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As brands look for creative solutions to their live-action pitches and planned commercials, many are starting to pivot towards animation to create their ads.

From Jonathan Notaro, a film director and the founder/chief creative officer of Brand New School, is a bit of insight on how to convert live-action pitches into animation pieces.


COVID-19 has undeniably changed the landscape of animation. How do you talk to clients who have never considered animation before?

We start by researching the brand and the voice, and thinking of ways to best communicate the idea. We also have to remind ourselves that clients have been gestating these ideas for many months, and we need to respect that by educating them on their options, and then put forward our recommendation. As you know “animation” is an umbrella term for a range of storytelling techniques. 2D/3D graphic, 2D/3D character, photoreal, stop-motion/stop-frame in UK. 

No doubt that the term “Covid” will become a stylistic genre where you collage together sourced footage and screen recordings of video conferences.

There are also mixed-media approaches that weave together all these techniques. Of course 3D character animation has the ability to closely mimic more traditional filmmaking techniques, but sometimes that's not the output anyone wants. Our goal is to make sure that animation doesn't feel like a compromise, and this often requires a good amount of retooling.

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Reebok – Sport the Unexpected

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HyperX – We're All Gamers

How do you combine live-action and animation while under isolation and quarantine protocols?

For ‘live-action’ assets we’ve used previously shot footage from a client library, stock, or we’ve created photoreal CG. We’ve also put photographic assets into motion through a CG process called photogrammetry. We produced one small shoot, where the director was the DP, and the hand model was his kid. We’ve even had BNSers and clients record themselves for an ad featuring a tech company's video conferencing platform. 

I can say most of our clients want us to make something new and different just as much as we do, because that will be good for them.

Combining these assets with animation and type is table stakes for us, however we’re being pushed to be more resourceful than ever. No doubt that the term “Covid” will become a stylistic genre where you collage together sourced footage and screen recordings of video conferences.


When you start working with a script what are some hallmarks of live-action directions?

The hallmarks often double as limitations for brands that want to be noticed. Few scripts are wholly original, so the moment you invent a design language there’s something distinguishing the brand from everyone else. Animation allows for the brand to influence the actual stories in new and innovative ways, which is less evident in live-action. 

We have to invent a visual language for each brand. 

What’s more effective, seeing yourself in another person, or seeing yourself in a representation of a person? It’s hard to own a filmmaking style, often when you do it’s from a noteworthy director who has a visual style, a visual effect, or an actor that’s a brand ambassador. Both are expensive and hard to reach in live-action.

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Starbucks – S’mores Frappuccino

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Starbucks – Summer Drink

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Starbucks – Mango Dragonfruit

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Starbucks – Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino

How do live-action shooting techniques translate to animation?

We have a particular advantage in this category as many of our directors bounce back and forth between live-action and design/animation driven projects. Animation borrowed from live-action; the process and software mimic the nomenclature of film with scenes, sequences, shots, camera, character, performance, so it can be translated pretty 1:1. I’m often critical of animation that only mimics film and doesn’t take advantage of the devices that are specific to animation.

With animation, because it’s all being generated by the artists and animators, notwithstanding scheduling and budget, you can make changes to your heart’s delight, which then puts less pressure on client decisions.

What’s equally exciting for me as a director is to translate ‘animation’ ideas to film. Nowadays, with so much looking the same, I think many brands are trying to find their angle and rely on animation or effects to carve out a language of their own. Stylized worlds, ownable set design with stylized characters, design devices and whimsical transitions


What kind of effects do you use to differentiate your work from others?

We have to invent a visual language for each brand. All aspects are designed; look, story, and tone are all engineered with purpose. Ideas about transitions are usually born from, and unique to the language we’ve created.

Oreo – Play With Oreo - Yelle

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What kind of animation would you like to see clients embrace?

One of our directors Nico Cassevechia shared a VR film that he’s been developing and I think it’s just amazing to be able to design a world that someone can uniquely navigate. It’s exciting to see how design, animation and film intersect in VR/AR. This will lead to new kinds of experiential projects, but it’s also one step away from game development.

It’s hard to own a filmmaking style, often when you do it’s from a noteworthy director who has a visual style, a visual effect, or an actor that’s a brand ambassador. 

How do you convey animation during pitches?

I feel like the pitch is often the most fun part of the project. We write a lot, use references, sketches, diagrams, and given that we have two studios filled with incredible artists (all of whom are now working remotely), we generate a ton of design and animation for pitches. Script changes are introduced if necessary, usually inspired but the visual direction we’re offering. At the end of a pitch I often feel like we’ve already done the job.

Our goal is to make sure that animation doesn't feel like a compromise.

How do you translate a company’s vision while also showing off your own unique production capabilities?

We don’t want to repeat ourselves, so there's always that selfish component to the creative purpose. We tend to partner with clients earlier and earlier and have a strong, guiding hand in the creative development. We make them a part of that process and spend more time working with clients, naturally building up that creative trust. I can say most of our clients want us to make something new and different just as much as we do, because that will be good for them.

AT&T – Your Thing

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What are some roadblocks to animation?

With live action, you have lots of conversations going into the shoot, and by the time you turn the camera on, everyone (ideally) is aligned. It's hard to go back from what you’ve captured.

Animation allows for the brand to influence the actual stories in new and innovative ways, which is less evident in live-action.

With animation, because it’s all being generated by the artists and animators, notwithstanding scheduling and budget, you can make changes to your heart’s delight, which then puts less pressure on client decisions. I think the process benefits from people doing their homework like they do on live action projects.


Lastly, if you could draw yourself into any piece of work which one would you choose?

I’d replace Morten in “Take On Me” by A-ha, of course.

A-Ha – Take On Me

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