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August 2014
Issue: September 1, 2010

Cover Story: Motion Theory Hits Bullseye for Target

By: Marc Loftus
VENICE, CA — Target has long been a friend to the consumer, offering low-cost deals on all sorts of seasonal clothing, electronics and home goods. Now, the retailer is extending its business with the addition of a fresh grocery department within select stores.

To get the message out, Target worked directly with creative production studio Motion Theory (www.motiontheory.com) to produce a fully-animated :30 spot that resembles many of today’s animated features.

Here, director Chris Riehl details the creative process and the pressure of creating Pixar-style animation in just a few weeks.

Post: Tell us about A Better Bullseye?
Chris Riehl: “It was probably the most fun I’ve had on a job.”

Post: You worked directly with Target? There was no agency?
Riehl: [Laughs] “That’s one of the reasons it was so much fun. Initially they presented us with client boards that had the rough idea and talking points to get the conversation going. I saw the initial pitch boards and was like, ‘This is awesome!’ Basically, what it said was, ‘We’re going to open up the bullseye, and we’re going to get a cast of Pixar-like characters to playfully fill the bullseye with fruit.”

Post: Why that particular style?
Riehl: “Our client was very interested in capturing the Pixar look. We always want to try not to repeat what other people have done, however there is sort of a common vernacular for that kind of work. That’s what contemporary animation looks like. Pixar focuses on the character stories and making sure people get a sense of who they are before they even speak. The similarities that you see between Pixar and DreamWorks and Sony is that they really spend a lot of time on their character development and creating a world that is strangely specific to that aesthetic.”

Post: How did you develop the look for Target?
Riehl: “We put together a rather large treatment the weekend after receiving this pitch board, and they responded very positively. I think we gave them a 60- or 70-page treatment. That document, with all of the rough character sketches and rough world ideas, was done in few days. It was intense.

“We began production the Wednesday after Easter and our first deliverable — a :15 version — [was completed] in two-and-a-half weeks. So in two-and-a-half weeks we were 75 percent done with the entire project.”

Post: How many models had to be created and animated?
Riehl: “Hundreds! We have 10 characters and ultimately we redesigned and remodeled two or three of them over that course of time. We were fortunate to work with really talented character modelers and character riggers. We built everything out to just the level it needed to be, based on our previsualization.

“I think the only way it was possible to be done and make it out in the time constraints of that two-week delivery was that every single shot was meticulously storyboarded and then previsualized to the point where we knew where every single item we had intended to be on screen for both the :15 and :30 version. We spent the majority of our time building cameras and building assets. The :15 version, although finished in two-and-a-half weeks, was really more of a test render for getting through everything. All of the fleshing out and minor tweaks happened during the :30, which we had another month [for].”

Post: Venice-based String handled the edit? How did that help shape the spot?
Riehl: “We made more than we wound up using. The editorial process really helped us decide what shots were strongest. Ultimately, we had enough material probably to make a three-minute short.”

Post: How big of a job was this for Motion Theory?
Riehl: “We tend to work in teams. This job had a team that was fairly significant, however, there were two very large teams working in parallel on two very large spots. One being the Katy Perry California Gurls music video, as well as the Walt Disney Land Resort World of Color spot. At that moment in time, the office had eight jobs running.”

Post: You must have relied on freelancers?
Riehl: “There are a lot of freelancers, but there is also a large staff of talented people here. I’d say the breakdown was 40 percent staff and 60 percent freelance. The team was about 30 people. It might have hit 40, depending on what needed to be delivered. We had a period where there were three or four people just rigging characters, and a period of time where we had four or five people just building characters, or large numbers of people just texturing.”

Post: What tools did you use to create the animation?
Riehl: “For modeling, we used Maya for the characters and ZBrush to clean up and do detail work. We rendered in V-Ray. We used Maya to do all of the character rigging and animating. The cameras however were built in three different applications: Cinema 4D, MotionBuilder and Maya.”

Post: Why not use practical elements for items such as fruit?
Riehl: “We explored ideas on how to incorporate photography — doing projections on basic 3D geometry — but ultimately we found the aesthetic needed to be very comprehensive, and having the photographic elements didn’t quite have the same look as the V-Ray objects. We felt that all the way through — every little aspect — should be designed to fit this world, which we were calling ‘neo modernism.’”

Post: Did sound design from Rumble come at the end, or were you thinking about it early on?
Riehl: “The sound design was done over the course of the entire project. It was an entirely collaborative experience. When we would do the conference calls with the sound designers, [Target] would involve us as well as them, and all parties would talk about all of the different aspects that we wanted to hit. So the Target brand was represented, as well as the vision of myself and Motion Theory.”

Post: Was the tight schedule the biggest challenge?
Riehl: “Making sure we had enough time to render everything. Making sure we had enough time to give each shot the amount of compositing love and attention to detail that we wanted. Ultimately, we were very lucky that the amount of time that we had was exactly the right amount of time to produce a product we really feel happy with. So many times, when you have these compressed schedules, things don’t turn out exactly the way you want them to. This was one of those cases where we didn’t have to make too many sacrifices. I think the client helped facilitate that by kind of staying out of the way, working collaboratively up front and making sure all of the creative was agreed upon very quickly, and then allowing us to basically do what we thought was right. They trusted us quite a bit.”

Post: How often were you showing the work to the folks at Target?
Riehl: “During that first two-week period, we were showing them about every other day. We kept them very involved. The approval process was incredibly simple.”