If there is one campaign that best defines Psyop’s commercial success, it is likely our work with Coca-Cola on “Happiness Factory” and the expansion of that unique universe and cast of characters for years after releasing the initial spot. However, this past year we found ourselves collaborating with the famous beverage brand on something entirely new; an animated spot in a hand-drawn 2D style that is rarely seen since the advent of 3D.
The spot, “Man and Dog,” has been a huge hit online, netting over 7 million views since it first went up. Hundreds of hours of creative work from dozens of artists went into the spot. Among them was Lois van Baarle, who was brought onto the project to work with directors Kylie Matulick and Todd Mueller as character designer, and whose illustrations would become the final look for both the man and dog at the heart of this animated short. We spoke to her about that process:
What was most important to you in terms of character creation for Man and Dog?
Lois: The brief was for a scruffy, overworked but loveable guy with a cute, energetic mutt as his pet. For me, it was really important for the guy to have that awkward, long-limbed clumsiness that Disney always captures so well, like Roger Radcliffe from 101 Dalmatians or George from Paperman – dorky but cute! I found that communicating this is mainly in the details: a half untucked shirt, oversized feet, large hands. It was a lot of fun!
Personally, what was your original theory/concept for what you wanted this spot to turn out to be?
I joined the team quite late in the process so it was more a question of providing some character art for an existing vision. For the character, what I really wanted to achieve was a character who appears really grumpy and unapproachable but somehow you can tell that he’s a really nice guy who’s just having a bad day, and can easily make the transformation into an energetic and cheered up mood.
What was it like to create characters for a company as iconic as Coca-Cola? What pressures were there?
I definitely just stuck to the classic style, staying close to my Disney inspirations. I knew it would be a good fit for the charming, old fashioned 2D animated feel!
What was the biggest road bump in executing the work in your role?
The dog was a tough one to nail. The look and breed of the dog changed a couple of times throughout the process, with a lot of feedback and modifications from Psyop’s team. It was a lot of fun, but I did find myself getting really attached to each dog I was drawing! I was especially fond of the fatter dog with floppy ears. He was so cute!
As the process went on, many versions of the Man and Dog were created. What were some specific aspects of both (visual-wise) that you were dead set on keeping throughout the character creation phases?
What I personally really liked for the man was the red nose and ears, and the bags under the eyes. These may sound like unappealing character traits but to me, they have a Norman Rockwell-esque charm, and really help emphasize the guy as being a bit awkward and scruffy! I loved being able to add these details in the concept art phase where you can go a lot further with color variation and shading than you would in the actual 2D animation.
What did you do to prepare for a project like this? For example, if you or friends have dogs, did you pay attention to their movement/mannerisms/quirks more closely?
Unfortunately there is a huge lack of people around me with dogs, but our family dog that I grew up with was a cute, scruffy, playful Lhasa Apso so she was a huge inspiration for the playful movements and running style! I did check out a lot of reference images, although I had to be careful not to get too carried away with just looking at pictures of cute dogs!
Why do you feel Psyop along with yourself were a good fit for this campaign?
Besides the fact that I have been a huge fan of Psyop for many years now and would have jumped at literally any opportunity to work with them, I think that Psyop’s specialty is providing a unique, colorful and refreshing take on things. That really helped make this classic 2D animation concept even cooler with their amazing dog POV scenes. The backgrounds and concept art they had created when they approached me were stunning! It was especially exciting to put my character sketches over their backgrounds to test how they would work together – I felt like it was a good mix.
What outside influences inspire you when it comes to creation as a whole? Why?
Rather unsurprisingly, concept art for Disney and Pixar features are particularly inspiring to me. The incredible 2D art that goes into the creation of a strong 3D character animation feature is always so amazing to see, and I love collecting “art of” books to see the process that went into creating the characters. Next to that, animations by Sylvain Chomet – especially the exaggerated proportions of the characters and the beautiful washed out colors – are a big inspiration.
If you could describe your artistic style in 3 words, what would fit you best?
Cartoony, expressive, sketchy (the good kind).
What is a type of project that either you haven’t done before, or would like to do again in the course of your career? (Dream collaborators/companies/subjects/mediums)
I would love to contribute to an animated feature for a very large chunk of the production process. I have done some concept art for features but the time spent was fairly short and quite early in the process. I’d love to spend a year or more developing a certain style and look. The longer you spend on a concept, the more you push yourself beyond what you initially thought you could do, which is really exciting!
Who is your animated character alter-ego?
Female animated characters tend to be very bubbly and optimistic which I am not! I was a really awkward teenager so I guess I could go with Violet from The Incredibles.
What is the first project or artist that you can remember having a major impact on you? In what ways did it affect you and have you carried any of those qualities over into your own career?
I think the artist that impacted me in the biggest way was Alfonse Mucha. I didn’t rely on that style for this spot, but my personal work is very heavily influenced by Art Nouveau and Mucha’s beautiful portraits and posters! Everything from the style to the subject matter has its foundation in the moment that I discovered Art Nouveau. I still never tire of it!