Fulltank recently created a beautiful spot for the Zune Arts Films campaign entitled “Dogfight,” the first of many done so far to break out from the internet and be shown on television. This piece seamlessly combines many mediums in a way that only a motion graphics piece can do. To tell their story, Fulltank used cel and 3D animaton along with animation done in After Effects.
I had the opportunity to talk with both Fulltank and 72andSunny, the agency behind the campaign, to get a perspective on how a project like this comes to fruition. The following questions are in chronological order of the creative process, with questions going to the agency first and then to the design studio.
First up is Glenn Cole, creative director and co-founder of 72andSunny.
What are the origins of the Zune Arts Films and how did 72andSunny come to be involved in the process?
Microsoft invited us to launch the Zune in 2005. From the beginning, we (Zune and 72andSunny) agreed that it needed to be more than just another gadget in a world overrun with gadgets. And the Zune guys (most of whom are former MTV gurus and music superfans) wanted to launch a brand that, if nothing else, would support the arts which live on the device (music, film, art). Plus, to matter culturally, we simply had to put marketing aside and find ways to genuinely inspire people, including ourselves. Fostering collaborations between emerging artists seemed like a natural and fun place to start.
The scope of work that has been done so far for the Zune Arts Films is very wide. Each project is unique in its execution. How do you choose which studios or individuals to invite to this project?
We want to work with artists who lead the way creatively. Sometimes that means inviting talent that is well-known. Sometimes that means digging to find emerging stars. We do both. We review their work, maybe talk to the artist(s), then make a decision. The only thing we donâ€™t want to do is repeat ourselves. The program is about diverse expressions, and we keep that in mind as we select artists.
What is your involvement after awarding a job to a particular studio? Do you leave it completely open for the designers to interpret or are there guidelines set for each project?
The project is defined by personal expressions of a universal idea, so it is important that the artists feel ownership of the work. With some artists, the only input is a briefing and a thank you. With other artists, we fill in gaps as neededâ€”like helping with storytelling or editorial or spotting creative opportunities. Most of the artists have been open and collaborative, which is not only more fun, it almost always makes the result better. As far as guidelines, there are few other than â€˜give us your personal take on friendships and/or sharingâ€™ and â€˜blow our minds.â€™
What can we expect to come for the Zune Arts Films in the future?
More collaborations in films and posters but also experiments in new mediums. As weâ€™ve said from the beginning to all the artists out there: you tell us!
Thank you Glenn, we really appreciate you taking your time to talk with us and give us a little insight into the agency side of this project.
Next up, to give us a look at the part that we designers are more accustomed to, is Fulltank Studios. For those out there who do not know Fulltank yet, would you mind giving a brief history of your company?
Fulltank was conceived by Executive Producer Ben Morris and Creative Director Chris Do with the core idea of building a creative entity that would progressively capture emotion through engaging visuals and narratives. Our creative team uses its diverse background to produce unique imagery and ideas to deliver strong creative messages. Our working palette mixes live action, motion graphics, design, illustration, cel animation, CGI and typography and other mixed media to evoke a strong message with high emotional impact.
When you first found out about this project from 72andSunny, what were the steps you took to create the final script? Any interesting brainstorming techniques?
Initially, we were only given the theme of sharing and friendship. This plays off of the Zune brand themes. We had an entirely open canvas up front, and our in-house team brainstormed constantly at our adored conference table with coffee and teas in hand. We met numerous times like rabid think-tank mongers and wrote over 10 different treatments or so…which were all gold medal, I tell ya!
In the end, 72 wanted to try developing a dogfight period theme based around two or more characters. Bryan Rowles, the Agency Art Director, Rebekah Mateu, the Agency Producer, and the 72 team in general, were great to bang ideas off of. From there, we continued to write some newer treatments that we thought would be fun and amusing as well as something that would sprinkle some of the things we loved in it, all while pushing the envelope a bit. There were some small tweaks on the narration from there, but we were able to push the art/festival explosion idea, which really excited us.
“Dogfight” feels a lot more like a short film than a commercial. What were your inspirations for this project?
The short film aspect is a natural product of the way that 72 has been pushing these spots and it is quite refreshing. They play more as art spots and have a bit more of a charming and tactile demeanor to them. As far as our inspirations go, we are big fans of traditional cel animation and manga culture, so we wanted to fuse as much of the looks and techniques of those disciplines in our piece. Some of the direct visual inspirations came from some of Peter Chung‘s awkward yet sexy characters a la Aeon Flux. Also, Jean Giraud‘s gritty comic feel and all the new age Pop-surrealism from graffiti and street artists such as Banksy, Jeff Soto, and our good friend, Ronald Kurniawan, who flexed whole-heartedly on the characters with us.
Character animation is a common element in a lot of Fulltank’s work. It’s something that helps distinguish you guys from other studios. Where does that love of character animation come from? Is the whole Fulltank team into character animation or is it the result of mixing various team members interests and backgrounds together?
All of the above. We are very diverse in age and interests, but our one commonality is we love art and design! So that means we love anything character-driven. And that means all kinds…illustrated, 3D, fantasy, you name it. But the originality that Ronald was able to bring to the characters is what sets it apart, I believe. Also, the cel geniuses of the project, Jason Brubaker and Taik Lee, both have years of experience creating and animating characters traditionally, and their passion for driving the characters, visually and conceptually, really helped sell the story.
For a complex project like this I can only assume that there was a lot of storyboarding and pre-planning. Is that an accurate assumption?
Yes, but we broke out of the traditional approach of beginning with a frame-by-frame storyboard. We took a lot of time designing the characters, planes and environment as individual entities. Once 72 was on board, we immediately began rough animatics and patched together tests for preview rather quickly.
The Pre-Viz pieces really helped us with feeling out the narrative for the piece. We broke all the major explosions into separate sections and had small teams handling each part concurrently. And while all of this is happening, Ronald is jamming out character after character for us to take and break apart. The editorial process for the animatic was crucial to the story, as we needed to make sure the sharing and friendship themes were as apparent as possible. After locking that down, we were able to replace and swap shots with more completed ones as they were getting finished. It paid to be really organized on this project.
Which software packages were used? What would you consider the most difficult obstacle you encountered along the way technically speaking?
The planes were modeled and animated in Maya and the characters were completely cel animated and brought into Illustrator and Photoshop for cleanup before making sequences we could use to track in After Effects. The most difficult obstacle was probably figuring what extra small embellishments to add after the fact to strengthen the piece…whether that be some cel animated smoke or cel effects or even simple color correction and editorial alterations. It’s all in the details.
How many people worked on the project and how long did it take?
There was a total of 13 people on the project, so not a huge group, but we were very efficient in organizing everyoneâ€™s goals, considering the timeline, which was about four weeks or so.
What are the future plans for Fulltank? Do you have any specific goals for the company or are you just enjoying the ride?
Oh, there are definitely plans and sitting idle isnâ€™t part of any of them. We are looking to expand our in-house roster to diversify and strengthen creative. We are always looking for new and emerging talent. Next up we want add a new art director and perhaps even an additional CD. This is a shameless plug, but those interested please feel free to send a reel our way.
We have a strong vision for what the studio stands for and a clear outlook of where we want to go with an eye on expansion, both creatively and geographically, beyond our studio in Los Angeles. Ultimately, would like to see our growth take the Fulltank brand into New York, Europe and Asia.
Finally, what is the best piece of advice you can give to those up and coming designers out there still grinding away at school?
My best advice is not to be a one-trick pony. Everyone on this project was able to help in multiple capacities, whether that was helping with some cel animation, compositing, 3D, tracking, etc…You can never learn too much when it comes to all the aspects of our industry. You will also be much more marketable if you can use multiple programs, at least at a minimal level.
The technical aspect is only one part of the puzzle though, because you still should build on your strengths and focus on your primary interests. But it really does help you take your ideas to the next level if you can grasp some of the thinking and subtleties of other areas of digital creation. This includes learning to cope and troubleshoot concepts, which has been quite critical in such a creative field. Don’t forget all the other good stuff…3D modeling, animation, compositing, illustration, photography, typography, etc. Seeing how competitive our field is getting, it is getting more and more important to be well-rounded these days.
Interview by Jon Saunders.