LAIKA: Tostitos “The Amazing Flamenco Chef”

A spot hit the airwaves last week and caused a stir in our community. It had the kind of  superb craftmanship that catches your eye amid the muddy commercial landscape.

“The Amazing Flamenco Chef” comes from LAIKA’s commercial division, LAIKA/house and director Nicholas Weigel. Teaming up with agency Goodby Silverstein and Partners, Weigel and his team have further catapulted LAIKA’s already solid reputation into contention with top CG commercial shops that can pull off a commercial narrative with saucy animation bolstered by a feast of triumphant design.

Weigel’s no stranger to Motionographer. He worked with Psyop as an Animation Director on “Coke: Inside the Happiness Factory” and with The Mill on Orangina’s “Naturally Juicy” project before joining the LAIKA/house family in 2008.

LAIKA’s also enjoying another bit of animation news: LAIKA Entertainment’s “Coraline” was just nominated for an Oscar. With LAIKA’s unwavering artistry- and people like Weigel—LAIKA/house is parlaying their sibling’s success as masters of narrative and stop-action into victory in the commercial world.

Note: Interview to come. Director Nicholas Weigel will talk about “The Amazing Flamenco Chef” and Laika’s commercial division, LAIKA/house.




Awesome Tv Spot from Laika/house. I love the animation of the girl and all the scenary and sliced tomatoes! just wonderfull! the Art direction is just an eye candy awesome colors and lighting. !

Congratulation for Laika/house! Can’t wait for the director’s interview.



PERFECT AD! I loved every second! I’m buying the salsa just because of the ad!


Congratulations to Mr. Nicholas Weigel and Laika on a job superbly done! I too loved every bit of it. Nice flow in boards. I also love Salsa’s design. Looking forward to the interview with the director and to see more of his work in the future.


i like this guy’s work, and I think this ad is spectacular. One question I have though is why does this character design not have a nose? What’s up with that?


Great Job Nicolas


Nice! This spot makes me HUNGRY for more work by Weigel and the LAIKA house team!


Beautiful. The animation is so subtle and dynamic….Nick. And the lighting is equally as amazing….go Saira. Congrats on a stunning piece.


nice work


Nice work.
The guitar ruined the music, it should be more “dramatic”.
I wonder if Flamenco lovers wouldn’t feel robbed, tho.


Very cloudy with a chance of meatballs, and super lush.
The nose is superfluous to the design, just as there is no reason to have eyebrows or a tail… it’s not like she’s jumping round sniffing all the food.


I can admire the technical prowess of this piece. The landscapes are beautiful and the slow motion is great, but that character ruins it for me.


What about the character ruins this entire piece for you?


Just my opinion, but the noseless, browless face, her hands and that gumby-like shoulder (RIP Art Clokey). Nitpicking, I guess, but when she comes up close and her face is framed in the shot (see frame above) it kind of ruins it.
Again, just my opinion…
I’d like to see what other designs were made for the character, and what led ultimately to the decision of using the one in the spot.


This spot is great! I saw it on TV and wanted to see who created it, wasn’t surprised when I found out. Excellent work.


This spot is amazing, I’d love to know all the problems that came up during the process of making it.

The entirety of the character design bugs the ever living daylights out of me. As an illustrator I focus on making characters friendly and usable for marketing, this character is neither. She is too distracting from the immaculate backgrounds that were created. You look at her and focus on what wrong with the face immediately because the proportions are so wrong for the hyper reality going on in the background, which happens to be stunning, No doubt that the movement and the animation is beautiful, but it all gets ruined with an ugly unrealistic face.

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LAIKA: Tostitos “The Amazing Flamenco Chef” (Updated with Q&A)

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The following is an interview with Laika House’s Nicholas Weigel, director of “The Amazing Flamenco Dancer” and Motionographer’s Lauren Indovina.

Lauren Indovina: Can you tell us a little bit about how you were initially approached for the project? Did the script change much from pitching to production?

Nicholas Weigel: We received an “invitation to directors” from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and launched a three-week development process, culminating in our pitch for the spot. We could tell from the brief that the agency’s creative intentions were ambitious and clear, which is always exciting for us as an animation studio.

The directive was straightforward – create a 30-second story about the magical “creation of salsa” highlighting the love and passion for the process. A memorable, strong and sassy flamenco-inspired dancer was needed to lead the viewer through this story and through a world comprised of all the fresh vegetables used to make TOSTITOS® Restaurant Style Salsa.

House has a history of bringing consumer brand characters to life (M&M’s, Honey Nut Cheerios, Frosted Mini-Wheats, etc ). For “The Amazing Flamenco Chef,” there seems to have been a lot of ownership and invention. How much creative license was given to you in developing the story and the style?

We could not have asked for a better creative partnership with Kate and Jess from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. From the onset, the agency team encouraged us to take chances and be bold with our designs and animation. The collaborative process and mutual trust was evident as we developed the character, story, environment design and character performance.

We started the process by selecting four character designers who were a good fit with client goals. We worked through four to five rounds of exploratory sketching, honing in on directions and design details. Our heroine’s design was like making a great cocktail – the right ingredients would make her memorable, but too many garnishes would dilute her style. In the final client-approved design, she was tastefully accessorized with hooped onion earrings, cilantro-print fishnets, a dress made from organic materials, iridescent eye makeup and a tomato headdress. It’s funny, if I look at her final design I can see a lot of myself in there.

How does LAIKA/house break down a project? Is there an initial phase of look development where artists flush out the style? Or is it a more organic post process working closely with 3D artists to achieve a final scene?

LAIKA/house works in such a wide variety of mediums and styles, which vary greatly to fit the needs of the production. On a project like this, we are creating everything from scratch for a CG build with a definite pre-production phase emphasizing concept design, planning and technical R&D. This provided a good foundation and sense of the scale of the job so everyone knew the creative expectations of the production. From that point, the production is a fascinating mix of organic exploration of details unknown, creative refinement, clear direction and execution.

“The Amazing Flamenco Chef ” has beautiful character and environment choreography. What type of previs did your team use to achieve this effect? Can you talk a little bit about your pipeline?

We pulled many examples of visual reference to get things started. The designers/board artists and the rest of the team discussed the flow of the story and ways to frame up the action. The animators studied flamenco dancing footage to try to find bits of performance that fit into our tight little story. I always liked the idea of creating a moment where we slowed down the action as her dress or her fan ripped through a vegetable blowing it to bits with a sort of delicious violence. This balance of beauty and its destruction speaks to me. We’re also always looking for opportunities to create moments that surprise and exhilarate the viewer.

Our pipeline is designed to support the artists so they can work fluidly. Our core set of tools allows us to set up the asset management aspects of the project. Each project requires new custom tools, so new projects strengthen our abilities to meet challenges. My favorite tools include: evolving scene status from layout – lighting, quick output of animation WIPS, variable rigged character/prop detail, stripping anim scenes and re-assigning shaders, matte painting/texture projection templates and comp templates. Tex/light/comp artists take their shots to 90-pecent completions and use Flame for final color and conform.

What was the time frame from start to finish to complete this project?

The spot aired nationally during the Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 4, 2010. The entire production took about 10 weeks, not including the initial design period.

Biggest challenge?

Taking on “stylized realism” can be challenging because of the unknowns and time it takes to develop the look. On the flip side, this directional challenge is liberating, since you are able to explore design options to create a unique vision.

Our production process and open communication with Goodby, Silverstein & Partners turned our technical challenges into opportunities to innovate and push the look of the spot further.

Outside of that, it’s always creatively challenging to squeeze a richly-designed world like this into 30 seconds. There is so much more to explore!


Maya for Animation, Houdini for FX, Renderman and Mental Ray for Rendering, Nuke for Compositing, Flame for Post/Finishing, Qube for Farm Management


Before joining the roster at LAIKA/house, your path to directing has been momentous, as you’ve worked with many leading CG character based studios and directors in the world. Can you talk a little about how you started out?

I’ve been really fortunate to have always worked with great creative artists, directors and studios. When I graduated with a BA in Art and Anthropology and headed out to find a job, I was weighing an offer as Jr. Account Executive for Young & Rubicam or an Associate Animation Intern for Atari Games in Milpitas, CA. I had to go with Atari. The company is a “classic” and my producer was the body double for Chong-Lee from Blood Sport (seriously)…

This opportunity introduced me to the breadth of animation mediums and I was encouraged to experiment with mo-cap, stop motion, 2D and 3D. I stayed for two years at Atari and art directed a few games before I left to start a small production company in San Francisco called Imagination Plantation (IP). In the entrepreneurial spirit, I happily slogged many hours on commercial spots and directed a few straight-to-video films.

Eventually, IP was absorbed by W!LDBRAIN, where I was a Lead and Animation Director for the next five years. I developed a TV pilot, Vanilla Pudding, which initiated my move to be a Creative Director at Nickelodeon in New York. From there I went to Hornet Inc. as an Animation Director. I collaborated with Aaron Stewart, Peter Sluzska and Clay Weiner. Soon Psyop approached me to work on Coca-Cola’s Inside the Happiness Factory, Happiness Factory 2 and with the Psyop/The Mill on Orangina’s Naturally Juicy production in London. The last job I worked on in NYC was a full-up cinematic for Cartoon Network’s foray into MMPG.

For those of us unfamiliar with the technical ends of a CG pipeline, can you explain a little bit about what it means to be an animation director?

In my experience, an Animation Director can be responsible for everything – from working with the producer to build the team to animating shots. Whether or not you have an Animation Director on a job depends on the scale of the project and the Director. For example on Coca-Cola’s Happiness Factory 2, it was a monster job and required essentially two primary leads: one for Art Direction the second for Animation/Character & Performance. The leads collaborated and overlapped, but also supported the Directors and Producers and managed the team of 40. On The Amazing Flamenco Chef, the team had great Technical Leads and Art Leads.

How would you describe your style as a director?

Evolving. I have done a lot of work… but it pales to what I would like to do in the future or what I have crawling around inside my mind. It’s all about opportunities and collaborating with great people.

What is the best advice you’d give someone in our industry who is trying to become an animator and eventually an animation director?

Be a sponge and an avid observer. Absorb the spectrum of how all things behave, but also try to absorb as many challenging artistic references as you can cram into your head. Be active, be ballsy and be adventurous. Try to study twinkly bits in horrible films, awkward movements, the details, varied cultures and emotional contrasts. Learn about timing and delivery. Bring style, not just acting to your animation.

Regarding your career and transition from animation director to director, what are the biggest challenges to taking on the whole pie to direct a spot on your own?

I’ve been able to work with a variety of Directors and have learned so much – everyone does it differently. It feels natural for me to direct, as it’s really just slipping into the role I’ve been very close to already. I enjoy not only guiding the vision of the project but understanding the challenges the artist and clients face. A Director is a problem solver and intermediary in the grand process.

What advice would you give the 20 year old you?

NW: Don’t compete in the Jr. Olympic Downhill at Mt. Snow – you’ll blow out your knee, like I did in my early years. Actually, I probably would say “ski faster and win that @$%#*&.”

The 25 year old you?

Invest in Google please.

The current you?

Start writing down the stories you and your son make up every night.

Client Frito Lay
Product Tostitos Dips
Agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners
Title(s) “The Amazing Flamenco Chef”
Running Time :30
Broadcast Date January 4, 2010
First Broadcast Country US
Medium TV
Director Nicholas Weigel
Executive Producer Jan Johnson
President Lourri Hammack
Creative Director Kirk Kelley
Producer Rebecca Bowen
CG Project Manager Annie Pomeranz, Joelle Spencer-Gilchrist
Production Coordinator Nicole Fitzhugh
Art Director Rick Sluiter, Nicholas Weigel
Background/Environment Design Don Flores, Jenny Kincade, Joe Beckly, Nicholas Weigel, Ric Sluiter
Character Design Ben Chan, Don Flores, Josh Harvey, Aaron Sorenson, Nicholas Weigel
Storyboard Artsits Ben Adams, Chris Purdin, Aaron Sorenson, Valentino So, Nicholas Weigel
Matte Painters Joe Beckley, Don Flores

Lead Technical Director Rick Sevy, Patrick Van Pelt
Texture/Light/Comp Lead Dan Casey, Saira Mathew
Technical Directors (multiple disciplines) Joe Beckley, Dan Casey, Ben Fischler, Thane Hawkins, Micah Henrie, Alex Inman, Saira Mathew, Andrew Nawrot, Eric Wachtman, Nick Nakadate, Peter Stuart
Layout Rick Sevy, Patrick Van Pelt, Kameron Gates, Nicholas Weigel, David Trappe
Modelors Chris Boylan, Ty Johnson, Allan Steele, Josh Tonneson, Chris Tran
Texture Artist Nick Nakadate, Peter Stuart
Animators Kameron Gates, Joe Gorski, Michelle Gorski, Greg Kyle
Riggers Terence Jacobson, Mike Laubach
FX Fernando Benitez, Craig Hoffman, Eric Kuehne, Karl Richter
Render Wrangler Jason Potter
CG Department Manager Stephen Martinez
Director, Digital Design Dan Casey
Production Assistant Dave Gulick, Vanessa Walker
Director of Photography John Nolan
Wrangler Rob Melchior
Gaffer Ted Jackson
Stage Manager Erica Johnson
Editor Michael Corrigan, Todd Gilchrist
Flame Artist Rex Carter
Tape Op Travis Ezell
Scheduler Melissa Tvetan
Company Goodby, Silverstein & Partners
City, State San Francisco, CA
Director of Broadcast Production Cindy Fluitt
Creative Director Rick Condos, Hunter Hindman
Art Director Katie McCarthy
Copywriter Jessica Shank
Producer Todd Porter, Jon Drawbaugh, Tony Joo
Company Frito Lay
City, State Plano, TX
Chief Marketing Officer Ann Mukherjee
Brand Manager Tyler Reeves

About the author

Justin Cone

Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.