On any given day in the Psyop offices, there can be anywhere from a few well behaved dogs napping in patches of sun to a veritable pack of wild beasts, roaming the halls on the hunt for stray crumbs, bouncing tennis balls, or–honestly, it’s hard to say exactly what’s going through a dog’s mind at any given moment.
It’s this idea, the mysterious interior of a dog’s imagination, that was the inspiration for Psyop’s latest work, an animated spot for Coca-Cola called “Man and Dog,” devised in collaboration with ad agency Wieden+Kennedy.
Directed by Todd Mueller & Kylie Matulick, “Man and Dog” is the story one man and one dog, and the way they each experience a simple walk through the park. For the man, it’s another ordinary day, but for the dog… well, you saw it for yourself.
We got the story behind the spot from Todd & Kylie, who told us how the they first envisioned the concept playing out, and how it grew into the final spot that is.
“Sure, occasionally one dials 911 or wins America’s Got Talent, but for the most part, dogs are idiots. That’s why we love them,” explained Todd.
“They have the curious, imaginative minds of a six year old–specifically mine–who thinks every stick is excalibur, every bit of string is a lightning whip,” added Kylie. “Dogs don’t see a heap of two-week old laundry; they see a castle ready to be defended, then napped in. Where we see a cumbersome vacuum cleaner, they see an alien robot loudly singing its home planet’s anthem. At least that’s what my six year old told me.”
The team had to walk a very narrow line in order to do this project correctly, making it feel not only familiar and classic, but also imaginative and fresh.
“We wanted this film to be genuinely drawn by hand, like classic 2s animation we grew up with, but with more depth and dimension”. “It’s nostalgic but new, it shows love and focus, it’s crafted but nicely flawed, we wanted it to have a truly original look that only exists in this moment.”
Throughout the film, the perspective shifts back and forth between man and dog, each view standing out stylistically from the other. The team achieved this by approaching both from different angles not only visually but technically.
“To truly appreciate the unique feeling of looking at the world through a dog’s eyes, we had to make sure that his moments really set themselves apart from the rest of the spot,” Kylie explained. “To achieve this, we did as much as we could to shift the feeling of the moment, from unique camera moves, the look and sound of the action. Things become brighter, more fanciful, and it’s clear that you’re seeing things in a new way.”
Environments were comprised of digital matte paintings that were first painted in Photoshop on layers and eventually broken up onto cards and projected across 3d geometry, using both Maya and Nuke software. This hybrid 2D/3D look was particularly important for establishing the dog’s unique POV, which drives the fun spirit of the spot. Objects seen in this perspective needed to be created in 3d, including pieces of the environment as well as additional characters that the dog encounters, such as the motorcycle-riding squirrels.
Casting the right man and dog for the spot was monumentally important, and was a process that saw the creation of dozens upon dozens of different canines and their potential owners before landing on the final look.
In the end, it was character designer Lois van Baarle who won the day with her scruffy protagonist, an interpretation that would feel comfortable coming off the pen of one of Disney’s “nine old men.” Additional artists then helped flesh out both the Man & Dog’s expressions and attitudes to prepare them for their starring roles.
Character designs were then brought to Duncan Studio in Pasadena, who collaborated with Psyop on the 2D portion of the film, from rough sketches and blocking down to inked and painted final cels. In addition to the characters being hand-drawn, colors, shadows, and highlights were also added in the final hand-drawn animation phase. While animators at Duncan Studio focused on character animation, Psyop added additional effects, color trails, smoke, dust, and more, all in 2D.
The final step was the compositing stage, where Psyop’s artists completed the production puzzle by integrating 3D renders with 2D animation, and laid them both out together among the film’s painted environments. When all was said and done, the resulting spot became a uniquely modern piece of art, combining techniques and styles from across generations for a one-of-a-kind result.