In New York's MTV animation offices, where various incarnations of Beavis and Butt-head and Aeon Flux line the walls and corpses of Celebrity Deathmatches past inhabit every nook and cranny, it's hard to see how work can get the slightest bit tiresome. But even here in this hotbed of edginess, where irreverence and raunch rule, the artsy-craftsy folk still ache to flex their creative muscles, and in an appropriately bizarro turn, it's commercials that give the animators and directors their oft-needed artistic outlet.
"First and foremost, this is about keeping our talent pool and allowing them to stretch creatively," says director of animation Abby Terkuhle So MTV launched a commercials division two years ago to gives the staff room to spread their wings. "You can only do series work for so long," explains executive producer Nick Litwinko, one of the original producers on Beavis & Butt-head and Cartoon Sushi. "Imagine four years of drawing Daria. All the directors and animators that work on it have their own styles and interests that aren't necessarily applicable to the series. We have a lot of diversity on the channel, yet it's still somewhat limited."
Exploiting the animators' range of styles makes for some pretty hot spots. A cool commercial for 7-Eleven from The Richards Group and Backyard Productions' Kevin Smith combines CG and live action. The commercial draws from the Lara Croft school of babeness, featuring a CG version of actress Kari Wuhrer and an animated Video Vixen cohort in computer generated surroundings. The two then transport to the "ultra hi-res" of the real world and reappear in a 7-Eleven store, Wuhrer transforming back into her flesh and blood self, and the Vixen retaining her pixelated appearance. Litwinko directed the animated portion, which utilized motion capture to peg Wuhrer's CG likeness.
Creative combo approaches also abound in clever spots for the Playstation title Spyro 2: Raptor's Rage from TBWA/Chiat/Day. The game's protagonist dragon wreaks havoc on other animated stop-motion life forms, including a pair of squeamish styrofoam snowmen and a putty-like dog and boy duo. Litwinko's toughest spot, which he both produced and directed, was an ad for Midway Home Entertainment for Ready2Rumble boxing through Texas agency Pyro. Another live action and CG amalgamation, this :30 features a biting showdown a la Mike Tyson. One boxer leans in and chomps a serious chunk out of his opponent's humongous afro, and during the break, a live action hottie trims down the CG fighter's newly lopsided `do.
"Generally, our work is younger, sicker, and funnier," . the division's marketing director Henry Hagerty jokes, but MTV-styled commercials can also tread a not so naughty path. In a spot for haircare product Elasta QP, from Young & Laramore, Jeffrey Johnson, a former Beavis director, takes a cute, quirky approach using simple crayon-like black on white scrawls to whimsically showcase the styling woes of various hairstyles. Recent work for the new Starburst campaign from Grey Advertising, takes an elegant CG approach and creates a lava lamp-like display of the candy's juicy colors. The work was a collaboration with Sci-Fi channel alums Todd Mueller and Eben Mears, both now at design boutique Psyop.
MTV input can also breathe life into not-so-sexy fare. Take zit-remedies, for example. In their latest campaign for Oxy medicated cleanser, Jordan McGrath Case, & Partners, went straight to the commercials department for some edgy character consultation. MTV helped the agency to develop the cel-animated spokeschick Oxy Angela, a poker-faced, semi-jaded teen whose deadpan attitude departs from the cloying mirth of the shiny, happy-faced adolescents that bounce around many a pimple-zapping spot. For this campaign, MTV pulled director Olivia Ward straight from the drawing boards of Daria.
Although the original impetus behind the department was to keep the creative staff pumped, the venture also happens to be a pretty smart move on the marketing front. Commercials had long been taking off on the raunchy, explosive MTV style, so why shouldn't the originators be doling out their own twisted two cents? "Why bother ripping us off?" jokes Hagerty. "Why not pay us to rip ourselves off?"