if?, also on Disney +, and Godzilla: singular point on Netflix.
Animation has come a long way in a short period of time, since classics such as the 2005 Tim Burton film Corpse Bride were released. Back then, when Gent was working on Corpse Bride, he and his fellow animators joked that it would be “the last stop-motion movie ever made.” They were wrong. Animation is now experiencing a renaissance with “more styles and more developments than ever before” in the pipeline, Gent says.
“I can see the tsunami coming,” he adds, “and it will be amazing to see when it does hit. “