For Vitaly Nikolaev and Veronika Nikolaeva, one animated Will Smith Instagram piece opened the door to a number of promo projects that bring positive online vibes to their artist clients.
For Vitaly Nikolaev and Veronika Nikolaeva, the husband and wife creative duo behind the Russian animation studio, V+ Animation, it began with a short, fun, looping animation of box office star and rapper Will Smith. From that one piece, they’ve been brought on to produce a number of short promotional animations for Instagram, as well as several music videos. “It all started when Will Smith posted our animation on his Instagram page,” Nikolaev explains. “Before that, we created mostly commercial videos, but at the same time we were developing our own animated series. We decided to take a chance and create a short animation with Will Smith; we never expected he would notice and post it on his Instagram page. Will collaborates with content creators from all over the globe, posting their work and providing opportunities to realize greater potential. He’s a very generous person; through that piece, we’ve had the opportunity to work on other Instagram shorts as well as music videos, something we wanted to do since we created our studio.”
Word of mouth on the Smith piece led to projects for Macaulay Culkin and his podcast, BunnyEars, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and the popular EDM group Breathe Carolina. The studio leveraged their experience producing motion graphics, animated logos and character animation into animated social media promotional posts and music videos. According to Nikolaeva, “Everyone really enjoyed the animated Will Smith. On the projects for Macaulay Culkin, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and Breathe Carolina that followed, the clients mostly asked us to use a similar style. We only work in 2D; we really like the format, and believe it has room to grow, especially now that new software lets us create in so-called 2.5D.”
Nikolaev produces and directs, while Nikolaeva animates; they share duties in other areas of the production, including scriptwriting, storyboards, backgrounds, characters and compositing, though their “team” sometimes expands to as many as six artists. “When working on celebrity projects, we communicate mostly with the record labels and artist management, though sometimes directly with the artists themselves,” Nikolaev notes. “We’ve been lucky. The artists really appreciate the work and always get involved, but they’ve never interfered with numerous notes or edits. They trust our vision, which has allowed us to fully realize our ideas. We’ve never had any problems with managers either. We just send our work on a step-by-step basis: first a storyboard, then illustrations, and after that, we animate. With a full 2-3 minutes of video, there’s always more to the approval process, but clients have always been enthusiastic about our work.”
Short pieces using a single background have proven popular for promotional posts on Instagram. “If we are talking about short 20-40 seconds of looping animation for Instagram, we only make one background and one scene,” he states. “This format is very popular among musicians who want to promo their new songs on Instagram. In general, celebrities have similar needs - they often want a promotional clip for their song, show, or event.”
While the projects often require long days and short production schedules, feeling appreciated by clients and audiences – often in the hundreds of thousands – who enjoy the finished pieces, makes the hard work worthwhile. “Frankly speaking, working with celebrities is much easier than working on commercials for companies,” Nikolaev concludes. “Celebrities are always inspiring and supportive, even if we’re working with their managers; managers convey reactions and thanks from the celebrities themselves. And it’s always a pleasure to read the personal comments of celebrities and their fans when they post our work.”
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.