Issue: December 1, 2009


Elizabeth Kiehner
Executive Producer
Thornberg & Forester
New York City

Thornberg & Forester is a New York-based design and production studio that specializes in animation, CGI and visual effects for ad agencies and TV networks worldwide. Recent assignments include TV spots for McDonald’s, TV show opens for the Food Network, a Website for GE and a two-spot TV campaign for Efficiency Vermont. This most recent project gave the studio an opportunity to explore re-purposing the characters they designed and created for last year’s EV campaign, in addition to elements produced for a POP display and assets for its Website, efficiencyvermont.com.

STRENGTHS: “As a non-profit organization, EV required an efficient production process which utilized deliverables across several platforms.  We took the initial scripts and character sketches developed in 2008 by EV’s ad agency, Kelliher Samets Volk, and created a universe staged in the Old West to promote energy efficient light bulbs that will save Vermonters 307 million kilowatt hours (kWh) in annual electric energy. This is design-based storytelling at its best. The initial campaign proved so popular with both the client and the public that it was reprised for 2009.  Not only were we able to bring back the familiar lead spokes-character for the brand, ‘Jesse Fewer Watts,’ but we were able to add additional layers of detail and texture to his character design as well as to his performance.”

WEAKNESSES: “Making sure that the content stayed fresh with audiences was one of our main objectives, as was ensuring that this new campaign was sufficiently differentiated from previous work. This is of increasing importance for advertisers these days, as many of them [have] previous ad campaigns available to consumers on their own Websites.  This work is also often available on video sharing sites, where it’s open to polite critique by viewers — so we need to make sure that each new iteration of a continuing campaign like this is better than the one before. Also our team had to evolve these existing characters in a way to keep them exciting for this second campaign. It was a challenge, but one that we thoroughly enjoyed.”

OPPORTUNITIES: “There are quite a few ways for a studio to benefit from leveraging digital assets like this, not only across multiple platforms but also from a launch campaign and into the future.  First off, it can compress schedules and make approval processes faster and more efficient. It also can free up valuable time for us to add greater nuance and texture to the characters and backgrounds, since much of the actual building of these elements has already been done. In EV, for example, we were able to add more charm to the characters, and tucked more inside jokes into the backgrounds, since we already had so much of this work already under our belts. We believe that digital studios such as ours are leading the charge in advertising and production in this area, since our models are flexible and our technology is almost limitless.”

THREATS: “With the cost of entry being so low, many new companies are sprouting up constantly in this space, and it’s essential to stay differentiated and build the bandwidth and pipeline that can support large campaigns and fast turn-arounds. This extends to your talent roster, too —you need to have the key people available to quickly ramp up into full production, so you really need to make your creative skills scalable.  Expectations remain high, while most budgets are low, so it is imperative to be both smart and strategic when it comes to workflow.”

OUTLOOK FOR 2010:  “We believe in an integrated production model —  meaning that companies that can do everything from shooting the live action to designing and integrating graphics, effects and animation and then finishing — will have a big advantage.  There will still be the Michael Bays of the world, and big multi-director production companies that are designed to meet the needs of giant agencies and their even bigger brands, but at the same time, there is a growing demand for great content that can be delivered through any of a number of media channels both, online and offline. As corporations continue to shift their strategy and media spending towards smaller-scale projects aimed at highly targeted audiences, we look forward to more opportunities to leverage digital assets (as we did with EV) in a way that can help brands and their agencies realize a greater ROI.”