This A-Z for Youtube must have taken forever to create. Did you work closely with the creatives on deciding the material for each scene? What was the original brief?
This was actually a pretty quick turn around, at least for us (since animation is so time consuming). There’s something great about that though. We jumped in head first and before we knew it, the thing was starting to come alive. We had a massive crew of awesome artists working all at once which made the fast schedule work well.
The original brief was a little different from what we ended up doing. The video features a theme for every letter of the alphabet, whereas the original brief feted several specific YouTube videos for every letter. So instead of “keyboard cat” being under “animals”, as it is now, it would’ve been under “K” in the original treatment.
The change to the video being more theme focused happened early on, and in hindsight it really was a good call for creative, and logistical reasons. It made the concept bigger and more open.
The creatives, Tim Partridge and Tom Pursey (of Flying Object) and our client, Grant LaFontaine (of YouTube) created a list that specified what the theme of each letter would be and each letter had a preferred list of videos for us to pick from. From there we chose the videos that we thought best lent themselves to animation and quick reads (since everything goes by so fast) and sent them our ideas.
How did you decide on which particular animation to use?
We tried to keep focused on animation styles that we see and love on YouTube. Sand animation, stop motion, anamorphosis, white board animation, 8-bit, Minecraft, etc. Tim and Tom had a list of animation styles they believed in and we started from there.
There are a few animation styles that don’t have a big presence on YouTube, but just felt right or fun, like pop up book animation (Animals) or wood-cut theatre (Old Spice) that we put in.
At the end of the day it was this tricky balance of asking what animation styles truly fit the videos we were celebrating. Some were obvious fits, like Psy dancing in a loop on a zoetrope. That immediately clicked. Others took more exploration.
Please tell us about your process of animating – did you have a team, did you both work on separate scenes or together.
Having the team we had was vital. Almost every animation style was its own unit that we were directing.
We started with an animatic that we worked to make into a pretty clear map of what we wanted to see and outlined our ideas of how to achieve certain moments technically. The artists from each unit began building from there, giving designs and ideas, and collaborating with us on the best ways forward.
The team was big. There were artists all over the world. Our Minecraft team was spread over a couple different countries. Our sand animation was done in Paris, as was our claymation. Some of our CG work was done by artists in Australia.
A colleague of ours in Los Angeles produced the animated frames for the flip books and some of the Vlogger billboards. The biggest portion of the team was here in London, creating illustrations, pop-up books, puppets, anime, paper-cut-out animation, flash animation, composite work etc.
And of course we had a multi-day studio shoot with a full crew that included large art department builds, motion control and all sorts of crazy things.
There’s a positive energy to this project, because more than anything, it’s about celebrating creativity. And everyone jived off that and gave us really inspiring work.
We’re super grateful to our amazing crew of people who helped make this happen. It was a really fantastic group all the way around and some of the most fun we’ve had collaborating professionally.
As directors, for commercials, we try to do as much side by side as possible. The time we’re the most separate is in the very beginning. The process usually works like this: If a brief comes in, we each take some time, separately, to work out our ideas for the thing. We draw or write, whatever gets our ideas presentable. Then we meet for what can be hours or days, depending on the project, and just go through each other’s thoughts and have brutally frank discussions about what’s working and what’s not.
The framework of the film sort of rises to the surface from that point. Part of what’s good about us as a team is that after this initial brainstorm, there’s a pretty uniform vision and there’s not much debate about what we’re going for.
What was the most challenging aspect of the production?
Just the scale of the video mixed with how precise it had to be in the end. You’ve got all these different bits being worked on by all these creative people, and yet it’s all got to fit within a pre-designed sequence that’s very rigid. Things had to read as very specific references in a very short amount of time, which was quite a challenge in some cases.
The Dramatic Chipmunk puppet had to hit just the right position to read as the Dramatic Chipmunk, and there were more discussions than you could imagine about how much bacon to put on a pizza planet to quickly get across that it was an “Epic Meal Time” pizza planet.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Being big fans of Youtube content, it was a really amazing experience to see a bit “behind the curtain” – to hear about how stoked yosemitebear was to be included for the double rainbow moment, or having Leeroy Jenkins offer to re-record his famous yell (we couldn’t “not” go with the classic recording, but the offer was incredibly tempting), or having Noah Kalina personally send over selects from his photo collection to print out.
Things like this put a smile on our face throughout the process. We felt honored to be in such a position, and hope our love of the platform comes through in what we’ve created.