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Western Images Creates CG Cingular Spot With Help From Maya

(August 20, 2001)
As "Balloon Art" (:30), a completely CG spot for Cingular Wireless, created by San Francisco's Western Images for ad
agency BBDO South, opens we hear the sound of concentrated exhalation and stretching rubber and see an expanding blue toy balloon. The following scene reveals the brilliant orange stylized Cingular "X" logo (a.k.a. "Jack") blowing air into the balloon and shifting to a close-up, Jack's "hands" transform into an industrious, squeaking blur as he busies himself with his balloon animals.

But no matter how hard jack works, he cannot fashion the diverse menagerie in his mind's eye, and in frustration ascribes different names to the same balloon animal. A Charlie Sheen voiceover crystallizes the dilemma, "Having just one way to express yourself can be frustrating," and goes on to detail
Cingular's range of airtime options. Meanwhile, Jack consults the big book of "Balloonology" and whips up a remarkable likeness of George Washington crossing the Delaware.

"Balloon Art," artfully directed by Mark Dippé, of Pandemonium, SF, is a wonderfully whimsical take on the world of wireless communications. But every laugh was offset by a significant technical challenge posed to Western Images lead animators Tobin Jones and Richard McBride and technical director Chris Hamilton,

"Tobin (Jones) and Rich (McBride) led a team of six animators," says Todd Lindo, senior producer, Western Images. "From storyboard to master cut, we had three weeks so we had to move quickly. The challenge was heightened by the fact that, being a logo, Jack can only move in a precisely predefined
manner, which did not lend itself to creating balloon animals."

In trying to reconcile Jack's skill at bending balloons with his obvious lack of dexterity, Dippé and the Western Images team alternated between wide shots of the character and blurs of activity. The ingenious close-ups of what are presumably Jack's hands tying balloons give the impression of intense speed and efficiency, without compromising the Cingular brand image.

Beyond the fact that Jack could not bend was a more telling challenge, conveying emotions. After all, communicating frustration and elation is difficult when one's subject has no facial features. "We had to convey feelings like delight and disappointment from a character without a face," says Lindo. "Motion became all the more important. Our animators, using
Alias|Wavefront Maya, pushed the limits of Jack's body language to create just the right feeling."

Jack held many challenges for the Western Images artists, but the balloons themselves presented their own difficulties. "Modeling the balloons was pretty straightforward," says Hamilton. "We paid close attention to details, the knots and balloon tips, and made sure that the shading and lighting revealed realistic transparency in the more inflated portions,
which we animated by hand to lend a dynamic feeling."

The penultimate shot was particularly challenging. Jack's balloon rendering of Washington crossing the Delaware had to be immediately recognizable. To create the effect, Hamilton and his artists consulted several experts on balloonology, "We did a great deal of research," says Hamilton smiling.
"There are actually books available with people's balloon creations. We consulted some instructional manuals, then got about 500 balloons and started experimenting. Before long, we had a good idea of what needed to be done."

"There was a strong collaboration between Pandemonium, BBDO and Western," says Lindo. "We had an excellent exchange of ideas between all the players to establish the timing and pacing to the spot. Mark definitely brought a director's flair for storytelling to the original boards. They've just been a great bunch to work with."

As if that weren't enough, the spot is part of a larger retail campaign covering 30 markets, for which Western Images created different versions of the spot.

Western Images Crew List

Producer, Todd Lindo
Animation director: Tobin Jones
Animation Director: Richard McBride
Technical Dir.: Chris Hamilton


Editors: Mike Tuomey and Steve Wood


Flame Artist - Bob Roesler (Balloon Art) , Catwalk (Greg Gilmore)
Animation Directors Tobin Jones, Richard McBride
Animator Jance Allen, Greg Gladstone, Carl Kaphan, Allan Gersten, John
Product Photography DP: Alex Vendler
Technical Assistants Anna Bjeldanes, Josh Johnson

Production Company

Clint Goldman, Exec Producer
Mark Dippe, director


BBDO South
Atlanta, GA

Producer: Tina Cairo

Jim Noble, Executive Creative Director
Rich Wakefield, SVP, Group Creative Director
Steve Andrews, Senior Art Dir
Mike Weidner, Senior Writer
Gayle Weiss, Account Supervisor

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