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New United Airlines Animated Spots

Sea Orchestra

United Airlines has unveiled five new animated spots for the Beijing Olympics. The commercial are elegant, visually-driven and beautiful to watch, just like the rest of the animated spots that the airline has produced in recent years. Pretentious to be sure, particularly for a carrier like United, but I still appreciate their attempts at fostering a more positive image by utilizing artistic animation. The ad agency responsible for these spots is the newly formed BDM, though two of its principals, Bob Barrie and Stuart D’Rozari, have been instrumental in United’s animation campaigns from the very beginning.

The real standout piece in this latest batch is “Sea Orchestra” (view hi-res version here) by Shy the Sun, the South African collective who also operates under the name The Blackheart Gang and who produced the short Tale of How. In this commercial, they combined hand-drawn textures and photographs into a brilliant and ornate CG package that is bursting at the seams with creativity. The commercial was produced in cinema resolution and I’m sure the visual effect of this on the bigscreen is overwhelming.

There are four other commericals in the series, including one by Ishu Patel. Click on each title below to watch a hi-res version:

“Two Worlds” – From the United press release: The commercial combines two different and distinctive animation styles created by directors SSSR, a Norwegian and Japanese team, who was responsible for the monochromatic world that was mostly computer-generated with a hand-crafted feel, and Gaelle Denis, a French director, who was responsible for the colorful fantasy world that uses using live action, computer generation and matte paintings, including textures such as Japanese rice paper.

“Heart” – From the press release: Using stop-motion animation and paper puppetry, California-based director Jamie Caliri and his team, place dimensional cardboard puppets in miniature sets that were shot frame by frame. The musical score for “Heart” is a piano duet of Rhapsody in Blue performed by Herbie Hancock and Lang Lang, who recently performed “Rhapsody in Blue” together at the 2007 Grammy Awards.

“Moon Dust” – From the press release: Ishu Patel, an Indian-born and Canadian-based animator, used his world-renowned back-lit technique in which a thin layer of plastic modeling clay is applied to a glass plate that has a 1000-watt light positioned beneath it and an animation camera above it.

“Butterfly” – From the press release: Polish director Aleksandra Korejwo manipulated colored salt using shed condor bird feathers on a black canvas positioned under a downward-facing camera.

  • Wow! Watching all of those was like a mini animation festival. Nice pieces all around.

  • Greg

    F-ing WOW! Those are GREAT! THANKS for the post!

  • Saturnome

    Yes! I always admired Patel’s work. “Butterfly” is very pretty, too.

  • Charlie

    If only flying was that cool.

  • slowtiger

    “they combined hand-drawn textures and photographs into a brilliant and ornate CG package that is bursting at the seams with creativity.”

    Since when is the sheer number of elements put into a shot a measure for creativity? Especially if they aren’t arranged in any way? Busby Berkely would rotate in his grave at the sight of this inaptitude to choreograph.

  • While its a really beautiful creative bit of animation, I thought that ‘Sea Orchestra’ worked the weakest of them as an advert – though only because the UA ‘brand’ elements were so incongruous to the rest of it.

    I was watching it and thinking that I would love to see a whole movie done that way, that that is what a 21st century version of Nezha and the Dragon Kings might look like – but then at the end there was (albeit only faintly visible) this horrible DTV looking meat-puppet looking down on the whole thing.

    All things considered I thought ‘Heart’ was the strongest and the most innovative, bridging that natural leap from Takahata to Norstein. But then again I watched it with the sound off, and the ubiquity of Rhapsody in Blue might only have called me to recall Fantasia 2000, something I would rather never think about again…

  • I saw Sea Orchestra the other night.
    It’s lovely, and I’m pleased you’ve posted about it because I was concerned it was an idea lifted from The Blackheart Gang.
    Pleased to see it’s actually theirs.

  • DUCK studios made the United Airlines commercial “dragon” a while ago didn’t they? That was pretty awesome.

  • Tanna

    Oh wow, that’s a really interesting technique. I commend them for for being so creative with the style!

  • Shannon

    My wife Megan worked on the Heart commercial, designing and building the puppets. The sets and puppets were built by hand and the animation was done by some really talented animators. Almost every element was shot “in camera”.

    Cudos to the creators on all the commercials!

  • These were all beautiful. It’s great to see Jamie Caliri can make another fine UA piece after his Dragonslayer (I don’t remember the exact title).

    Since these are all created by independent artists, it seems that someone is following in the footsteps of Ron Diamond’s Acme Filmworks. I assume they didn’t produce these as the spots aren’t mentioned on the Acme web site.

  • David Seville

    It’s great to see serious benefactors stepping up to the plate to make quality commercial animation, in both 2D and 3D, happen. It harks back to an era when America had a functioning economy.

  • I’m in total agreement with Tony Mines. They’re all amazing in their technique, but I found myself struggling to attach the UA element to the film. The rest however, fell into place wonderfully – and also complimented the marvelous campaign established years ago ! It really gets everyone appreciating the craft like no other advertising campaign around. . .

  • Jamie Caliri’s work always amazes me!

  • Carolyn Bates

    DUCK produced both Sea Orchestra and Heart.

  • Rachel Rauch

    I thought these were all beautiful . . . I just think it’s a shame that such wonderful artistry (and an iconic song) are being used to represent such a crappy brand.

  • Love the animation styles, but they forgot to include the $6.00 peanuts.

  • I took immediate notice to these commercials for the artistic and technical execution…BUT….I couldn’t help but wonder how much these commercials cost to make and then air during the OLYMPICS??? Millions of dollars for sure and I’m no more likely to fly United than I was before seeing the commercials. If United wants me to fly with them, they shoud have just lowered their fares =P

  • roz

    oh man that Heart one is amazing!

  • Like several others here, I too was struck by how little some of these animations reinforced the United Airlines brand identity. However, I was so mesmerized by the stunning quality of these little masterpieces that I will forever associate them with United. It’s not that often that i see a really good commercial and remember what was being sold. In fact, I can almost say that United has actually endeared themselves to me by staying out of the way so I can enjoy these! (Of course I’ll still fly based on who offers the lowest fares :)

  • tom

    SSSR are a great collective. Check out their music promos. The link below takes you to the first video in a trilogy.
    Also, drop in at our blog; cerebellumworks.blogspot.com.


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