NEW YORK — The creative team at RuckSackNY spent just four days creating a new PSA that warns of the dangers of texting while driving or walking. The :30 PSA, titled Why did the turkey cross the road? rolled out the week of Thanksgiving with the aim of educating audiences about the dangers surrounding texting.
RuckSackNY creative directors Fred and Natasha Ruckel spend a significant amount of time driving between the city and various shoot locations and have encountered many drivers swerving —sometimes at high speed — while checking their text messages.
“It scares me to be on the road at times,” notes Fred Ruckel, “because a car could just slam right into you.”
Natasha, Fred’s wife and business partner, finds the situation stressful too and often tells Fred. “There’s nothing you can do about it. Don't let it get to you.”
After a few near misses, Fred decided that there was something he could do. Hence the PSA.
“I wanted make a Public Service Announcement video to help raise awareness,” he explains.
The studio planned on spending the week of Thanksgiving backing up all their systems, due to impending maintenance on their equipment. Instead, they decided to focus their resources on the PSA.
It dawned on Fred, that Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel times of the year. This equates to more drivers on the roads, more kids playing in the streets and a greater potential for accidents. The Ruckels conducted some research about texting-related accidents, the numbers were staggering.
On Tuesday, November 19th, they decided that they needed to come up with a clever concept that they could execute in just four days. Their goal was to release the PSA public on Monday, in time for Thanksgiving travels.
The PSA opens with an animated turkey walking down a street, texting as he goes. Cut to the car driver, who is also texting, and is heading straight towards the turkey.
The RuckSackNY team decided to use a goofy character-animated turkey to appeal to a wide audience, young and old alike. The town is shaded white, creating a generic main-street that put the focus on the characters and their actions.
Needless to say, the journey doesn’t end well, and the collision sends the turkey flying off into a billboard. Text elements show how the word DRIVE easily becomes the word DIE. The studio also handled sound design for the project.
Natasha found and purchased wire-mesh 3D character models that could be animated within Maxon Cinema 4D. Fred worked closely with the animation team to create the 3D main street environment.
“Our first objective was to see if our concept would work,” explains Fred. “We quickly blocked up shots with a simple camera movement, exporting playblasts from Cinema 4D”.
Once the scenes were mocked up as basic wireframes, Fred took them into Adobe Premiere and cut the different camera angles together, in a similar fashion to an editor working a multi-camera car commercial shoot. By end of day Tuesday, he had assembled a rough vision for the pacing and shot sequences needed.
“We had just three days left to create an entire commercial completely in 3D, not to mention that we were still fleshing out the concept as we working on each of the scenes,” he recalls.
Fred’s many years of experience as a Flame operator and working on special effects allowed him to help focus the animator’s efforts on creating both differing camera and lighting moves as well as other techniques that would be applied within a real-world production commercial environment. During construction of the animation Fred initially requested that the turkey slide into the scenes to simulate where the direction and timing of the walk path would be. Once the initial move was created within Cinema 4D, it was immediately taken into the edit to see how the angles and timing would play out within context of the story.
“I knew we were building an entire environment from scratch,” explains Fred. “I also knew we could put cameras into the environment, attach them to moving objects, film extreme angles and use high frame rates to create cinematic effects.”
“Both Fred and I wanted the climax scene to have a huge impact and lots of power,” explains Natasha. “When the turkey gets hit by the car, we wanted to re-create that look that’s synonymous with The Matrix style warp-effect, using a smooth slow-motion camera rotation around the ‘frozen-in-time’ turkey. We were careful to include details, for example, frozen feathers encapsulated in space and time too.”
In the absence of time, the Ruckels decided to send the animation to a render farm. The animation sequences took an amazing 1,736 core hours to render. In total, the :30 spot encompasses 24 scenes. Using a renderfarm ensured that the spot was rendered in a couple hours versus several days.
The spot’s piano track was created by Natasha, who sat down at her piano and looped a sequence on her laptop to construct the original score. The sound design was created by Fred.
“I won’t lie,” says Ruckel, “I loved doing the sound design for the piece. Once I got into it, I was addicted, I might have found my true calling.”
He continues: “We created this piece from concept to finish in just four days — yes, four days! In normal situations, this kind of thing would take a lot longer to complete a :30 spot. The creative alone on a commercial like this could easily take a week. But at the end of it all, and more importantly, we hope that this video message will have an impact on those travelling this Thanksgiving.”