ATLANTA — It seemed fated for Atlanta-based creative studio Awesome Inc. (www.awesomeinc.com) to take on the “Kingdom of Awesome” for Cartoon Network Latin America. The network was promoting a month-long programming block featuring popular animated royalty: Princess Bubblegum, Flame Princess, Lumpy Space Princess and Marceline from Adventure Time.
“It was meant for us,” says Craig Sheldon, design director at Awesome Inc., of the surfeit of awesomeness. “The ‘Kingdom of Awesome’ is a special land where all the princesses hang out. These are princesses who are funny and fearless — they rock! The Kingdom is so much fun that even dudes are trying to get in.”
Awesome Inc. has a long relationship with Cartoon Network (CN). Executive producer Ashley Kohler was formerly director of production for CN’s on-air promo group; the studio has done numerous promos and commercials for CN and Adult Swim, and also has three Adult Swim series in production.
For the “Kingdom of Awesome” block, Awesome Inc. was tasked with delivering weekly themed promos and packaging elements: bumps in and out, bugs and marketing elements with product placement. The studio had to recreate the signature animated characters and house the princesses in what Sheldon calls, “a quirky, magical and visually-enticing” realm.
“We were given a lot of assets to work with — model sheets and references — and to really understand the characters we watched a lot of Adventure Time episodes,” says Kohler. “One of our shows was on hiatus, so we were able to ask some of our series animators to do character animation while our design team did the backgrounds and art.”
In a client first, CN provided a Pinterest board to use as inspiration for the princesses’ kingdom. Sheldon tried several approaches; an elaborate matte painting was even considered. But he kept returning to a flat, colorful realm. “He kept plussing it and plussing it, making it look richer — that was the look we wanted,” Kohler says.
“Getting the color scheme down was a big thing,” Sheldon notes. “Color tied all the spots together, especially the bumps with the iconic characters. The bumps wouldn’t be in the style of the characters’ shows but color would tie them all together and dictate the vibe of the whole campaign.”
At first, Sheldon’s color palette was purple, orange and pink. It eventually grew to five “girly colors, but not super-girly colors,” he says. “The network made it clear that the princesses were all strong and empowered: They weren’t ‘save me’ princesses. So we embraced that strength in our script and color palette.”
Sheldon drew all the backgrounds in Adobe Illustrator; Adobe After Effects was used for compositing. There was no 3D modeling. “We discussed 3D upfront, but all the characters were 2D, and we thought a world that was overly 3D might be an odd fit for them,” explains Kohler. After Effects’ 3D camera gave flat objects passing in 3D space a look reminiscent of a pop-book. “The technique is often referred to as 2.5D. You still have the feel and aesthetic of 2D artwork, it just exists in 3D space,” says Sheldon.
Character animation was done in Flash and After Effects. “Rigging animation in After Effects was a new challenge for us,” says Sheldon. “We wanted the characters to be smooth and expressive, so we used Expressions and Puppet Tool in After Effects.”
Bumps in and out were designed in a more “info-graphic style,” notes Kohler and feature kids’ voices narrating. All the bumps had a Twitter hashtag, #actlikeaprincess, so kids could post them. “It’s amazing how many people have been viewing and hashtagging them,” Kohler reports. Other deliverables included Apple iPad and iPhone elements, and computer wallpaper.
Awesome Inc.’s sister company, Bluetube, performed the sound design and mix for the campaign.
“Lately, we’ve either seen projects with a distinctive style or brand guide to follow, or a project like Kingdom of Awesome, with a budget, a deadline and the mandate to do something fun. A more open line of creative, where you can run free in partnership with the client, is really exciting,” says Kohler.