Vision Q&A: Getting Lux Up In Lights

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In a nod to Nevada's neon-friendly Fremont Street, "Neon Girl," from Buenos Aires agency Santo, directed by Rattling Stick's Daniel Kleinman, follows a lit-up waitress as she loses an arm and a leg to darkness but gets their shine back (and a cowboy) with the help of Lux Shine soap. We spoke to Framestore CFC's Dale Newton, the spot's production designer and senior animator, to find out how this bright little story was made.

How did you arrive at this particular approach?
Dale Newton: We started with practically nothing; a blank canvas, as it were. We had a storyboard that was very rough and loose, just to describe the narrative so the director and agency would know they were on the same page. There were a few pieces of artwork that indicated the era—neon signs from the late 1940s or early '50s. But barring a handful of images of real neons, that was all we had.

Describe the process of creating this spot.
All the animation is initially drawn on paper, then scanned. Once we had a clean line and rough animation, we export those into 3-D and do a layout where we create a camera move across the animation as it unfolds. When we've got the camera move and some animation we're happy with, it gets exported into Houdini where all the line work is prepared for rendering. We were able to keep the more technical people working alongside the people drawing, so everyone was able to work more fluidly. We always try to keep things fluid; because we had so much input, and the slightest alteration would make a huge difference in the end, creating an open pipeline where we could alter anything quickly definitely helped us.

What were some of the big challenges in creating the look of the spot?
The first thing that was tricky was to work out how much animation to make. The brief was to make it very, very real. So we had to achieve a real look, but the more animation you make, the more "off" neons there are. You have to make a really complex network of "off" neon lights so it will all fit together. One of the largest creative hurdles was working out just how many frames we needed to tell the story we wanted to tell. We actually ended up animating too much; we had to reduce it and work out what we needed and what we didn't. I think we ended up with a pretty good minimum, to the point where I wouldn't even necessarily classify it as animation.

How collaborative is this process?
We designed all the characters with the director and the agency's involvement. So we had to work out the locations and what was part of the lights and how much was part of the background structure. Once everyone agreed on where we were, we just drew up the whole sign and laid it out, trying to imagine we were real sign builders. In my head, while it was being made, it was one big sign. And we really had to look at it like that, because the camera does go over the same spots multiple times, meaning we had to keep in mind the past and the future when designing each segment.

Which sequence in the spot is your favorite?
I really like the pink car and the part where she trips over the rock. And my favorite parts aren't all mine, so I think I'm allowed to like them and not just be self-applauding.
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