Old-fashioned and lo-fi visual effects like stop motion animation go against the prevailing wind of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI), yet increasingly advertising creatives are using effects that betray a human touch.
In a sense the lo-fi aesthetic runs counter to our times. Few would deny we live in a high-tech age. But looked at through the prism of primal dreaming, the ubiquitous nostalgia for our cultural past, the lo-fi aesthetic makes more sense. An old-fashioned and handmade technique like stop motion animation is obviously ‘fake’ but endearing, whereas bad CGI looks fake but turns us off. With stop-motion there is a tangible quality, a human dimension; one of the pleasures of the old Wallace and Gromit shorts is seeing the fingerprints on the clay-mation figures.
In cinema we find the masters of the handcrafted aesthetic. The high priest of lo-fi visual effects is Michel Gondry (Science of Sleep) with his love of cardboard, lego and cotton wool clouds. Gondry’s contemporaries have also embraced lo-fi techniques: Spike Jonze used furry-costumed characters in Where the Wild Things Are, and Wes Anderson’s stop-motion Fantastic Mr. Fox featured models whose fur bristled in being repositioned for each frame.
Gondry, Jonze and Anderson have also made brilliant adverts, but the homespun sensibility goes beyond this trio of filmmakers. So let us turn our attention to the best lo-fi techniques advertising creatives are bringing into the high-tech age.
The new Volkswagen ad is hand-drawn animation with a lo-fi twist: we can see the hands drawing. Time-lapse photography shows a girl’s hands as she draws on music sheet paper the evolution of the Volkswagen range, from the Beetle to the new Golf blue-e-motion.
Artist and filmmaker Richard Swarbrick spent over thirty hours hand drawing this thirty-second ad for the Sun newspaper. Footballer Wayne Rooney’s overhead strike is recreated using a technique similar to rotoscoping, the animator tracing over live-action film movement, frame by frame. The aesthetic is simple and beautiful: a flickering image, limited colour, and the absence of anything but the players, football and goal.
Rube Goldberg machines
A Rube Goldberg machine, named after the cartoonist, is a deliberately over-engineered machine that performs a very simple task, like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
In this viral ad Google used Rube Goldberg machines – a high-speed potato-chucker, a paint-flinger, and a lightning-striker – to demonstrate, in the most fun but convoluted way, the speed of its Chrome browser. These machines are the kind of ‘cracking contraptions’ Wallace (ala Wallace and Gromit) might knock up – mad and beautiful one-offs.
Rube Goldberg-like, the famous Cog advert for Honda consists of two sixty-second dolly shots invisibly stitched together. Director Antoine Bardou-Jacquet used as little computer-generated imagery as possible and this is key to the ad’s success. The complex chain reaction delights us because we believe what we are seeing and appreciate the mindboggling precision of it all.
Animation using images painted directly on walls, a technique pioneered by Italian graffiti artist Blu, has come to the adverts. Vauxhall used the technique in an advert for the new Corsa: brightly coloured arrows, cartoon animals and men move along walls in fluid motion.
Credit Confidential, a credit report service, also used graffiti animation for one of their ads, this time showing a ‘mural man’ running through a city.
Stop motion using clay figures dates back almost a century. This ad for the Sony Bravia LCD television features a dazzling example of the technique. Brightly coloured clay bunnies bound through New York City, then dissolve into a tidal wave, from which crests a giant orange whale, and on it goes like that. The obvious time and labour that has gone into manipulating the clay figures a frame at a time is part of the pleasure.
This recent ad for the Kia Picanto is based on a truly off-the-wall idea: nail-art stop motion. Nine hundred individually painted fingernails create the illusion of movement when played as a continuous sequence.
This selection of lo-fi techniques in advertising is by no means exhaustive. We have not even touched on lego animation, flick books, and puppets.
What unites all the techniques mentioned is a human touch. Of course there are humans pushing pixels and creating CGI monstrosities like Transformers but they remain deliberately invisible. Lo-fi techniques appeal to our humanity.
By Mark Wright (Assistant Editor)
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