Georgia Commute Options
CONCEPT ILLUSTRATION ANIMATION
CONCEPT ILLUSTRATION ANIMATION
Our friends at JWT approached us to produce a :30 animated commercial for Georgia Commute Options that promoted a social and eco-friendly alternative to sitting in soul-sucking traffic.
Nobody likes traffic. Creeping along the highway at a snail’s pace might be great for catching up on the latest season of Serial, but it’s pretty terrible for anyone’s sanity. Nobody wants to get where they’re going slowly. We want to get there fast. We wanted to pack each scene in this short animated spot with as much character and personality as possible, while making sure we could meet a tight turnaround. Ironically, that meant starting slow.
It’s always tempting to hit the ground running on any project; however, this spot featured several different environments, a cast of characters, and mini-scenes that could only take up a few seconds each. And in order to accomplish this, we needed careful planning. We needed to choose techniques that would best serve the story of the piece. We needed to take a patient approach, where we not only storyboarded, but also planned out the color, light, and shadow for each shot.
Junior Art Director, Justin Burks, and Senior Designer/Animator, Sean Kiley, worked closely to develop visuals that were character-focused while using color and light to express tone. They took time on the front end to create a visual game plan that served the team well, especially as we faced the deadline. For Justin, the first step was going through the script and finding where to add character without slowing the pace. The first visual he landed on was a girl arriving to her carpool with coffee. After all, what’s better than finding out someone has brought you coffee in the morning? Nothing.
From there, Justin and Sean used those type moments and feelings evoked to create a color palette for each scene. They utilized Coolorus, a great plugin for Photoshop for developing color palettes. They also curated photo references earlier that they relied on throughout the process.
This spot is extremely character driven, though no one character is on screen for more than a few seconds. It was important to give each as much life as possible for the short time they would be gracing the screen. So we chose to animate them in 2D using Photoshop.
We also fleshed out each character, making jokes about their backstories. Besides keeping our animators entertained, it helped them bring the characters to life. Tip to any animators out there: if your character animation is feeling flat or boring, take a step back and work on giving your characters backstories.
Of course, a commercial about commuting needs to heavily feature cars, roads and buildings. These are all things that look good in 3D. And with 3D, you can animate a lot of them quickly, which worked for this project’s tight timeline. Most importantly, we took an illustrator’s approach to each scene to ensure each environment evoked the desired tone.
The process started with Justin creating a detailed 2D illustration of each scene with color, highlights, and shadows. This approach gave Justin the freedom to define each environment while exploring a wide range of color and texture. Sean would then take Justin’s illustration and set about recreating it as accurately as possible in 3D. He accomplished this by modeling simple shapes and applying illustrated texture layers. Through this process, the 3D scene would slowly build back up to match the original illustrated treatment.
Beyond allowing us to use color and light to define tone, this illustrator’s approach had another benefit. Justin and Sean could rely on their shared backgrounds as 2D illustrators as they developed each 3D environment. Justin could use “illustration language” while art directing, which Sean would pick up right away. Communication is key, especially on tight deadlines.
In terms of blending the 2D characters with the 3D environments, we pushed the 3D elements to look more 2D. To remove the 3D-ness from scenes, we utilized longer lenses in our virtual cameras while animating. The default wider lenses for 3D cameras create a parallax effect, while using a long lens reduces that. We also battled shadow shapes quite a bit from 3D. Justin felt like he was constantly saying "No 3D generated shadows!" We ended up rendering separate shadow palettes for every scene.
On the 2D side, we limited line art on the silhouettes of the characters. This helped us integrate them into the environments without them looking too flat.
Finally, maintaining a sense of travel can sometimes be hard when showing characters in the tight confines of a car or bus interior. Our artists achieved this feeling of continued movement by applying a series of contrasting light and dark shadows across the 2D characters and the 3D interior surfaces. By integrating the shadows through deliberately repetitive motion, we could make it look like the foreground characters are matching the movement of the passing scenery outside the windows. The artists also wanted to use this light/shadow movement as a visual signature, which has an effect of creating an underlying rhythm over the length of the spot that really works.
By starting with patient planning, we were able to create a colorful animation that blended 2D characters and 3D environments on a short timeline.
Production Company: Elevation
Creative Direction: Stephen Cocks, David Hendrix,
Executive Producer: Stephanie Carson
Producer: Alina Klopach
Art Direction: Justin Burks
Animation Direction: David Hendrix
Design & Animation: Justin Burks, Sean Kiley, Kito Kondowe
Client: JWT / GA Commute Options
Process Music: Blockbuster Night (Part 1) by Run The Jewels