Nicholas Weigel of LAIKA/house Chats About Toys R Us

“Big Book”


Interview with Director Nicholas Weigel

As with much of your work, these Toys “R” Us spots are visually very rich. There’s a density to each composition that reminds me of the additive process of painting. Is this something you consciously keep in mind, or is a subconscious byproduct of your art background?

Yes, I keep it in mind for sure.  It is similar to painting in the sense that you work up an animated scene in layers from concept through composite. When I paint, however, there is an opportunity to come at a canvas without a plan – just you and your potential to screw it up alone – that is never the case in commercial production for obvious reasons. Constructing complex “worlds” in commercial animation, by contrast, is a highly collaborative process with many different partners – creative, technical, client with time and budget considerations.

That being said, there are stages in animation production that are very similar to the painting process. The initial creative and concept stage is comprised of loose ideas and visual interpretations of the script.  This is a rich exploratory stage, where I listen to the client, pull a ton reference and then collaborate with artists who explore various visual takes on the material.  This is where we form the “creative plan,” organize the visual priorities and develop kernel moments to include in the storyboards.

It is similar to painting in the sense that you work up an animated scene in layers from concept through composite. When I paint, however, there is an opportunity to come at a canvas without a plan – just you and your potential to screw it up alone…

The storyboard stage is similar to painting, too. This stage also begins loosely as I explore camera staging and the flow of the spot.  We also try to take the ideas for the world and fit them into the timing of the story. This determines the overall structure of the spot and ultimately the images.

In CG layout, we are working to get these worlds off paper and into 3D space.  We focus less on what the makes up the worlds, and more on how are we “technically” and “artistically” going to achieve this concept.

Finally, we establish character staging, performance and a camera in our worlds.  Our Look/Dev artists work with textures, light and compositing to break up the scenes in layers and work them up into final sequences.  The compositing stage perhaps most resembles the painting process. In this phase the artist has all the elements in layers and can work with them independently, usually building from back to front.  They also can hit ctrl-z (undo), which any painter will tell you is nowhere to be found on a traditional canvas.

In the Toys “R” Us campaign (and in the Fusion Fall cinematic you directed with Freestyle Collective), the camera plays a huge role in conveying the energy of the spots. Do you think in terms of camera moves? Or do you think in terms of still images and work backwards to the camera?

I’m more of a designer/storyteller, so I start more often with still images. Like in the Frito Lay Dips spots, those stills usually include suggestive motion or energy within them that I look to capture in the camera.  I also was an Animator and Technical Director myself, and work closely with the artists in Layout and Animation in an effort to capture that energy while keeping the cameras as simple as possible.

Click image for a set of three process boards. Click here for high-res images.

Geoffrey’s back! Over the course of my lifetime, Geoffrey has been reinvented several times. Was it challenging bringing the current incarnation to life? Did you get specific direction about how Geoffrey should behave/misbehave?

I remember all (or at least most) of Geoffrey’s guises over the years.  I’ve found them all pretty enjoyable. He has a lot of fans, so I wanted to respect that. We could approach a design like Geoffrey’s in a multitude of ways. This year we gave him a modest facelift and bumped up his design sensibility. We landed in a place where we can continue to develop his “character.”  I love the idea that Geoffrey has holiday inspired buddies. Those relationships could be fun.

On his look: Toys “R” Us had recently done a redesign of Geoffrey in their print advertising, so they had pretty clear proportions and a graphic representation for us to start from. What they needed was to “dimensional-ize” him from the print campaign and focus on the quality of his performance – “Who” Geoffrey really is as the “Ambassador of Fun.” We added more heart, warmth and a connection with the audience, plus a sense of hip-ness and confidence.

We explored a range of personalities for Geoffrey. The clients at Toys “R” Us and Rosenbaum Advertising were great partners in finding that base line of behavior that hit.  The clients felt we captured “Geoffrey” and we had been able to help them find that character.

Santa was added in the initial third of the production. He is in the print campaign as well. I always liked how he looked, like he’s had too much coffee and is a bit edgy.  His design was also very simple and graphic, which translated well to CG. I suggested to the clients that we approach Santa like a “wide-eyed-five-year-old” to embody the spirit of toys.  They all liked it.  It made Geoffrey more of the straight guy, but opened up room for the pair to be good pals!


Client Toys R Us
Agency Rosenbaum, Inc.

LAIKA/house Credit List
Director Nicholas Weigel
Executive Producer Jan Johnson
Producer Andrew Harvey
Production Coordinator Kelly Hunnicut
Production Coordinator Jamie Pulliam
Production Coordinator Julie Ragland
PA Martha Steele
PA Dave Gulick

Lead Concept Artist Don Flores
Concept Artist Ben Chan
Concept Artist Robin Joseph
Concept Artist Jenny Kincade
Concept Artist Ovi Nedelcu
Matte Painter Don Flores
Matte Painter Ovi Nedelcu
Storyboard Artist Trevor Jiminez
Storyboard Artist Joe Meredith
Storyboard Artist Ovi Nedelcu
Storyboard Artist Chris Purdin
Storyboard Artist Achiu Valentino So
Storyboard Artist Eric Wiese

Technical Lead Chris Immroth
Assistant Technical Support Skylr Chamberlin
Lead Modeler Michael Berger
Modeler Mike Altman
Modeler Tom Cushwa
Modeler Scott Denton
Modeler Stanley Ilin
Modeler Javier Leon
Modeler Josh Tonnesen
Modeler Jon Dorfman
Modeling Intern James Lee
Modeling Intern Jae Park
Modeling Intern Chris Russo
Lead Rigger Terence Jacobson
Rigger Jason Baskin
Layout Michael Berger
Layout Skylr Chamberlin
Layout Scott Denton
Layout Josh Harvey
Layout Yin-Fang Liao
Layout Brik Nelson
Layout Anthony Patti
Layout Josh Tonnesen
Layout Jon Dorfman
Lead Animator Greg Kyle
Animator Aja Bogdanoff
Animator Ian Brauner (also Previs)
Animator Kameron Gates (also Previs)
Animator Josh Look
Animator Kevin Phelps
Animator Allan Steele (also Previs)
Animation Intern Teresa Adolf
Animation Intern Jeremy Fries
Animation Intern Ryan Schaller
Animation Intern Michael Sime
Lead Texture/Surfacing/Lighting/Compositing Artist Saira Mathew
Texture/Surfacing/Lighting/Compositing Artist Iggy Ayestaran
Texture/Surfacing/Lighting/Compositing Artist Josh Harvey
Texture/Surfacing/Lighting/Compositing Artist Anthony Patti
Texture/Surfacing/Lighting/Compositing Artist Todd Sheridan Perry
Texture/Surfacing/Lighting/Compositing Artist Matt Reslier
Texture/Surfacing/Lighting/Compositing Artist Szymon Weglarski
Texture/Surfacing Javier Leon
Texture/Surfacing Chris Smallfield
Texture/Surfacing Holly Webster
Texture/Surface Intern Jae Park
Texture/Lighting/Compositing Intern James Lee
Texture/Lighting/Compositing Intern Chris Russo
Hair Styling Jon Dorfman
Hair Styling Javier Leon
Hair Styling Karl Richter
Lead FX Rogerio Mendes
FX Pete Hamilton
FX Karl Richter
Render Wrangler Jason Potter

Editor Steve Miller
Flame Artist Rex Carter
Flint Artist Leif Peterson
Scheduler Melissa Tvetan
Tape Op Travis Ezell

Company Rosenbaum, Inc.
Principal Peter Rosenbaum
Executive Producer Kara Harris
Creative Director Kevin Seavitt
Account Director Ann Moorehouse

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.