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Go Behind the Scenes of an Innovative Animated Ad

By Dustin Driver

Award-winning animator and filmmaker Chris Dooley has crafted visuals for major brands like Coca-Cola, Nike, Volvo, British Airways, and American Express. But one of his biggest challenges was fusing live action and animation to create a series of futuristic spots for the shaving giant Gillette.

Shaving is serious business. In a highly competitive market, Gillette crams tons of technology into every razor—moisture strips, pivoting ball joints, space-age materials, and more—but trying to explain the benefits of these many elements can be a challenge. To announce (and explain) its new razor, the Fusion ProShield, Gillette hired (through its agency, Grey) legendary New York design and production company Brand New School. The concept: a futuristic, mechanized room that would illustrate all the razor’s new features through a combination of live action and animation—a combination that would require Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, and Premiere Pro.

Click to watch Brand New School’s innovative creation (left), and then watch an extended A/V Demo (right). Read on to learn how they were made.

CRAFTING A STORY

Chris Dooley has a unique knack for fusing animation and live action to create mesmerizing visuals: in addition to his brand work, he has made music videos for Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, and the Scissor Sisters. The Gillette shoot would combine all of Dooley’s skills and talents. “Not only was this going to be beautiful live action, but it also had this wonderful graphic and animated quality to it,” he says. “That made this particular campaign and this particular project really special. I think we all sensed that early on.”

Dooley starts every project in InDesign, which he uses to build a gallery of inspirational imagery; then he writes a detailed concept description. “When I organize my icons on my dock, InDesign is pretty much the second or third one because I spend so much time in it,” he says. “InDesign is perfect for communicating ideas…. We can incorporate images, links, text. It all comes together in a beautiful, comprehensive presentation.” The creative director then works with staff artists to create storyboards of the action. The highly detailed artwork is created using a combination of Illustrator and Photoshop, and it depicts everything from shot composition to lighting to graphic style.

Storyboards for the Gillette project.

SETTING UP THE SHOOT

Next, Dooley began searching for shooting locations. He found a large studio in Cape Town, South Africa, and began building a set. “The centerpiece for the whole campaign was essentially this large, interactive room that we built on the stage,” says Dooley. “The sketches originated in Illustrator before being built in Maya for scale…. It was meant to visualize what shaving looks like.” Picture the officer’s head in a military spacecraft sometime in the year 3030. The room was an amalgam of sleek metal and bright lights, its walls lined with large LED displays. Dooley and his team at Brand New School would direct the live action and create carefully coordinated animations for the screens. “The goal was to create visuals that felt very technically influenced yet still had some levity to them,” says Dooley. “We chose a very pop art–influenced style.”

The shoot took tons of planning. Each movement and animation was meticulously plotted on storyboards and in scripts. Every shot was mapped out to the second. “The first step in my process is always to figure out the storyboard, what shots we need to tell our story. What does this thing feel like? What is our initial shot? How do we establish where we are and what this thing is, to get into our story? I'll storyboard those things in a very rough state pretty early on and then work with a storyboard artist, who will give a more articulate and detailed exploration of those frames,” says Dooley. “To nail down timings, boardomatics were edited in Premiere using the storyboards as an indication of action and blocking and VO placement.”

CREATING THE ANIMATION

The animation’s illustrations were first sketched on paper, then created in Illustrator, then pushed to Photoshop for shading and texture, and finally animated in After Effects. “Many of us come from graphic design,” says Dooley. “Our instinct is to always go back to designing elements in Illustrator.”

The team created a library of elements that represented the different aspects of the razor—shaving, shielding, and shaving plus shielding. Each element had its own visual style, sharp for shaving and soft for shielding. Many animations were created and composited in After Effects in both 2D and 3D, and many were crafted in Maya.

The animations were created to be displayed on screens during filming, many of them reacting to the actor in real time. The team used sensor-equipped cameras and software to track his position and pose. Animations were programmed to react to movement for a more natural feel. The crew also worked with professional concert visual artists to call up their animations during filming. The LCD walls were linked to a controller, and real-time visuals were triggered by a technician’s movements. “We worked with a team that had just finished a major musical artist’s world tour, and they were able to help us orchestrate a kind of live performance for the shoot,” says Dooley.

FINISHING TOUCHES

The commercials were scored by Academy Award winner Atticus Ross (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). “A lot of this was built around the idea of not only visually showing what shaving and shielding feels like; there was a lot of discussion with Atticus of creating a soundtrack that did aurally what we were doing with the visuals,” says Dooley.

The Gillette project required every talent Brand New School brings to a project. “Brand New School started with a really strong foundation in animation and graphic design,” says Dooley. “When something like this comes along, which is a wonderful combination of live-action and animation, it’s a really fun and interesting challenge. We get to use all of our talents and every tool in the Adobe toolbox. It’s hard to think of any other project that better illustrates what we can do.”