New ways of engaging digitally have inspired new opportunities for storytelling, challenging brands to build differentiated and personalized experiences across the consumer journey. In previous years, “storytelling” has largely meant creative big ideas that tend to look, feel and function like traditional film—a recipe that just doesn't hit like it used to.
But as marketers came to realize in the trend toward interactive and immersive digital experiences in 2020 and beyond, today's audiences crave highly entertaining original content; competitive or collaborative gaming environments; and immersive, interactive metaverse experiences. While each format or activation is unique, they share a creative backbone: the use of animation and visual effects to make the imaginary real.
With these capabilities now laying the groundwork for so many parts of the digital consumer journey, brands can gain more value (and keep up with new trends in entertainment and consumption) by working with an end-to-end animation team from the start—one that not only takes a project from concept to execution with greater efficiency, but also builds off opportunities to extend the experience across different touch points in the digital consumer journey.
No More Going “Back to the Drawing Board”
Animation is the product of several steps: the style guide that prescribes the look and feel, drawing concept art that establishes the design of characters and environments, storyboards, modeling (if using computer-generated animation), rigging... the list goes on. Typically, an agency will outsource these responsibilities to different artists and studios, but bifurcating a project across different teams this way can impede progress with rework and struggles to align.
“Style guides are never complete,” says Edouard Relou, Illustration Director at Media.Monks, noting that questions about how to render specific objects or characters inevitably come up—just one of the hurdles that stand between different teams. Moments like this highlight the strength of working with a team that controls every step of the process: “When we develop the concept in house, we have an innate sense of how to follow the style. We can directly connect animators with the person who set the art direction.”
The setup also streamlines the process, as everyone approaches their work with an animator's mindset. “It's different when an animator storyboards something versus an illustrator who isn't specialized in animation,” says Thymo van der Vlies, Head of the Animation.Monks, our animation team. “With an animator's mindset, everyone on our team thinks in terms of the movement, which is a huge benefit in itself. But it makes sense from a budget and timeline perspective also, as some styles may range from quick and simple to complex and costly.”
Essentially, where the traditional route is prescriptivist in nature—with each team making compromises around different constraints—an integrated setup allows brands to efficiently push their ambition and idea to their limits through seamless collaboration.
Expanding Ideas and Impact
When it comes to meeting users across the consumer journey, an integrated animation team can also help zero in on opportunities to virtualize, either by extending work into other parts of the digital ecosystem or building off of already existing marketing plans. Our work with HP Omen, in which we designed, animated and produced original game demos that showcase the power behind the brand's line of dedicated gaming PCs, was developed from this approach.
Typically, a hardware brand would pay game studios to license footage of games that are available to play in the market. But these fluid, gorgeously detailed CG animations not only save licensing costs; they're purposefully built to demonstrate the strength of HP Omen PCs and the unique creative vision of the brand.
Such cinematic experiences may also extend into other formats to help brands show up across the digital ecosystem. The big idea is no longer big enough to make a meaningful impact across the wide range of channels available to reach today's audiences. But an integrated team of multidisciplinary experts can help find natural points of alignment to translate hero content into more finely targeted experiences that otherwise may have been picked up by another partner. “We can create a hero film and explore hundreds of unique versions of it—all fully customizable for different sub-brands, audiences and markets,” says Van der Vlies.
Innovating Through Collaboration
Keeping up with the pace of virtualization also requires a culture of learning and adaptiveness. Our integration into a unitary brand in the last year brought together specialized animation talent (like the use of 3D atomic assets to deliver highly personalized, real-time rendered content) into a unified center of excellence. “By connecting animation teams that each came from different brands, we were able to create a single team of 150 specialists who seamlessly collaborate on projects that span the globe, each united by a shared sense of passion,” says Van der Vlies. “Ultimately, this lets us scale up on quality.”
The Deep Thoughts series of films—a passion project that celebrates creativity by exploring a theme in contrasting styles—showcases the dynamism of both the animation team and their colleagues from other disciplines. In the episode “Bounce,” for example, illustrators and designers were each invited to participate by illustrating a single frame each, and the sound team has contributed music and sound design for every episode. The series' sheer variety helped us capture the attention of Google, who partnered with us to celebrate their 20th birthday with a stylistically diverse Google Doodle.
“What's really nice is if you look over our growth in the past few years, we've made a community of so many talented people. In bringing them together, you get something really special,” says Van der Vlies. Opportunities to collaborate and experiment together provide space for the team to challenge themselves, celebrate their passions and ultimately play with new solutions.
From powering video content to interactive gaming and more, animation's role has quickly elevated in the marketing mix. With the ability to adapt to a broad range of styles and translate ideas to new formats and opportunities, letting an integrated animation team in earlier in the creative process can lead to substantive gains in speed, efficiency and effectiveness—and help brands keep up with the pace of virtualization.
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