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Category Archives: ad agency

Using editing to influence the tone of a spot

By Maury Loeb

We all have a basic understanding about what editing consists of. In the simplest terms, editors stitch together raw footage to create a cohesive and coherent story. But one of the most vital features of a “good edit” is the establishment of tone. Tone is the aspect of a piece that describes its particular mood, character, atmosphere and flavor. Dictating the proper tone of an ad is a deceivingly sophisticated endeavor that goes beyond the simple mechanics of a few well-spliced shots. Editors need to tell a cohesive story, but we also have to tell the right story.

While some commercials can be ill-conceived and fundamentally “tone-deaf,” trying too hard to project “cool,” the best commercials make viewers feel connected to something. Wieden + Kennedy’s original Go Forth work for Levi’s is a great example. It’s a hipster anthem, but one that makes bold tonal choices in the edit to unique and memorable effect.

Another is the hilarious It’s a Tide Ad, which so precisely and successfully recreates the tonal doppelgangers of existing ads that it’s actually deceiving at first. The ability to produce a very specific, intentional flavor from disparate, raw ingredients is what elevates editing from a craft into an art. The script might be the script, and the footage might be the footage but creating the right tone for a spot not only honors the vision of the ad, but also enhances and elevates the finished piece.

This requires an editor’s technical skill of manipulating and synthesizing their raw ingredients, but more importantly, it relies on an editor’s taste, creativity and sensibility. In the commercial world, offline editors are uniquely positioned to get the first crack at establishing the tone of a spot and the opportunity to shepherd a spot through its finishing, making sure that the intended tone of the ad is realized at the end. It takes the brilliance of talented colorists, sound designers, musicians and animators to achieve a polished finished product, but a good offline editor can sketch out a comprehensive “tonal roadmap” for a spot.

Sound, picture and pace are the most fundamental determinants of tone. Editors manipulate these elements by employing an infinite arsenal of weapons in order to achieve the intended tone of a commercial.

Sound
Sound and our emotions have a primal relationship. Sound is essentially a form of “invisible touch” that is processed in the same part of our brains that processes emotion and perception, making it an ideal parameter of tone. Music is probably the most effective, immediate and raw influencer of tone. It is quite literally a construct designed to create an emotional response. Throw three different pieces of music against the same footage and you will walk away with three entirely different experiences. As far as weapons in an editor’s arsenal go, its standard issue for a reason. Would ASPCA ads be as iconic with any other track besides Sara McLachlan’s “In the Arms of the Angel” even if they were equally as cloying and maudlin?

A thousand different tracks could have complemented Sony’s famous Balls spot, but would it have had the same impact without Jose Gonzalez’s dreamy, slightly unexpected version of “Heartbeats”? Tone can be equally dictated by an editor’s approach to sound design. Google Chrome’s “Speed Tests” dynamically toggled between hyper-real and overtly stylized sounds, creating a piece that’s both observational and awe-inspiring. The result is a unique tonal voice that is utterly engaging with just the right amount of cheekiness.

Color
Editors can inform the tone of a spot beyond the images initially captured in the camera. Manipulating the color palette of the film colors the character of a spot in profound ways. Editors can dial through a range of emotions as they dial through the color spectrum, capitalizing on a color’s ability to elicit specific emotions — from the isolation and melancholy found in blue tones and the menace and danger found in greens to the welcoming warmth of rich reds and golds. A film’s light and dark tones can telegraph an impressive amount of information to an audience as well. Consider the flat palette of Skittles commercials and the way it helps enhance their awkward, comedic tone. Or the way crunchy contrast and saturated colors can make a tabletop spot look punchy and appetizing.

Pacing
Editors also set tone by the pace at which a commercial is cut, both in the tempo of the edits and the speed of the footage itself. The tonal adrenaline of Nike’s Write the Future is due in large part to its dynamic edit as it jerks the audience through kinetic bursts of flurried cuts and pregnant lulls of over-cranked shots. Likewise, Ikea’s Lamp wouldn’t feel nearly as sad if it weren’t for the deliberately paced, measured editing. Nike’s Michael Jordan ad Frozen moments played out in real time would feel like a trite highlight reel, but the deftly handled ramping between super slow motion and real time creates an epic grandeur that amplifies the message of the spot.

Double Duty
Commercials have the unique role of being little films in the greater service of advertising something while also representing a particular brand. In commercials, an editor’s sensibility is key. Is the tone of a particular spot congruous with its message? Does its tone align with the sensibility of the brand? Commercial editors have the dual duty of approaching their task as both stewards of the filmmaking process and stewards of the brand itself. Our role is crucial in making sure the end result both conveys the intended message of an ad in a way that jibes with how a brand wants to be perceived.

Editors are crucial at establishing tone in broad-strokes, but also on a granular level, understanding how a particular line is delivered or graphics are placed can have an impact on the overall tone and experience of a spot. It’s important that brands and agencies see editors as more than just craftspeople who know how to cut footage together using certain programs. Good, experienced commercial editors are tonal specialists who understand how to influence the tone of an ad and make it just feel right.


Maury Loeb is the co-founder of and editor at PS260 , a creative editorial company in New York City, Boston and Venice, California. Check out his reel here.

Quick Chat: M&C Saatchi LA’s Dan Roman on Time Scouts campaign

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to visit another place and time? To walk the Roman ruins before they were, well, ruined? If so, you might want to join the Time Scouts.

What is Time Scouts? Well, according to the website, it is a “multiverse-spanning organization dedicated to the growth of its members through the travel of space and time. It seeks to document the past, cultivate the present and build a better future through the empowerment of Scouts young and old.” In essence, it’s the name of a program created by 826LA, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting students and teachers across Los Angeles through after-school tutoring, evening and weekend workshops, in-school programs and more. The Time Scouts program helps people explore their imaginations. Being a Time Scout comes with very real perks, like an actual handbook, membership cards and badges (a la Boy Scouts, but with an absurdist time travel twist).

Dan Roman

Inspired by 826LA’s Time Travel Mart storefronts — actual stores that lead to the organization’s drop-in education centers — the campaign is the brainchild of M&C Saatchi LA’s associate creative director, Stephen Reidmiller, and a team of the agency’s content creators, producers, writers and artists. Previously, M&C Saatchi LA collaborated with 826LA and its students on a series of Time Travel Mart product posters. This time, the agency is back to highlight the wide-reaching, future-changing effect of 826LA with a fundraising campaign that includes a promo video directed and edited by Dan Roman. The agency also created the website, handbook, all of the swag — print promotion images, and give aways like the badges — and the video.

We talked with M&C Saatchi LA director/editor Dan Roman about that video, which is a centerpiece of the project that explains what Time Scouts may or may not make possible, and how anyone can join the organization via Kickstarter

We assume this isn’t your typical M&C Saatchi LA project Can you give us a little background on the film and the campaign as a whole?
M&C Saatchi LA has been working with 826LA for a number of years now in different capacities, but this was the first time we really got to blow out a whole campaign for them. Our creative director for this project, Stephen Reidmiller, came up with the idea for Time Scouts as a way to engage students at 826LA and give them a fun way to create and expand their imagination. He and his lovely wife Beth wrote and illustrated the book, then asked if I would be interested in directing the video. The agency built out an entire website for Time Scouts as well. Marc Evan Jackson (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Parks and Recreation) makes the perfect Time Scouts host.

How did his participation come about, and what was it like to direct him in this piece?
Marc was incredible to work with on the piece. He’s actually been involved with 826LA for a long time as well and I believe was one of the co-hosts of their early vaudeville shows, starring as Mr. Barnacle. So when we were thinking of who would fit the Time Scouts aura the best, he immediately sprang to mind.

Marc graciously signed on, and once we were able to tailor aspects of the script around his voice and mannerisms, he really bought in. He even brought his own space blazer the day of the shoot. It’s always really fun to work with people who are invested because they end up adding a lot of personal touches, like the dab at the end…all him. It makes it that much more fun.

In the end, we got in a really great groove with Marc and he had the whole set laughing. We took it pretty easy and tried our best to keep it fun, and he was a joy to direct in the piece. He brought a little extra to every line, even cracking himself up from time to time. Can’t think of a better time traveler.

Who wrote the script? Was any of it improvised? What was the biggest creative challenge?
Our illustrious creative director Stephen Reidmiller not only wrote the entire Time Scouts Handbook, but the script for this video as well. He’s a wonderful creative and I can’t say enough about his vision to bring this whole thing together. Marc is, of course, an amazing improviser, and I think we put his talents to good use. My favorite moment from set is when we were trying to figure out what city would sound the silliest if it were a fictitious location.

Originally we had the Time Scouts from New Jersey, but we thought we could beat it. We tried everything from Philadelphia (too many syllables) to the Inland Empire (too local). Marc came up with “Even in made-up places, like Orlando.” And the way he sounded out each syllable was too perfect. Had to go with that.

As far as creative challenges went, we tried to keep things relatively small given the nature of our day. However, we spent nearly two hours art directing the shelves behind Marc, and it’s safe to say that every piece of Time Travel Mart merch is intentionally placed. The Roman helmet gave us the hardest time though. We must have placed that unsuccessfully in about eight different spots. We all feel pretty good about where it ended up.

What tools were used on this project?
My favorite question! I almost wish this was a bit more exciting, but we had to keep it pretty down and dirty, so we shot this on my Sony FS7 with Zeiss CP.2s and a bit of glimmer glass. It’s lit very simply with daylight and bounce/fill, a bit of kick from quasar tubes, and more than a healthy amount of haze. We cut in Adobe Premiere and colored in Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve.

The video was shot with a Sony FS7.

Increasingly, agencies have in-house content creators. Describe what you do for and with M&C Saatchi LA.
At M&C Saatchi LA, I’m the lead director and DP. Our director of content Tara Poynter and I have been working our way through building out a production arm for the agency. We work largely like any production company would work: concepting, prepping and leading shoots, end-to-end editorial and finishing.

However, we also have a full-service agency at our back with access to great creative and strategic minds. The hope is to build an arm of this company that can mold quickly to clients’ needs and scale creative, production and editorial without any lapse in quality.

We obviously play in a giant sandbox here in LA, and we want to make sure that what we put out is up to snuff with the rest of our industry, especially if it’s got talent like Marc Evan Jackson in it. Overall, It’s just been fun trying to forge some new ground in the agency world.

What’s your background, and how did you become a director/editor/content creator?
I came up in production in Boston. About 10 years ago, I left film school to work as an editor for an animation company, eventually finding my way into indie films, music videos and documentaries. I freelanced my way into more commercial productions and ended up working as a senior producer and editor at Weber Shandwick.

There, I really got the space to hone what I do as a director and DP, working on longer-form branded content, commercials and documentaries while getting the chance to help build a successful production department from the ground floor. About a year ago, I decided that I was ready for the jump to LA and packed up the camera, the car, and our ridiculously fat cat and headed out this way. It’s been a fun ride so far.

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Behind the Title: Left Field Labs ECD Yann Caloghiris

NAME: Yann Caloghiris

COMPANY: Left Field Labs (@LeftFieldLabs)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Left Field Labs is a Venice-California-based creative agency dedicated to applying creativity to emerging technologies. We create experiences at the intersection of strategy, design and code for our clients, who include Google, Uber, Discovery and Estée Lauder.

But it’s how we go about our business that has shaped who we have become. Over the past 10 years, we have consciously moved away from the traditional agency model and have grown by deepening our expertise, sourcing exceptional talent and, most importantly, fostering a “lab-like” creative culture of collaboration and experimentation.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Executive Creative Director

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
My role is to drive the creative vision across our client accounts, as well as our own ventures. In practice, that can mean anything from providing insights for ongoing work to proposing creative strategies to running ideation workshops. Ultimately, it’s whatever it takes to help the team flourish and push the envelope of our creative work.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Probably that I learn more now than I did at the beginning of my career. When I started, I imagined that the executive CD roles were occupied by seasoned industry veterans, who had seen and done it all, and would provide tried and tested direction.

Today, I think that cliché is out of touch with what’s required from agency culture and where the industry is going. Sure, some aspects of the role remain unchanged — such as being a supportive team lead or appreciating the value of great copy — but the pace of change is such that the role often requires both the ability to leverage past experience and accept that sometimes a new paradigm is emerging and assumptions need to be adjusted.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Working with the team, and the excitement that comes from workshopping the big ideas that will anchor the experiences we create.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
The administrative parts of a creative business are not always the most fulfilling. Thankfully, tasks like timesheeting, expense reporting and invoicing are becoming less exhaustive thanks to better predictive tools and machine learning.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
The early hours of the morning, usually when inspiration strikes — when we haven’t had to deal with the unexpected day-to-day challenges that come with managing a busy design studio.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I’d probably be somewhere at the cross-section between an artist, like my mum was, and an engineer like my dad. There is nothing more satisfying than to apply art to an engineering challenge or vice versa.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I went to school in France, and there wasn’t much room for anything other than school and homework. When I got my Baccalaureate, I decided that from that point onward that whatever I did, it would be fun, deeply engaging and at a place where being creative was an asset.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We recently partnered with ad agency RK Venture to craft a VR experience for the New Mexico Department of Transportation’s ongoing ENDWI campaign, which immerses viewers into a real-life drunk-driving scenario.

ENDWI

To best communicate and tell the human side of this story, we turned to rapid breakthroughs within volumetric capture and 3D scanning. Working with Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Capture Studio, we were able to bring every detail of an actor’s performance to life with volumetric performance capture in a way that previous techniques could not.

Bringing a real actor’s performance into a virtual experience is a game changer because of the emotional connection it creates. For ENDWI, the combination of rich immersion with compelling non-linear storytelling proved to affect the participants at a visceral level — with the goal of changing behavior further down the road.

Throughout this past year, we partnered with the VMware Cloud Marketing Team to create a one-of-a-kind immersive booth experience for VMworld Las Vegas 2018 and Barcelona 2018 called Cloud City. VMware’s cloud offering needed a distinct presence to foster a deeper understanding and greater connectivity between brand, product and customers stepping into the cloud.

Cloud City

Our solution was Cloud City, a destination merging future-forward architecture, light, texture, sound and interactions with VMware Cloud experts to give consumers a window into how the cloud, and more specifically how VMware Cloud, can be an essential solution for them. VMworld is the brand’s penultimate engagement where hands-on learning helped showcase its cloud offerings. Cloud City garnered 4000-plus demos, which led to a 20% lead conversion in 10 days.

Finally, for Google, we designed and built a platform for the hosting of online events anywhere in the world: Google Gather. For its first release, teams across Google, including Android, Cloud and Education, used Google Gather to reach and convert potential customers across the globe. With hundreds of events to date, the platform now reaches enterprise decision-makers at massive scale, spanning far beyond what has been possible with traditional event marketing, management and hosting.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Recently, a friend and I shot and edited a fun video homage to the original technology boom-town: Detroit, Michigan. It features two cultural icons from the region, an original big block ‘60s muscle car and some gritty electro beats. My four-year-old son thinks it’s the coolest thing he’s ever seen. It’s going to be hard for me to top that.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Human flight, the Internet and our baby monitor!

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Instagram, Twitter, Medium and LinkedIn.

CARE TO SHARE YOUR FAVORITE MUSIC TO WORK TO?
Where to start?! Music has always played an important part of my creative process, and the joy I derive from what we do. I have day-long playlists curated around what I’m trying to achieve during that time. Being able to influence how I feel when working on a brief is essential — it helps set me in the right mindset.

Sometimes, it might be film scores when working on visuals, jazz to design a workshop schedule or techno to dial-up productivity when doing expenses.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Spend time with my kids. They remind me that there is a simple and unpretentious way to look at life.


Full-service creative agency Carousel opens in NYC

Carousel, a new creative agency helmed by Pete Kasko and Bernadette Quinn, has opened its doors in New York City. Billing itself as “a collaborative collective of creative talent,” Carousel is positioned to handle projects from television series to ad campaigns for brands, media companies and advertising agencies.

Clients such as PepsiCo’s Pepsi, Quaker and Lays brands; Victoria’s Secret; Interscope Records; A&E Network and The Skimm have all worked with the company.

Designed to provide full 360 capabilities, Carousel allows its brand partners to partake of all its services or pick and choose specific offerings including strategy, creative development, brand development, production, editorial, VFX/GFX, color, music and mix. Along with its client relationships, Carousel has also been the post production partner for agencies such as McGarryBowen, McCann, Publicis and Virtue.

“The industry is shifting in how the work is getting done. Everyone has to be faster and more adaptable to change without sacrificing the things that matter,” says Quinn. “Our goal is to combine brilliant, high-caliber people, seasoned in all aspects of the business, under one roof together with a shared vision of how to create better content in a more efficient way.”

According to managing director Dee Tagert comments, “The name Carousel describes having a full set of capabilities from ideation to delivery so that agencies or brands can jump on at any point in their process. By having a small but complete agency team that can manage and execute everything from strategy, creative development and brand development to production and post, we can prove more effective and efficient than a traditional agency model.”

Danielle Russo, Dee Tagert, AnaLiza Alba Leen

AnaLiza Alba Leen comes on board Carousel as creative director with 15 years of global agency experience, and executive producer Danielle Russo brings 12 years of agency experience.
Tagert adds, “The industry has been drastically changing over the last few years. As clients’ hunger for content is driving everything at a much faster pace, it was completely logical to us to create a fully integrative company to be able to respond to our clients in a highly productive, successful manner.”

Carousel is currently working on several upcoming projects for clients including Victoria’s Secret, DNTL, Subway, US Army, Tazo Tea and Range Rover.

Main Image: Bernadette Quinn and Pete Kasko


Behind the Title: Undefined Creative founder/CD Maria Rapetskaya

NAME: Maria Rapetskaya

COMPANY: Undefined Creative

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Undefined Creative is a Brooklyn-based media production agency specializing in motion graphics.

Our portfolio spans television, digital marketing, social media and live events, making us the perfect studio for big brands, agencies and networks looking to establish holistic creative partnerships. We deliver premium-grade motion media, at fair and transparent prices, on time, on budget, on the mark and with a personal touch.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Founder/Creative Director

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
There are two sides to my job: the entrepreneur and the creative. The “entrepreneur” is the founder part, and that makes me responsible for nearly everything, even if only in a supervising or approval role.

I am responsible for the majority of business development. I set the company vision and work on the strategy to get there. I work in tandem with my executive producer on marketing. I oversee finances and operations, and do a good deal of maintaining client relationships.

The “creative” part of my job is being the creative director of a boutique. This encompasses setting the aesthetic direction of the studio in general and each project in particular. Communication with clients about all aspects of a project, and guiding the creative along the production process and — since we are a boutique — a good deal of hands-on production. I love that last part, since I never wanted to get away entirely from actually DOING what I love.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Being both an entrepreneur and a creative director is primarily about managing people. I have to manage our clients by setting realistic expectations without creating negative sentiments, or guiding them effectively through the process so that they understand and appreciate the creative decisions and directions we’re taking.

I also have to manage my team, making sure that everyone understands, for example, that there are objective and subjective comments when it comes to my critiques. The objective comments are not a judgment on anyone’s aesthetic, but a way to develop the best solution for the problem at hand. If I fail to do any of these, all I wind up with is miserable clients and miserable co-workers. So, in essence, the success of this studio depends in a large part on my ability to communicate accurately, efficiently, courteously and emphatically.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Getting unsolicited happy feedback from our clients. We’ve gotten such amazing notes following project delivery. It’s part of our company mission to never forget that our clients are people, so knowing that we made them look good, that their experience of working with us was enjoyable… that they’re less stressed out because they know we’ll take good care of them. All these things really inspire and encourage all of us here.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Experiencing a project I was really excited about become drudgery. It happens and it happens everywhere, to all creatives. There’s usually a combination of factors that contribute to this, like deadlines getting pushed up suddenly and significantly, or a lot of voices in the approval process pulling in completely different directions that are incompatible. I’ve learned over the course of my career to keep a healthy distance from my work, and that helps me manage my reactions, stay focused and motivated. But I’m still human, and even if I don’t get bummed, it’s hard to see the occasional disappointment in the team when this kind of stuff happens.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
Whatever I can squeeze in before 9am. Zero distractions, plenty of caffeine.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I’d do something that combines people, travel, teaching/mentoring and health/wellness.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I was always into, and good at, art. So once I recognized that the only high school classes I was super-excited about were my art classes, I knew I could do this for a living. I come from a creative family of people who love to work for themselves, so even starting a company of my own wasn’t a big surprise. However, with respect to the specific discipline I chose being animation and motion graphics that was pretty random. I picked animation as a college major by default, on the advice and encouragement of an older friend who was graduating from the animation department when I was a freshman. And I didn’t discover motion graphics until about a year after I graduated.

The NHL Awards

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
This summer, we branded the NHL Awards Show in Las Vegas, creating all of the live-event animations for multiple screens on the show stage. We re-branded the Maury Show for the seventh time, creating new graphics packages for on-air, marketing and social media. We did a couple of cool broadcast promo spots for A&E. We worked on an animation for the US Navy and Men’s Health that described some fun facts about sailors (did you know the fitness test includes two minutes of pushups?)

Most recently, we created a graphics package for the United Nations Equator Prize to play on stage during their 2017 Awards Ceremony.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
That’s a very hard question to answer. I don’t think it’s an individual project, but rather our commitment to doing work pro bono for social causes. We’ve created 10-plus (I am actually losing track of how many) awareness videos since 2010, as well as a number of other projects for organizations and missions we care about.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My iPhone, although I am now very conscious of when and how much I’m on it. My analog alarm clock that ensures my iPhone can stay out of the bedroom. My MacBook Air, which lets me get away from my desk even if I’m still working.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
None, if I can help it. I don’t have much love for social media, and if not for needing it to run a business, I would gladly disconnect all together. I do appreciate LinkedIn as a business community, but I try to not get sucked in.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK? CARE TO SHARE YOUR FAVORITE MUSIC TO WORK TO?
Funny you ask. In my twenties, I listened to music while working… loudly and all day long. Now, I just love silence when I work. Helps me focus.

THIS IS A HIGH STRESS JOB WITH DEADLINES AND CLIENT EXPECTATIONS. WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I’ve been a professional creative for nearly 20 years, and coming up with fresh ideas on demand and all the time isn’t easy. Neither is running a company, which is a Ferris wheel ride of gaining clients, losing clients, getting jobs, not getting jobs. People depend on me to pay their bills. My job can be either exhilarating or exhausting, and which it will be depends on my ability to stay creative, productive and encouraged.

If I don’t take care of my mind and body properly, consistently and thoroughly, I’ll burn out. So I take control of my time. I don’t work after hours unless it’s actually necessary. I meditate every day. I try to get a workout in daily. I disconnect whenever I can. I stay off my smartphone when possible. I don’t have a TV — in fact, I rarely watch anything once I’m done working. Staring at a screen all day for work makes it far less enticing to stare at one for leisure. I love what I do, but I take time off to travel whenever I can, and I never guilt myself for wanting a life outside of work


Digging Deep: Helping launch the OnePlus 3T phone

By Jonathan Notaro

It’s always a big deal when a company drops a new smartphone. The years of planning and development culminate in a single moment, and the consumers are left to judge whether or not the new device is worthy of praise and — more importantly — worthy of purchase.

For bigger companies like Google and Apple, a misstep with a new phone release can often amount to nothing more than a hiccup in their operations. But for newer upstarts like OnePlus, it’s a make or break event. When we got the call at Brand New School to develop a launch spot for the company’s 3T smartphone, along with the agency Carrot Creative, we didn’t hesitate to dive in.

The Idea
OnePlus has built a solid foundation of loyal fans with their past releases, but with the 3T they saw the chance to build their fanbase out to more everyday consumers who may not be as tech-obsessed as their existing fans. It is an entirely new offering and, as creatives, the chance to present such a technologically advanced device to a new, wider audience was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.

Carrot wanted to create something for OnePlus that gave viewers a unique sense of what the phone was capable of — to capture the energy, momentum and human element of the OnePlus 3T. The 3T is meant to be an extension of its owner, so this spot was designed to explore the parallels between man and machine. Doing this can run the risk of being cliché, so we opted for futuristic, abstract imagery that gets the point across effectively without being too heavy handed. We focused on representing the phone’s features that set it apart from other devices in this market, such as its powerful processor and its memory and storage capabilities.

How We Did It
Inspired by the brooding, alluring mood reflected in the design for the title sequence of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, we set out to meld lavish shots of the OnePlus 3T with robotically-infused human anatomy, drawing up initial designs in Autodesk Maya and Maxon Cinema 4D.

When the project moved into the animation phase, we stuck with Maya and used Nuke for compositing. Type designs were done in Adobe Illustrator and animated in Adobe After Effects.

Collaboration is always a concern when there are this many different scenes and moving parts, but this was a particular challenge. With a CG-heavy production like this, there’s no room for error, so we had to make sure that all of the different artists were on the same page every step along the way.

Our CG supervisor Russ Wootton and technical director Dan Bradham led the way and compiled a crack team to make this thing happen. I may be biased, but they continue to amaze me with what they can accomplish.

The Final Product
The project was two-month production process. Along the way, we found that working with Carrot and the brand was a breath of fresh air, as they were very knowledgeable and amenable to what we had in mind. They afforded us the creative space to take a few risks and explore some more abstract, avant-garde imagery that I felt represented what they were looking to achieve with this project.

In the end, we created something that I hope cuts through the crowded landscape of product videos and appeals to both the brand’s diehard-tech-savvy following and consumers who may not be as deep into that world. (Check it out here.)

Fueled by the goal of conveying the underlying message of “raw power” while balancing the scales of artificial and human elements, we created something I believe is beautiful, compelling and completely unique. Ultimately though, the biggest highlight was seeing the positive reaction the piece received when it was released. Normally, reaction from consumers would be centered solely on the product, but to have the video receive praise from a very discerning audience was truly satisfying.


Jonathan Notaro is a director at Brand New School, a bicoastal studio that provides VFX, animation and branding. 


Project Arachnid short targets online images of child sexual abuse

Early this year, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (CCCP) launched Project Arachnid, a new tool that detects and helps remove images of child sexual abuse on the Internet. The centre, which operates in partnership with police forces across Canada, recently posed questions to 128 adults who had been sexually exploited as children and whose abuse had been recorded on camera. Almost three-quarters of respondents said they were worried about being recognized years later, because the images continue to spread online.

To bring to life how Project Arachnid helps victims break the endless cycle of abuse, the organization enlisted agency No Fixed Address and Nice Shoes Creative Studio to craft a brief, but powerful animated short film that features a B&W hand-drawn look.

“It was very important to us to find a way to reflect the gravity of the matter, but not make people look away. We didn’t want the problem to seem insurmountable,” says Shawn James, creative director at No Fixed Address.

Nice Shoes creative directors Gary Thomas and Matt Greenwood, along with design director Stefan Woronko, developed style frames, taking the piece into an illustrative, textured direction inspired by Manga, graphic novels and the work of Frank Miller and Edward Gorey.

As the teams explored the concept, they quickly found they were on the same page, and worked closely to animate the dramatic and powerful story. “We felt the narrative should drive the visuals and presented a solution where only simple animation was needed to emphasize the story,” says Thomas, adding that they were brought in almost from the beginning. “We had reference from the creative team, but we really came back with the look and feel, and worked closely with the team to refine elements.”

Nice Shoes used Adobe Photoshop for all the illustrations in order to get a handmade quality. Everything was assembled in Adobe After Effects. “We composited the scenes and gave it a paper-like, distressed texture,” says Thomas. “We used Maxon Cinema 4D to do the spiders and globe sequences. We had a great character animator, Rob Findlay, come in for a few days and add the animated touches to the characters.”

In terms of challenges, Thomas says the only major one was a quick turnaround of three weeks. “The piece was tied to a big media launch for the CCCP, so we had a firm deadline to work with. It wasn’t really onerous, because we were careful at the outset to do as much as we could at the beginning to make sure the creatives at No Fixed Address were part of the process, and they in turn were able to keep their clients at CCCP in the loop.”


The Famous Grouse

Putting The Famous Grouse into CG environs for holiday spots

By Randi Altman

Flaunt Productions in Glasgow teamed up with the Leith Agency on a two-spot campaign for the Scottish blended whisky brand, The Famous Grouse. Heading the effort was director Ben Craig and Flaunt’s head of lighting, Jon Neill — they were tasked with putting the iconic grouse into a CG version of his natural environment for these holiday-themed ads.

The first spot, Perfectly Balanced, was released earlier this month and takes the viewer on a flight through the Scottish Highlands to reveal the Grouse with his chest puffed out and feeling proud of his environment. The second commercial, called Smooth, which aired the week of Black Friday, starts as the camera spins through the snowy Scottish Highlands.

flauntTo create the cinematic photoreal landscape, Neill and some of the team shot drone footage in Glencoe, which allowed real-life textures to be applied to the CG world.

In order to create a realistic grouse, Flaunt applied a feather system based on a fur and procedural shader that gave on organic look to the model. When it came to movement of the body and wing feathers, specific movements had to be animated to give a sense of realistic movement and the personality that is associated with the Famous Grouse.

We reached out to executive producer Andrew Pearce about the project and its workflow…

Photo:Mike Scott

Andrew Pearce

How early did you get involved in the project? Was the agency up for suggestions, or did they already have a specific plan locked in?
Director Ben Craig worked with Flaunt on a creative treatment, based on scripts from The Leith Agency. Their central idea was to bring the much-loved Grouse into his home environment: the epic, sweeping Scottish Highlands. Previously, all ads had been set against an infinite white background. With that in mind, we worked collaboratively with the agency to bring the ads to life.

The first stage after treatment would normally be storyboard. However, because our camera move was so extreme, we felt a 2D animatic would be misleading, so we proceeded straight to previs.

You used drone footage for the Grouse’s environment. How did you go about turning it into CG?
We drove up to the Glencoe ski resort and jumped onto the ski lift to get as high as possible. After a 30-minute walk, we attached a camera to the drone and sent it up into the sky — 360 overlapping stills were taken at three different heights.

We merged the images together to create a 360-panorama and applied this to geometry in Autodesk Maya. From there we rendered out the shot with this background, making creative decisions on what to add or take away. Next, we made simple 3D hills on which to project the images, thus providing parallax and a three-dimensional feel.

Was Maya your main animation software? Did you write your own particle systems off of that? What other tools were used?
Maya was used for animation, Side Effects Houdini for FX, Houdini Mantra for lighting and Nuke for compositing. We also had to write a feather system for the Grouse, which worked inside Houdini.

Can you talk about giving the Grouse personality in the CG world? What about facial (or beak) expressions, and his eyes and movements?
For these adverts, the Grouse was in a real-world environment. With that in mind, we didn’t want to go over the top with cartoony animation. The realism of the Grouse asset wouldn’t support that style, but we needed to give the Grouse some character beyond that of a real one.

Real grouse faces don’t move that much, and we didn’t want to change the anatomy too much. So we used the eyebrows and eyes as much as we could. Our rig also enabled us to exaggerate the shape of the eyes and eyebrows beyond the norm. These subtle anatomical exaggerations were enough for us to push the facial animation enough to engage the viewer.

When it came to the motions of the Grouse, we had to tread a fine line between realistic and anthropomorphic — fans of this brand love how it has moved in previous campaigns. We created various versions of all the actions as we honed in on the motion we wanted. The Grouse’s wink at the end of one of the adverts was the product of many iterations, having explored head tilts, nods, lifts, raised eyebrows and so on.

Before we leave you, anything you would like to add?
We had to strike a balance between a look that was both realistic and magical. This was partly achieved by mashing up some of the most incredible landscapes in Scotland. To augment the magical feel, we added lens flares and camera lens aberrations in the compositing. Subtle pollen particles were also added to give a sense of space as we flew through the environment.

Check out the making of the video here.


Behind the Title: Arnold Worldwide’s Jon Drawbaugh

NAME: Jon Drawbaugh

COMPANY: Arnold Worldwide

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Arnold is a global creative agency that sits within Havas Creative Group and has offices in Boston (HQ), London, Madrid, Milan, New York, Prague, São Paulo, Shanghai, Sydney and Toronto.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
EVP, Director of Integrated Production

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I like to think of the job as sort of production curator. I am the steward of all the wonderful things that we make as an agency — from sites to apps to video content to still imagery to live brand experiences. I produce by supporting creative solutions and executions. We’re in a period of disruption in the agency world, and I find the opportunities exciting. There’s always something new to learn and a “never been done before” to figure out.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I’m lucky that’s it’s a very roll up your sleeves and dig into the work kind of role. Unlike other leadership roles that are administrative or directorial in nature, I’m very hands-on while still being strategic and holistic. I’ll go from managing staffing allocations into content strategy meetings and then be in an edit bay reviewing creative decks and making ballpark estimates. I also spend a fair amount “producing” for the agency.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Collaborating with my team, creative teams, clients and partners.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Number crunching.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Late afternoon. If all my meetings are done for the day, it’s a great time to grab a coffee and reflect on the solutions of the day.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I wish I could be an amazing chef with popular, hip restaurants. In reality, I’d likely be working for a production company producing or directing content.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
To be honest, I stumbled into advertising. I didn’t know anything about it until I moved to New York City. I landed a temp job at Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetter as a receptionist. Advertising seemed so glamorous, what with the producers jetting off to foreign countries and working with famous feature directors. It sounded much more fun than what I had been doing, which was making copies in the basement of a law firm.

From there I worked in the creative department and dabbled in copy writing. I wanted to get to making TV spots quickly, so I figured taking the producer track would get me there faster. Plus, I was producing theater projects on the side and discovered I could actually get paid for producing if I worked at an ad agency.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I’m new to Arnold, so I don’t have my fingerprints on any projects just yet, but I’m a big fan of the recent work like Jack Daniel’s Global Barrel Hunt and their Our Town film (pictured). I also love the Hershey’s My Dad spot and Reese’s #AllTreesAreBeautiful social campaign.

Prior to Arnold, I’m really proud of the Qualcomm Invisible Museum app and Fabric Content projects I worked on out of DDB SF.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
That’s a tough one. I’m so proud of a lot of the work I’ve made over the years. For example, the massive Acura TLX integrated launch we did at Mullen LA, the documentary film I made with Lucy Walker Make Haste Slowly: The Kikkoman Creed, or the viral hit Nanerpus before there were viral hits.

But I’d say the animated short Smutley for AIDES (the French association tackling HIV and AIDS) I produced at Goodby, Silverstein and Partners is one of my proudest. A chance to use our ad skills for good, and how many times in a career can you say you made a cartoon about a cat having sex with all different kinds of animals to Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation.”

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My iPhone, my vintage HiFi, and my camera. Running water and heat are pretty cool, too.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, Vine, Houseparty, Tumblr, Periscope, LinkedIn, Pinterest and others.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK? 
I love music. All kinds. But generally I don’t have a lot of time at the office to plug in my headphones. When I do, I generally use Spotify or Apple Music to listen to the Indie genre.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I like to listen to LPs on my vintage HiFi with my family. It’s our important family together time. We like to go hunting for vinyl together on weekends. Record Store Day is like a second Christmas for us.

Arnold Worldwide adds Jon Drawbaugh as director of integrated production

Arnold Worldwide has named Jon Drawbaugh as EVP/director of integrated production. Reporting to global chief creative officer Jim Elliott, Drawbaugh’s role is meant to further grow the agency’s integrated production offerings across Arnold and Studio6, a content production studio that is part of the Havas Network (Arnold’s parent company). Studio6 works with Arnold as well as outside clients.

Elliott and Drawbaugh had previously worked together at Goodby, Silverstein and Partners on campaigns for various brands, including as HP and Denny’s.

Drawbaugh will oversee Arnold’s cross-channel production efforts, and work closely with EVP/director of content production Bill Goodell to advance content production efforts across Arnold’s Boston and New York offices.

“Jon comes to us with extensive experience building contemporary integrated production capabilities, and we are extremely excited to have him aboard,” says Elliott.

Prior to joining Arnold, Drawbaugh led integrated production at DDB San Francisco, where he oversaw their Speakeasy content studio. In that role, he built a team of cross-platform production experts focused on creating innovative media agnostic communications for brands like Oracle, Slim Jim, Clorox and Qualcomm — including Qualcomm’s Fabric Content film series and Invisible Museum AR app.

Previously, he worked as SVP/director of integrated production at Mullen LA. He joined Mullen from FCB West where he oversaw a wide range of integrated production assignments. He also established the Foundry, the agency’s in-house production entity, which played a critical role in winning Levi’s business. Before that, Drawbaugh was a senior producer at Goodby, Silverstein and Partners, working on top brands like Chevrolet, Sprint, Hewlett-Packard, Dickies, Comcast, Cheetos, Denny’s, eBay, Starbucks, Subway, Kayak.com and AIDES.