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A Sampling of Spots

A beverage, a bank, a drugstore chain, a state lottery, even a nonprofit group targeting business -- all are using animation to get their commercial messages across.

The five advertisements shown here range from traditional 2D animation to 3D to stop-motion work. Some tug the heartstrings, some use humor, and some take advantage of animation's ability to seem friendly and accessible. All illustrate how animation can be used effectively in commercial spots.


Asset aired during CNN's debates and election coverage, starting in January. J.J. Sedelmaier Productions' calm, clean style provided "a lovely little speed bump" for the viewer. Courtesy of SHRM and Glover Park Group.


Client: Society for Human Resource ManagementAgency: Glover Park GroupAnimation house: J.J. Sedelmaier Productions

The Society for Human Resource Management wanted to reach businesspeople with its message that the relationship between employees and business is important. It is unusual for a group like this to do television advertising, much less animation. "It's innovative, especially for the category," says J.J. Sedelmaier, co-owner of J.J. Sedelmaier Productions. "People in this realm still have the image of animation as trivial and not able to deal with serious issues."

The original concept was about navigating the waters of business. "The imagery was of boats and the high seas, culminating with a rainbow," says Sedelmaier. The agency was thinking about a flow of line and graphics with lots of transformations. "But as I did the storyboards, we realized there was room to consider other graphic sensibilities. We could think about what imagery might fit the story and the image they wanted to convey."

When Sedelmaier Productions launched, its focus was on taking print illustration and design and translating it to animation. In this spot, it was able to go back to its roots. The client liked the illustration style of Shout, an editorial illustrator based in Milan. "He has a style that is very sophsticated without being sort of snooty and put-offish," Sedelmaier says. Soon after Shout came on board, one of his illustrations was featured on the Op Ed page of the Sunday New York Times. "That was totally unorchestrated by anyone, but it perfectly captured the world we wanted to reach and provided a level of comfort," says Sedelmaier.

Asset aired on CNN during news programming, particularly debates and election coverage, starting in January. "It's very calm, very clean and simple," Sedelmaier explains, noting that the style really stood out among the images zooming at the viewer in quick succession during election coverage. "This was a lovely little speed bump."

The spot features a series of somewhat ominous images that transform into scenes suggesting ease and comfort -- such as a stairway changing to an escalator -- to suggest the importance of a business making its employees feel comfortable so they want to come back. "It's less about individuals in peril, like the boat thing was, and more about an organization helping a group," Sedelmaier says. "Shout's human characters are instantly recognizable as human characters, but not as individuals."

A second spot is in the works for a spring air date.



Client: Lloyds TSBAgency: Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&RAnimation house: Studio AKA

Dreams, which began airing this January, is the seventh spot in a series of commercials that was part of a rebranding effort for the client, a British bank. The first, For the Journey, was a 60-second spot that aired in February 2007; the remainder are 30 seconds. An eighth is in the works.

"They had a very austere image featuring a black stallion," says director Marc Craste. "They wanted an image that was more friendly, less threatening, more approachable." The agency came to Studio AKA after seeing a spot Craste had done for the lottery in his trademark storybook-style 3D animation. "The choice to use animation was quite a brave one," Craste says. "It has to be whimsical, but not too whimsical. It has to appeal to adults and not be too childish or too weird."

The agency had gotten an animatic done of its original spot, which focused on a couple going through the stages of life aboard the Black Horse train; it was 73 seconds because there was so much information in the script. So Studio AKA developed a device to telescope the information in an alternating super slo-mo and time-lapse approach. "Some things are just a happy accident," Craste says, pointing out that while the style was developed for practical reasons, it has become central to the sensibility of the whole campaign.

In the first year, the campaign was about branding and knocking viewers out with the "prettiness" of the animation, according to Craste. The most recent three spots, including Dreams, have shifted to providing information on specific products, but the look is the same.

Because of the campaign, Studio AKA ended up hiring a person to do water effects and particulate work, which came up often and wasn’t one of the studio's specialties.


Acme Filmwork’s artistic blend of 2D, 3D and visual effects gives a heightened sense of reality to its Bookstore spot for CVS, providing a touching and moving experience. All CVS images © CVS/Pharmacy.


Client: CVSAgency: Hill HollidayAnimation house: Acme Filmworks

Bookstore, which began airing in the beginning of March, is the third in a series of spots in a branding campaign created by Acme Filmworks for the CVS drugstore chain; the studio is working on several more.

The objective of the campaign is to create an emotional connection between women and CVS. "It's an artistic blend of 2D, 3D and visual effects to give a heightened sense of reality and make it a touching and moving experience," says Ron Diamond, Acme's founder and executive producer. [Full disclosure: Ron Diamond is co-founder and publisher of AWN.] Most of the spots are for women 45-70, although some skew a little younger, 35-50; versions for the U.S. Hispanic market target women as young as 20.


Acme also created Watering Can for the CVS campaign. The Hollywood-based company is becoming known for its emotionally touching campaigns for huge, often global, clients.

Diamond notes that Acme is becoming known for its emotionally touching campaigns for AT&T and United Airlines. "These are huge, often global clients with substantial campaigns, who are trying to tug the heartstrings of the people they're trying to sell to." That emotion is what differentiates them from their competition, he says, and CVS wanted to follow the same strategy.

As for the look and feel, "they were looking for something stylish and contemporary and something with a rich, layered look, but not wildly crazy or so cutting-edge that people couldn’t relate to it," Diamond says. "They wanted a sophisticated look that would not offend and would make their customers really embrace and connect with it."

He notes that the use of multiple forms of animation, and the integration of patterns and layers, are both very subtle, but give the sense of the warm, beautiful 3D world in which the 2D characters live. "The characters are very nurturing, very warm and caring individuals," Diamond says.


Alaska & Louisiana Purchase

Client: Oregon LotteryAgency: bpn, inc.Animation house: LAIKA/house

When the Oregon Lottery needed two 30-second spots to promote its "Deal or No Deal" Scratch-it tickets, it decided to revisit moments in history, such as the Louisiana Purchase and the purchase of Alaska, that would make the viewer say, "That's a good deal."

The historical emphasis made animation studio LAIKA/house think of one of its illustrators, Evan Harris, whose style is inspired by folk painting. The team was in the process of creating a short film, The Legend of Cranky Verne, which is based on Harris's artwork, to show clients how the studio is able to bring illustrations to life using stop-motion animation.

"When you're representing illustrations, it's hard to visualize the animation," says Kirk Kelley, LAIKA's creative director. "So we created Cranky Verne to say, 'here's this modern folk painting style, brought to life in stop-motion." The film uses cel animation, stop-motion animation and flat, stop-motion sets, but still retains the style of the original paintings.

LAIKA sent Cranky Verne and some of Harris's illustrations to the agency, and "they got it right away," Kelley says. "They were supportive of the idea and really bought into it."

For the Oregon Lottery spots, Harris created a series of paintings of the characters, which were then cut apart in Photoshop. Textures were placed onto a flat plane and rendered in Maya. Compositing was done in Flame, which was where a lot of the depth was added.

The animated drawings remain flat, like paper, but have a quirky, jointed movement style that gives the sense of a 2D world, but with the depth of a 3D world. Particular attention was paid to the edges and outlines of the cut-outs, in order to keep the perspective as forced as possible. As with Cranky Verne, the combination of animation styles brings a tactile quality to the work.

"The drawing style, technique and story are all interwoven," Kelley says. "That's important in anything we do."


Sherbet's 60-second spot Phenomenal Xmas for Irn-Bru was a humorous take-off on the animated film The Snowman, drawn by Raymond Briggs. © Irn-Bru.

Phenomenal Xmas

Client: Irn-BruAgency: Leith AgencyAnimation house: Sherbet

Phenomenal Xmas aired across Britain for the 2007 Christmas season, after a limited airing the previous year in Scotland only. It was the first Christmas spot for Irn-Bru, a 105-year-old Scottish carbonated beverage made from vegetable extract.

The 60-second spot was a humorous take-off on the animated film The Snowman, drawn by Raymond Briggs and well-known in Britain. "They didn’t want to veer away from that style at all," says director Robin Shaw. "The challenge was finding a style that could replicate Raymond Briggs' drawing style, but be doable in the time and with the budget we had."

The team addressed that challenge, in part, by doing the shading and tonal work in the animation drawings themselves, before they were colored. The drawings were scanned with the shading already there, printed, then colored. This was a new technique for the studio and it ended up offering creative as well as budgetary benefits. "It gave us greater consistency in terms of the shading," Shaw says. "It turned into a very full job."

The commercial features a sequence in which the Snowman and a boy -- an original character not in the movie -- are flying over famous Scottish landmarks. "You can't get more Scottish than Irn-Bru," Shaw says, adding, "They were very precise about the places they wanted to see, but there were no visuals." As a result, lots of time was spent on storyboarding and drawing to make sure the buildings were recognizable, but fit seamlessly into the Raymond Briggs' illustration style. Similarly, original characters had to look as if they could have appeared in the original.

Irn-Bru's commercials are known for their humor; fans await each new spot. "It got a lot of plays on YouTube and people were sending it round by e-mail," says producer Jayne Bevitt. "It got really good feedback and it won quite a following."

The production process went well, largely because of the good fit between the studio and the style of The Snowman. "It's usually quite tricky with commercials, you're up against it with schedules and budgets and whatever," Bevitt says. "But this went quite smoothly."

Karen Raugust is a Minneapolis-based freelance business writer specializing in animation, publishing, licensing and art. She is the author of The Licensing Business Handbook (EPM Communications).