Sleep 5: Computer Animation

26 June, 2020


Computer animation in advertising article from the May-June 1976 edition of the Creative Computing Magazine.

Transcript available
[Music] Helping you fall asleep. I'm John Chidjie. You can follow me on the Fediverse at [email protected], on Twitter at John Chidjie, all one word, or the network at engineered_net. Sleep is supported by you, our listeners. If you'd like to support the show, you can do so via Patreon, with a special thank you to all of our patrons, and a special thank you to our Patreon silver producers, Mitch Bilger, John Whitlow, Joseph Antonio, Kevin Koch, Oliver Steele, and Shane O'Neill. And an extra special thank you to our gold producer, known only as R. Visit to learn how you can help. Thank you. So now that that's out of the way, let me talk to you. Just for a few minutes. Computer animation. Out of the lab and onto the TV screen. Are television commercials looking and sounding more and more alike? Or does it just seem that way? From a technique standpoint, how many party situations, cookouts, fun on the beach, quick Cuts to happy faces, slices of life, pitch people can a viewer absorb in a single evening. Individually, many are right on and, without a doubt, highly effective. But once they leave the client's screening rooms and mix into the swirl and clutter of the real world, how many others become blurred and forgotten before the next station break? Even many spots in the new "bury your competitor" school of comparison and advertising risk losing more in confusion and sameness of look than gaining in persuasion. We once considered technique secondary to basic message still a healthy way to think. But what good is a basic message if some kind of distinctive vehicle doesn't drive it deeply and firmly into the viewer's mixed-up brain? With heavily advertised products such as foods, beverages, drugs and toiletries, how you show it and say it on television has to broader on basic because there is the tap on the shoulder that determines whether or not your commercial will be noticed at all, let alone absorbed. Which leads to question number two. To what extent, then, is the success of a product advertised on TV due to the sheer weight of media dollars as compared with message and technique? We may never know. Computers can solve creative problems. What we do know is that in television we have a medium of limitless technological possibilities to depict every kind of scene and symbol the human mind can possibly comprehend. The question is, after this first quarter century of using the medium to move products and services, how far beyond the obvious have we really explored into the myriad hidden opportunities which may help us motivate with pictures? This piece concerns one such possibility, which has recently come of age – computer animation. Never to be considered as a replacement for solid and proven live action, computer animation is nevertheless perfect and available for those special times when an unusual creative problem may demand an unusual solution. Or when a going successful campaign needs a change of pace variation to sustain interest. Alan Stanley, president of Dolphin Productions, biggest and busiest of the computer animation firms and a company that has helped advance this incredible technique to sophisticated proportions, prefers to call the process electronically generated animation, which in no way replaces conventional cell animation, but carries its range of graphics forms into unlimited dimensions. For the technically oriented, the Dolphin system offers the unique capability of animation in real time. The output in standard colour video available for immediate use and/or integration into other colour video material. The process is completely interactive, permitting constant aesthetic evaluation and direction whilst the motion and sequence dynamics are being set. The input is artist prepared graphics, drawings, charts etc. because the system is real time. It can be instantaneously mixed with standard colour video signals including live action coming from the studio, colour cameras, pre-recorded videotape and a duplicate animation system. Or for the layman like me, what happens on the screen is figures twist, squeeze, stretch, zoom in and out, strobe against three-dimensional fields. We have the ability, adds Mr. Stanley, to create motion on any element of a picture, independently, even to colourise any of these elements, while in motion independently. The motion can happen at any speed. Backgrounds can be bursting stars, explosions of dots, you name it. And expensive Hollywood typeset can be simulated through keying behind a live singer. All this happening as experts at the 15 foot long console push the right buttons and plug in and unplug the right lines and it all comes out either on 2-inch videotape or 35mm film. Your choice. Many of these effects, if attempted optically and with cell animation, would be prohibitive in price. Yet Dolphin delivers the final commercial within two days, if on tape, at a cost to the advertiser, they say, about one half the price of the average commercial. What graphics teach children to count? 50% of the studio's output relates to commercials. The remainder goes to networks and stations for the advertising of programs, program titles, station ID packages, in-company training films, and PR presentations, sales, and motivational shows. It recently contracted with a state educational department for teaching the new metric system. And for Children's Television Workshop, here's where most of those wild and intriguing graphics come from in teaching our kids how to count and spell. For these various contributions, the studio is already sporting 27 national and international awards. A Dolphin commercial for Ford Granada through J. Walter Thompson features the engineering design of the new car, with different parts of the car joining together into the complete unit within seconds, all from a single piece of artwork, and positions the car against glamorous background. The studio worked entirely from Bob Peake's print-ad artwork to bring into motion spectacular computer-animated commercials for the movie version of MAME. Working against the MAME musical track, the various still elements interactively interplayed rhythmically, catching a degree of excitement more conventional methods could not have matched. Dolphin's computer animation has also brought new meaning in life to once static corporate identities such as logos and slogans, zooming them into motion, often swirling behind, in front of, and around them – intriguing symbols to impart consciously or subconsciously positive new moods and impressions. And when we notice sadly the too-quick handling so many packages receive in the final three seconds of so many product commercials these days, it's interesting to imagine whether any added sales may have resulted had the package been allowed, say, six seconds at end in which to build, to move, and suddenly, while remaining literal, to become part of a totally different kind of scene. For Ever Ready Batteries, William Etsy, Filmfare, a series of flashing, electric-like symbols fashioned through the computer animation technique, suggested far more than just a battery with a name on it. Dolphin's five-story townhouse headquarters in New York's Upper East Side contains just about every kind of video equipment you'll ever see in one townhouse. But any company can buy equipment, says Stanley. What's important are the people. We can prepare original artwork and have our creative staff take it from initial concept and storyboard to completion and delivery. We also welcome the creative input of agencies where, working together, we can program the various images into a sequence of motion that can be endlessly repeated and refined until complete satisfaction is attained, before it is stored. As one of the agency people put it, it's "discovering and participating in a new level of creative expression". Fun or not, from the standpoint of pure no-nonsense advertising value, is there more here than meets the senses? Are such fantastic mixtures of symbols with still photos, artwork, and/or live action – or just the symbols by themselves – one answer, even when used on an intermittent, of pace basis to the problem of sameness and boredom. Symbols vs. Literal Presentation More important, it is possible that the right combination of symbols, whatever they may be, integrated into the selling act within a commercial, could stimulate the viewer into accepting more of a selling proposition than through live action alone, which spares her the chore of thinking? Why isn't it logical that at least a temporary injection of the symbolic may even heighten the motivating powers of the commercial over the literal presentation. Could be we worry too much about sparing our viewer the need to concentrate, and even help her mind go stale when the more challenging mental exercise which the symbolic approach demands may be the very thing she is waiting for. That's a bit gender-biased, I have to say, and I don't like it. This is obviously beginning to get too shallow for me. But there are a number of research geniuses making it big in this business, grinding out scores on total commercial performance whose time may be more profitably occupied taking us all back to go and explaining, one more time, how the customer's mind really works. The point is, no amount of enthusiasm for computer animation or any other offbeat graphic idea is intended to suggest the technique as a steady substitute for what we know is working – straightforward, to earth nose-to-nose live-action commercials for live-action viewers. Yet, here and there, from time to time, now and then, occasionally, why shouldn't a willingness to reach out and try unusual approaches be a constructive way to freshen up the commercial look? Perhaps we can learn something in the bargain. And this dynamic advertising medium we may never fully understand.
Duration 10 minutes and 53 seconds Direct Download

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John Chidgey

John Chidgey

John is an Electrical, Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer, software developer, podcaster, vocal actor and runs TechDistortion and the Engineered Network. John is a Chartered Professional Engineer in both Electrical Engineering and Information, Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering (ITEE) and a semi-regular conference speaker.

John has produced and appeared on many podcasts including Pragmatic and Causality and is available for hire for Vocal Acting or advertising. He has experience and interest in HMI Design, Alarm Management, Cyber-security and Root Cause Analysis.

Described as the David Attenborough of disasters, and a Dreamy Narrator with Great Pipes by the Podfather Adam Curry.

You can find him on the Fediverse and on Twitter.