You know, if the stuff were fully animated and very beautifully designed, the concepts wouldn't come through as loud. The edginess of the drawing and the crudeness of the animation kind of have a visceral quality to it that kind of makes it into this kind of political statement.
—J.J. Sedelmaier

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Q&A JULY 25 , 2001
The Ambiguously Mac Studio

[Page 4 of 5]

CM: For your drawn animations, you're doing everything frame by frame?

Sedelmaier: Yes. You mean as opposed to using some sort of program that does tweening?

CM: Exactly.

Sedelmaier: No. The inconsistencies that are inherent in even the difference between two assistants working together, let alone two animators, is, I think, what lends [to] the type of animation that we're at least known for. It's what makes it what it is.


Sedelmaier's concept of pairing the right animation style with the
script produces a broad variety of styles. This is from a spot
for national retailer Old Navy.

CM: What you're known for, at least from the average TV viewer's perspective, is sort of a look that's reminiscent of early '80s cartoons—Ambiguously Gay Duo and so forth.

Sedelmaier: That title card on Saturday Night Live has … put us on the map, in one sense, but it's put us on the map with a sledge hammer. I've always gone around and shown the studio's reel to advertising agencies and schools and things like that, and it used to be that I hid, as director, behind the spots, when the studio wasn't as visible, let's say, as the work that we did. But once that title card on Saturday Night Live came up, forget it. It's laser-etched in people's memories. So now when I go to agencies, and I show the reel, I'll have somebody sitting down at one of the tables somewhere come up to me and go, "So, dude, so dude, you're like doing the Saturday Night Live stuff, now you're going to start doing commercials, huh?" And it's like, dude, I've been doing the commercial thing for a long time. I'm doing the Saturday Night Live thing because of the commercial stuff that I did. But now it's feeding off the other way.

So there are two facets of the studio because what I was known for before Saturday Night Live was translating a style or pairing a style up with a project. Sometimes it meant a client had a cartoonist that they wanted to have animated, or maybe they had an idea that they had no idea how to approach graphically, and I would come in, and, if I didn't design it within the studio or design it myself, I would pull out tearsheets or examples of people's work that I knew out there who I thought would be interesting to use in animation, sometimes just because they've never been animated before. And a freshness in approach to doing animation is something that I was always trying to keep as the studio's goal.

And then when the Saturday Night Live stuff came up, it was a very convenient method of associating basically shitty design and shitty animation with terrific concepts, terrific scripts, but basically very strong concepts. And [with] Robert Smigel's vision paired up [with] how I translate that into animation, I learned a lot. But It's about one-quarter of the kind of stuff that the studio does. But it is a good use of animation. You know, if the stuff were fully animated and very beautifully designed, the concepts wouldn't come through as loud. The edginess of the drawing and the crudeness of the animation kind of have a visceral quality to it that kind of makes it into this kind of political statement. It's just marvelous. And nothing had been done like that before. So, again, it was nice thing to be associated with and be a part of.

CM: Looking at your reel, some of your work there's just no way I could identify as being you without having known it in advance.

Sedelmaier: Such as? You mean like "Quilters" [for Quilted Northern bathroom tissue]?

CM: "Quilters" would be one. But what's the one where the guy just comes on the screen and says something?

[Editor's note: It is to Sedelmaier's credit that he had even the foggiest idea what I was talking about.]

Sedelmaier: Oh, "George Brown: Buy low or lower" [for Brown & Co.]? Now why do you say that?

CM: Well, just because it's very different from the rest of your stuff that I've seen.

Sedelmaier: Well, that you've seen. That's the whole thing. If you look at the commercials and you see Slim Jim up against George Brown up against Mr. Butts … and so forth. That's kind of the point. It's all animation. And my job is to interpret and translate as best as can be done….

In the case of George Brown, there had been a few pieces done already, and the agency was looking to, I guess, take a fresh approach to the stuff that they had been doing. They had a very well known political cartoonist, David Levine, doing their print ads. David's stuff is very full of cross hatching. It looks exactly like the animation. When they showed me the work that had been done, I heard this guy's voice, and I said, "God, if I could get involved in the spot, I'd love to videotape this guy because it sounds like he's got an eccentric voice. And sure enough, I went to Boston and taped him while we were doing his voice. This guy was just a multitude—a plethora—of facial ticks and twitches. His lip kind of slurred a little bit, and it was just an animator's delight.

So I brought the tape back and worked with the animator on making sure that his mouth action especially matched not only the words but the way he said the words in real life. And it added just such a lovely dimension to the thing because it was definitely a drawing, but it was behaving very naturalistically. I've always loved that style.

And, you know what, I love the "Quilters" spot too because, as cute and soft as a lot of people may feel it looks, it's not pandering; it's not offensively … dripping in saccharin or anything. It's a spot that maybe, sensibility-wise, could have been done 40 years ago, but the visual look of it is at least fresh, and not a normal-looking cartoon. I'm very proud of all the stuff that's on the reel.

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Dave Nagel is the producer of Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; host of several World Wide User Groups, including Synthetik Studio Artist, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe LiveMotion, Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; and executive producer of the Digital Media Net family of publications.

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