"We like to push the limits as much as possible to keep things fresh," explains Olive Jar partner and CD Fred Macdonald. "Fresh" is one possible adjective to describe a studio still adorned with different versions of the Girl Reaper's bra cup sizes. But these days, the word most everyone associates with the Boston-based company is "edgy."
"We're marketed as one of the most creative boutique animation studios in the world," says Macdonald. "I don't know about that word 'boutique' but we are trying to be as creative as possible, and selective as well. We won't take just anything anymore." Macdonald interned at Olive Jar back when it was primarily a clay animation studio operating out of a garage. Now, as the shop's creative guru, he is trying to stick to an image that says, "We're demented, but we can do anything."
Inevitably, not everyone is open to Macdonald's vision. "The agencies always love our stuff. It's the clients who are wary," he says, shaking his head. Note to clients: the fact that Olive Jar's work is a little twisted doesn't mean its reel is filled entirely with bloody death scenes. If some of the work is, um, unusual enough to scare starchy corporate clients incontinent, Olive Jar's reel also has some softer spots to keep things balanced.
Then again, there's the successful "Sun Fizz" spot for Sprite's "Image Is Nothing" campaign. In it, an annoying CG cartoon terrorizes a suburban family by chasing them down Friday the 13th-style. "We looked at a bunch of reels, but Olive Jar's had a real darkness to it, and it was very funny," says Lowe & Partners/SMS producer Liz Hodge, who helped pick Olive Jar for the job.
Satellite Films' Spike Jonze of music video fame directed the live action portion of the Sprite spot; Olive Jar worked with Western Images to create the sinister Sunny character. "We were so excited about working with Spike because he's not afraid to take risks and try different things," says Macdonald. Apparently Jonze felt all warm and fuzzy about Olive Jar as well. "When we put Olive Jar on the phone with Spike it was an instant love fest," grins Hodge. Since then, Jonze and Olive Jar have collaborated on a music video for Sean Lennon, and they expect to work together on more projects.
Whether it's videos or commercials Olive Jar is working on, the studio uses a broad palette of techniques: cel animation, drawn, mixed-media, clay, 3-D model, CG and a combination of live action with special effects. "I hate to use the term because it's kind of cheesy, but we have this toolbox with many different shelves," says Matthew Charde, Olive Jar's executive producer and Macdonald's partner in crime. Both men, who were once college roommates, helped president Larry Pensack build this roster of technical capabilities that often beats out the competition.
A quick tour reveals a good number of young animation artists working feverishly, as if to underline that Olive Jar has many gigs on on its plate. Don't these guys ever get burnt out? The answer is a bit like crop rotation -- no one has to work on the same thing twice (at least not right away).
"If we didn't mix things up, people would leave," says Macdonald matter-of-factly. "We're always encouraging the people here to come up with ideas and we'll produce them in-house if they're good." For example, Olive Jar produced a signature piece to visually tie its reel together. It opens with a Teddy Roosevelt-like soldier calmly listening to his phonograph, and unfolds into an unexpected action adventure story filled with a host of strange characters à la Bonnie & Clyde. "We wanted a personal touch, and it's exciting when our guys can work on something we created," explains Macdonald.
Not that there's a lack of enthusiasm for paying work -- especially if it breaks new ground. Olive Jar is about to put a big notch in its belt with an assignment from Universal Studios' new theme park in Florida. The comic book junkies at the studio were smitten to find out they would be animating a video pre-show for Dr. Doom's Fear Fall and The Incredible Hulk Roller Coaster. While kids anxiously wait in line for the rides, they'll watch two 15-minute continuous cel-animated features that chronicle the stories of Dr. Doom and The Hulk.
"The idea is you're supposed to get the fear sucked out of you before you go on," explains Macdonald, grinning. Besides, he muses, "one nice thing about this project is that no one can change the channel; we'll have a very captive