Kids animated commercials typically have much higher budgets per frame than longer animated forms, such as television series and shorts. Consequently, advertising spots are known for breakthrough innovation in animation, and spot makers generally exhibit a penchant for the cutting edge, as exhibited by any casual viewing of the commercials on Saturday morning. We asked a group of these creators the following question: Are commercials, especially kids commercials, an area in which a good deal of innovation in animation occurs? Their responses were very, well, animated.
Bonita Versh, director/designer, Klasky Csupo Commercials, Hollywood, California
My answer to that, stylistically and graphically, is absolutely ‘yes.’ Traditionally, commercials have been able to explore-to do things I wouldn’t be able to do anywhere else. On cereal commercials, for example, like the Rice Krispies ‘Snap Crackle and Pop’ campaign, as each new agency comes in, the account changes hands. The dramatic challenge is always to create something new-to make [the commercials] more contemporary. We reap the benefits of the agencies’ need to be creative and come up with solutions.
However, now with Nickelodeon, [the channel has] taken the reins in pushing and stretching the graphic look of animation [in their original television series]. Also, even though commercials have higher budgets per frame, budgets have decreased. So our big challenge in the commercial field is to continue to be able to put out great product.
Matthew Charde, executive producer, Olive Jar Studios, Boston, Massachusetts
In TV commercials, you get to spend time on every one of the 720 frames of film on that spot. It’s a concentrated effort on a short piece of art. The exciting thing about making commercials for kids is taking chances. Like for the [7-11 Slurpee] ‘Brain Freeze’ commercials, the ad agency said this: ‘Every time you drink Slurpee, you get a brain freeze. Make us a commercial.’ The only restriction was that we make sure we see the product once in there.
We’re looking for things that have never been done before. The key is to not copy-to do something fresh. Trends have to start somewhere.
The main difference [from longer forms] is that as an animator, you’re not always doing the same thing everyday. For a film, you could be working on the same thing for two years, but in commercials, we have eight to 12 weeks.
Michael Wright, founder/chief commercial director, Elm Road on The Box, Bristol, U.K.
Animation in general leans on visuals a lot, so it’s well suited for making commercials for children. Children latch onto visuals and remember what they’ve seen, even if they’re not at the stage where they can handle complex things verbally. [On the Smarties candy commercials], I knew that kids take in visual information immediately. They might not follow all the word play or the use of puns or the posing of puzzles to which you’re not really given an answer, but even if you don’t get the joke, children get the look and feel of the spots, which are more important than script devices.
The thing with innovating in commercials is that sometimes the agency is forced by the client to play it safe. It’s a rare occasion that the client will say, ‘Go for it. Do something not by the book.’ With children especially, there’s a lot of fretting about the content. However, with the television series we have [in development] with Nickelodeon UK, it’s much more our own baby.
Denis Morella, director/designer/
animator, Curious Pictures, San Francisco, California
I think commercials usually have better budgets, and that gives the director an opportunity to try things they’ve never tried before. . . . If you look at Saturday morning [series], the animation is mostly traditional cel animation. Commercials are the most lively, innovative thing on.
For the same US$150,000 budget [producers get] for a five-minute short, we get for just 30 seconds. Also, a lot of companies are looking for new ways to wow the audience-they’re wanting to try different things. For the Cartoon Network ‘Animate Your World’ campaign, a lot of different styles were used, including cel, computer and stop-motion animation. [The campaign-created by Meredith Fierman, writer/producer, and Bee Murphy, art director, both from Cartoon Network-won a 'Best Stop-motion' award at the 1998 British Animation Awards.]
One problem is you’re subject to the whim of the agencies. For instance, right now, the popularity of `bad’ animation like the Beavis and Butt-head style has started a trend for animation that anybody who picked up a pencil could animate.
Axcel Pyliser, motion animator, Medialab, Paris, France
We wanted to use our virtual characters for ads during the ['Planet Donkey Kong'] programming block on Teletoon in Canada. When you’re starting off on a commercial, you don’t have that many images to begin with, so you can do a lot. Commercials push innovation also in that you can do a lot in post-production in terms of computer manipulation of images.
As for the technical aspect [utilizing Medialab's performance animation technique], in the process of making a commercial, we have more possibilities during the takes. It’s a technique that allows you to do a retake immediately from a live body. For instance, if you’re working from an arm movement, you can reshoot it immediately or change the camera angle or the light.