Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mouthtopia Explained

Recently, Asher shared a comic book cover that featured a Gurney-inspired feathered Therizinosaurus, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at the models that brought Jurassic Park to life. Today's post is of a piece with those, I think. You don't have to look at the highest forms of art and popular culture to see how public perspectives on certain topics are changing. You should also look at those things pitched at the general public. Nothing fits that description better than advertisements for McDonald's. Ad agency Translation, recently rolled out a set of stylish commercials for the Big Mac, and one of them, titled "Mouthtopia," features a pair of dinosaur-ish creatures which look quite different than what we were used to in the Jurassic Park era.

When I saw this, I was intrigued by what sure seemed to be a pair of therizinosauroid theropods, bearing a suite of display features that are positively All Yesterdays in appearance. Plus, the animation is honest-to-goodness stop-motion, bringing me back to childhood mornings spent at Pee-Wee's Playhouse and watching Harryhausen flicks on VHS.

I had to know more about this commercial. In an advertisement, I'd have expected to see boring, rote characterizations of prehistoric animals. This is altogether different, so I set myself to some sleuthing and learned that it was produced by Buck, a Los Angeles production company, with animator and designer Jon Gorman serving as art director. (you can also watch the clip at Buck's site). Jon was kind enough to respond to my questions about the spot. He was generous in his response; blockquotes below are his words.

I began by asking about how the idea for this commercial came about.
Our initial brief from the agency was that the world that the spot takes place in had to be a sort of savage utopia: something that is fantastical and untamed but still inviting, kind of like a friendlier version of the 80's Conan films. Additionally, it was important for the campaign, and for us, to be as true as possible to the period of film-making in terms of production as we could feasibly be — hence the matte painting, miniature set and stop-motion animation process typical of the time.
When I first wrote Jon, I asked him if therizinosaurs were indeed the inspiration for the creatures. They weren't, as it turned out. "Wow, a few depictions of Therizinosaurs are really close to where we ended up!" he wrote back. "I would have loved to get those arms/hands in there, despite being a little terrifying." He went into more detail about how exactly they designed the dinosaurish creatures.
When we did some initial concept art of the layout we tried out a few things to find that balance between realism and fantasy in the landscape — Most of which you can see in the final spot; the cliche waterfalls, the sweeping mountain vistas and so on. A logical addition seemed to be the addition of an animated creature that hit the same balance of believability and fantasy.

Sébastien Iglesias and myself did the initial concept art, taking a lot of reference from large ground birds like emus and cassowaries along with more recent depictions of similarly proportioned dinosaurs and a lot of period design stuff from the likes of Harryhausen. The basic framework we built from is that of a brachiosaur, but playing with a lot of anatomical stuff that we kind of guessed at for display and producing sound (you can see from the early art that we had a lot of frills, bird-like wattles and vocal sacs). After that first round we pretty quickly narrowed down the direction and started on detail work, again taking a lot of inspiration from modern birds. The colour choices were partly a contrast choice with the background environment and the (I think) reasonable assumption that there is no reason and prehistoric beast shouldn't be as colourful as something like a Cassowary or Peacock.
Iglesias features some of this concept art at his blog, in which more of the creatures' bodies are revealed; they really are like Cassowary-sauropods. Of course, all this didn't mean anything until there were real, physical models to bring to life. Gorman shared that process, as well.
The build was sculpted, molded and them made in to a silicone/latex cast over a foam armature, made by Kelly Goeller and Victoria Arslani, who also built the landscape. It was then was hand-painted by Victoria. I animated 5-6 takes of the creature on set, which we then retimed and composited in to the scene. Honestly, I think they kind of made the spot and perfectly hit the tone we were going for in terms of both design and animation, as well as being an unexpected climax to the slow camera push on the product.
I'd like to thank Jon getting back to me; I really had little hope of finding out this much about the commercial. While these aren't meant to be totally accurate depictions of prehistoric life, I'd argue that an effort like this, geared for the masses, should be of comfort to those of us eager to see the public's imagination expanded when it comes to how dinosaurs and other extinct animals may have lived. Even if these "'brachiocassowaries" don't register as dinosaurian to most people, it's nice to know that a spirit of daring, All Yesterdays-esque exploration is alive among the concept artists, VFX workers, sculptors, and animators who make imaginary worlds come to life.


  1. Wow... A MacDonald's commercial, of all things. Brilliant. And how fantastic that Jon responded to you at at such length and afforded us these insights.

  2. Where in the world is this airing? I ask because in America, we're stuck with this:

  3. I believe it did air around super bowl time, but not sure now. No have cable. Only see commercials on hulu.

    1. With you on that. Everyone always says "Did you see that commercial...?" and I have no idea if it's not on hulu or during my online viewings of CSI. Related to this, though, very intriguing models. I like them.

  4. nice post, i like this


  5. I just saw this on My Television a day ago for the first time ever.

    Seriously, I never seen this on TV, only online.


Trolls get baleted.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.