The veteran animator has built a long, successful career using various 2D techniques to produce ‘explainer videos’ that help companies unpack their product’s messages in fun ways that aren’t boring.
From commercials and music videos to web projects and app breakdowns, animation studio Quality Schnallity Inc. has built its experimental empire on taking a product’s message and unpacking it “in a way that’s not boring,” according to founder John Schnall.
One of Schnall’s favorite pieces even includes his own hands, photographed, cut out, and animated into a video explaining a location tracker app called Glympse.
“They kept telling me, ‘Our product is very hands-on,’ and I was like, ‘Well, I have this crazy idea,’” remembers Schnall. “And they went nuts for it.” Hands down.
Quality Schnallity’s clients included a range of companies, from small startups to Big Pharma. Take a moment to check out their reel:
But, these days, people are less and less inclined to reach out and seek a hand-made touch to their videos. “I think the economy is really good on paper, and job growth is amazing,” says Schnall. “But more of those jobs are lower-end jobs that people really need to just keep working. I've talked with a bunch of different folks who work in different brands of advertising and everyone's in a very cautious let's-wait-and-see kind of mode. It’s just not a priority anymore. It’s become, ‘an expense we’ll get to down the road.’”
He continues, “Explainer videos were all the rage and they’re still used. But a lot of companies are going to AI to get it done cheaply. But it doesn’t show much personality.”
And personality is something Schnall’s studio has in abundance. He’s used animated puzzle piece swapping to showcase Australian security monitoring tools, Pac-Man parallels to illustrate virus removal software, cute puppies to make an emotional connection to direct deposit set-ups (not an easy task), and musical city montages to explain how YMCA can help maximize a child’s potential.
“We bring in a lot more eyeballs, that’s for sure,” says Schnall. “I haven't delved into that third D but, when it comes to 2D animation, the sky's pretty much the limit.”
Starting out making independent films at NYU, Schnall found his first professional gigs in the New York freelance animation world, primarily for George Griffin’s company Metropolis Graphics, while continuing to make his own films on the side through his animation production company, Quality Schnallity Inc, which he officially established in 1997 for a Nickelodeon project, Short Films By Short People.
“They have children come up with ideas for stories and then a studio develops it,” explains Schnall. “And I helped them develop this one called The Great Switcheroo!, where this girl, on her 10th birthday, decides to switch her dog’s food with her baby brother's food and then their personalities switch.”
The short mixed 2D and collage-style animation, a technique Schnall had ample experience with, having used it when creating comedic music videos using photos he first scanned, manipulated, printed out, then cut out and shot on film. He used scanned photos and computer graphics to manipulate the eye and mouth movements.
“It was a technique that one could describe as ‘crazy,’ but it's utterly adorable,” he notes of the short. “The only problem was that it was made as an interstitial for Nickelodeon but got more and more elaborate to the point where it was seven minutes long. So, they only aired it once.”
Plus, Nickelodeon was aiming to have new artists developing these shorts each time. So, eventually, Schnall moved into TV series production, starting as timing supervisor on Disney’s Doug and working his way up to co-director of JoJo’s Circus for Disney. Following that, he worked as an animation director on the PBS Kids series WordWorld before making the jump to working for his own company full-time, primarily making explainer videos, corporate videos, some music videos, and more.
“I would say 99 percent of what I do can be traced back to one meeting that I had when I was working as timing supervisor on Disney's Doug,” says Schnall. “I had an intensive, how-to-animate-in-Flash from a friend of mine, who, in that one meeting, taught me all the basics that I then developed into my own way of doing. And while I don't work exclusively in what's now Adobe Animate, it's my favorite way of working.”
He continues, “I still draw on paper, then I scan and trace bitmaps into Animate, then finish it from there. I've developed a really streamlined way of doing this so that a minute-long video might have seven pieces of paper in it, but with 10 characters all carefully worked out.”
Schnall has also continued to consult on animated series for Sesame Workshop. Currently, Quality Schnallity is also a one-man operation.
“There was a while when my husband and I were working together, but he's retired so my company halved in size this year,” says Schnall, whose animation studio is also a certified LGBT-owned Business Enterprise, certified by the NGLCC. “Honestly, not much has changed. He still helps me out.”
The studio’s name does derive some inspiration from Schnall’s own last name. But its true origins are rooted in the goofy antics the business was founded on and continues with 26 years later. “Back when I was doing animated commercials for Metropolis Graphics, every time the phone rang, me and a friend pretended we were the world's worst animation company, answering as, ‘Quality Schnallity. How can I lose your call?’” he remembers. “And then, when working on that Nickelodeon project, it became apparent that I should incorporate my business and the old name popped in my head and just stuck. And it's been great because it sort of helps me weed clients because they get it, or they don't. I’ll still work with people who don't get it. But I know I'll have more fun if they do.”
For many years, Schnall worked full-time with other studios while doing Quality Schnallity projects – like public service spots about Tourette Syndrome – on the side. But as more and more freelance gigs to create explainer videos rolled in, Schnall realized it was something he had a knack for. “It really clicked with me,” he says. “And then, as other jobs ended, my full-time career at Quality Schnallity began.”
But, since the pandemic, and the rise of AI, Schnall says there’s been a noticeable dip in business, which is odd for a time where everyone seems so much more reliant on optimizing website use and online communication.
“Something I’d really like to get into is doing these little 30-second videos that pop up on company websites just to explain what’s going on in front of you,” shares Schnall. “They increase traffic interactions enormously.”
Currently, Schnall is excavating most of his freelance gigs through word-of-mouth with people he’s already worked with, but also hopes their studio’s own Rubix cube-assisted explainer videos will not only demystify the process. And he also hopes to entice those surfing YouTube to utilize Quality Schnallity’s skills in animation and professional nonsense to help make sense of their brilliant ideas.
“I see Quality Schnallity moving more toward e-learning, just-in-time learning and helping the user navigate an increasingly complicated world,” he shares. “I’m looking for the bold companies that are going to be moving us in new, as yet unimagined directions.”
Schnall concludes, “We have some projects in the works right now that have been on the back burner for some time, and now that most of our work with Sesame Workshop has ended, I can really feel the void. I’m just hoping we can get the word out there, that Quality Schnallity is here, ready for work, and we won’t lose your call.”
Find out more about Quality Schnallity here.