How'd They do That Spot?

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The New York broadcast design/effects/animation company known as Psyop has two arresting new spots on the air, one for Volkswagen, the other for AT&T. The commercials feature a similar animation style, based around stylized but not particularly expressionistic representations of people, which would seem to suggest rotoscoping - but that turns out not to be the case at all. Led by executive producer Justin Booth-Clibborn, Psyop bills itself as a creative collective, so a group interview with the crew has been distilled to one representative voice. For starters, the Psyoppers agree that the spots in question - VW's "DNA" :60, from Arnold Worldwide, and AT&T's Winter Olympics "Compulsories" :30, from Y&R/New York - will leave viewers wondering just what kind of animation they're looking at; even many people in the business will be fooled, they say. The action is fairly simple in both spots. "DNA" features a fluid blend of scenes of VW engineers tinkering with cars over the years, driven by a voiceover; "Compulsories" starts with a lone figure skater on the ice, who is replaced by a swirl of hockey players, which results in the AT&T logo being skate-carved into the middle of the rink. And it's all CGI, executed via Flame and xSI, Softimage's latest 3-D animation package.

"Our intention is for the animation to retain the human quality and the authenticity of live action, but to make it crisper and cleaner, so it stands out more," Psyop says. "It's a representational style but it's not photographic; we'd like to think it's bridging the gap between live action and animation."

For VW, the look of the animation is based on illustrator Evan Hecox's work - he was part of the creative brief from Arnold. "We shot isolated live-action sequences on DV for motion reference," Psyop explains. "All the figures you see are not shot standing around the car. It's like life drawing; rather than drawing from your mind, we animate from the video reference. The skill of the animator comes into play to interpret those live-action movements. While we're not rotoscoping, we can pick up nice nuances of gestures by interpreting the animation from live action. "

No illustrator was involved in the AT&T job; Psyop did a day's shoot with a hired figure skater and hockey players and used that footage for reference. Is there a signature visual style to Psyop's work? "Beyond the fact that we believe they're well-designed and correctly proportioned humans, not really. Our signature style, in a broad sense, is work that is not photo-real; we like the hybrid between the real and the unreal. Most post houses are concerned with the photo-real; putting birds where there aren't birds and the like - filling in. Frankly, we think that's become a little boring."

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