“Muffin Man” by Tom & Mark

Muffin spot by Nexus
“Muffin Man” is a new spot for Royal Bank of Canada directed by Tom and Mark Perrett (repped by Nexus Productions). The commercial uses CG to recreate a stop motion aesthetic complete with choppy timing, puppet-like designs and muted Seventies color palette. It’s a well done spot, no question about it, but I have mixed feelings about it. Frankly I’m getting tired of CG directors evoking charm in their work by cashing in on the audience’s fondness for older animation techniques. If you’re using CG, why not explore the inherent appeal in your chosen technique instead of using it to mimic a look from decades ago?

(via Motionographer)


  • doug holverson

    Wouldn’t they look better if they were two and a half heads tall instead of four?

    Otherwise, it has a quaint charm.

  • http://www.brooksillustration.com Micah Brooks

    Very charming.
    For some reason, Muffin Man’s design reminds me of the hippo from the “Sports Cartoon” shorts they used to show on Nickelodeon in the early ’90s. Anyone else remember those?

  • Walter

    I think it’s worth remembering that this is an advertisement, the directors were probably given the retro brief as a starting point, you can’t point the finger at them.

    I’m not entirely sure what this inherent appeal of CG is you talk about. Most CG seeks to emulate something else by it’s very design, the tools are just made that way.

    I think the appeal of CG here is in making an advert which would have been impossible to do tradiationally given time and budget constraints, and actually achieving it. It doesn’t feel CG to me.

    Why criticise something CG just because it tries not to look CG? As a CG artist its something we spend most of our time doing.

    I wonder if you could show some good examples of CG that isn’t derivative of older animation techniques? Mandlebrots?

  • gordon schmoo

    Great commercial. Your comment about it is frankly a bit old fashioned and “over the hill”

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com FP

    Re:
    –If you’re using CG, why not explore the inherent appeal in your chosen technique instead of using it to mimic a look from decades ago?–

    Maybe the client wanted the look of stop motion, with the time savings, control, and easy revision allowed by CG.

  • http://www.rauchbrothers.com Tim Rauch

    It’s a nice piece of work either way. Definitely “charming”.

  • http://cupojo.net Jo

    Why simulate stop-motion when you could just use stop-motion in the first place?

    Probably because its more cost-effective and efficient to use CG. It doesn’t bother me that much. Hell, even traditional animation today that is digitally colored “mimics” the look of inked and painted cels. Its all about using whatever tools you have to make the best product possible for the time and money.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    I feel like the only one who would have to agree with Amid on this one. Apart from the usual comments made here, it does seem to undermine what stop motion artists have bought to the table for years as the same thing could be done with less time and effort (not to mention whatever budget is used in the process). Rather they were using models and snapping frames digitally myself.

  • Marcus

    The client most likely wanted a particular look, and wanted it done in a specific amount of time. The production team no doubt delivered, and it looks fantastic.

    Should we be worried how it was achieved?

  • slowtiger

    “If you’re using CG, why not explore the inherent appeal in your chosen technique” – last time I checked it wasn’t required for CG animation to be on one’s to be allowed to render. (The retro feeling mostly comes from that animation-on-two’s here, IMO.)

    I really don’t know of any “inherent appeal” of CG, other than having much greater freedom in combining whatever you could think of as a set/character designer, animator, art director. If this spot leaves me unimpressed it’s only because they stopped half-way in their attempt to mimick stop motion. They don’t use enough of the dynamic range of movement: everything is just at the same slow pace.

  • http://www.elliotelliotelliot.com Elliot Cowan

    Also – this has been animated to look like it’s a puppet animated film.
    It’s not as though it’s been edited to look like it.
    Animators using tools to create a certain personality.
    Surely that’s just about the same thing anyway.

  • http://www.jeva.hu jeva

    I used to do commercials, so I have to agree with Walter, but can you define what is the “CG” style?

  • Chuck R.

    I think Walter’s comments are spot-on. I love the spot, and think the creators were astute to throw in some human touches and give it a handmade feel. It only appears fraudulent to us geeks.

    I think there always has been and always will be a dialectic in animation art between slickness and hand-craftedness. Disney got slicker and slicker through the 50′s until technology brought us the rougher graphic style of 101 Dalmations. When that got stale, there were modifications to xerox and then computer-finishing that gave us the look of the Bluth films and the very crisp look of Eisner-era Disney. The advent of CG brought us a glut of photorealism followed by stylized characters with refined surfaces. (Wall-E incorporates both)

    I think 2D would do well to look a bit grittier and more handmade instead of continuing to compete with the pristine slickness that CG does so well.

  • amid

    Walter wrote, “I’m not entirely sure what this inherent appeal of CG is you talk about. Most CG seeks to emulate something else by it’s very design, the tools are just made that way.”

    The possibilities within CG are nearly limitless, and visuals can be achieved that are impossible using any other technique. The only thing is that they won’t be comfortable images. These new images won’t look like hand-drawn or stop motion or anything else. The fact that CG is a new tool with its own unique look has to eventually be embraced otherwise the technique will run into a dead end. I’m not suggesting that the visuals in this music video or this animated short are the ultimate expression but they are a more honest and interesting use of CG than the commercial above.

    jeva wrote “I used to do commercials, so I have to agree with Walter, but can you define what is the “CG” style?

    There is no such thing as a “CG style”. Computers are a tool just like a pencil or clay. Any style is possible. What I’m suggesting is exploring the possibilities within the tool and finding a visual expression that actually takes advantage of the technique instead of merely mimicing earlier animation ideas.

  • Gerard de Souza

    I have seen the commercial several times and was totally fooled. I think it is great.
    We’ve seen Cg being used to emulate traditional (not so well ; “2.5D”), paper cut-outs and yes, even to make animation look like flash. I read somewhere CG was even considered to emulate shadow puppets in Mulan.
    Y’see, in commercial animation there is this nasty thing called money. Heaven knows the ROyal Bank could afford it done in stop- motion but they, like studios, want to hang onto as much money as possible and spend as little as possible. This in know ways looks cheap but is a heck of alot cheaper.
    I have no more problem with it than adding film grain effects or speeding things up to emulate a hand crank camera or shootong digitally for that matter. I’ve never said to myself why don’t they use real hand crank film camera to evoke a nostaligic feeling.
    Also, it sin’t that easy; The folks who animated this obviously have a deep understanding of stop motion to pull it off so well. It was hard work too, just realized quicker than traditional methods (as the morket dictates)

  • brent

    so will royal bank give me money to start my own animation studio?

  • matt

    Nice sidestep Amid. Are you willing/going to concede that the contracted turnaround for commercials (not to mention clients wanting the ability to make changes on the fly) are a HUGE and practical reason for doing it this way as others have said? The look and feel of Stop-motion, but more client friendly. It’s an ad. I don’t even know why you asked the question. Oh wait, yes I do.

    As for another tool, exactly – so when that tool turns out instead to be a BOX of tools, why would you not also use a pencil that say, you never had to sharpen? Maybe a better analogy is the airbrush. Why would you spend the majority of your time cutting frisk to achieve the same result? Sure there’s as much shitty digital as traditional airbrushing out there, but I’d never go back to the less efficient way of doing it, as I get exactly the same result, not a ‘digital approximation’, but more efficiently with less technical consideration and more time for the aesthetic side. For commercial art, not waiting around for paint to dry is a practical bonus/advantage. There are plenty of reasons to use this new tool-box that seem on the SURFACE (sorry, that’s meant to be italics, not shouting) to be redundant but actually make plenty of sense. Yes, I’m playing Devil’s advocate again. And btw I’m all for the limitless potential and non-photoreal cg, too.

    And are you saying with your comfortable images comment followed by the has to be embraced one that you’re not capable of embracing it? Or that you’ll embrace the unique-to-cg stuff but not anything digital that copies traditional tech.? That one was a little fuzzy.

    And what people forget is it’s ALL technology and constructing subjective barriers as to a certain technique’s ‘purity’ is myopic. I think most of you would have cried heretic at the old masters’ use of optics as ‘cheating’ (or labeled David Hockney’s book heresy like the ‘real’ art establishment anyway) and impure when what they were doing is completely analogous to what is being decried here. Sorry to use the ‘L’ word, but this time it’s appropriate.

    Maybe you’d have a stronger point if you were talking about Aardman’s digital short-form stuff. Chris – less time, money and effort? care to elaborate?

    P.S. Amid, I know many of my posts criticise your predominately anti-digital (be honest) stance, but I do think you show us the heights that the new digital breed need to reach (my point is it’s not the computers but the people using them and general knowledge and proficiency in doing so). I just think you tend to turn a blind eye to the drawbacks and limitations of traditional and seize every opportunity to jump on the drawbacks of the digital when it should be the people you’re attacking as generally the tech doesn’t actually seem to have anything to do with it. As I said though, thanks for both the harsh words and especially all the stuff you show us I’d never generally see. Cheers.

  • http://www.theswingdj.com trev

    To me a big part of what good design is about involves communicating by connecting to our cultural environment and experiences.

    This commercial is a brilliant piece of design because it conveys a simple clear message using a friendly charm that we can connect to our childhood experiences. They would have started with a goal of “let’s make it friendly and child-like”, not “let’s do something cool with CG”: that would have been a backwards approach.

  • http://www.jeva.hu jeva

    Amid, overall I agree with you, that people should try out new things, explore and play with CG, as with any other technique, but this is a commercial, not a personal piece of art. It has to be cost effective, you have to be able to make quick changes if necessary and most importantly, it has to reach many, and has to appeal to the people .. to the consumer.

  • Walter

    Amid:
    http://www.davidoreilly.com/blog/2008/03/rgb-xyz-for-all/

    Thats a strange choice, I’ve no idea why this is a truer use of CG. If you can say it’s not derivative of older forms of animation then it’s certainly derivative of early CG animation. It’s emulating a naive version of itself.

  • Chuck R.

    Thanks Matt, for clarifying: The computer is not “a” tool, it’s “the” tools.

    I understand what Amid is getting at, and his choice of O’Reilly to illustrate his point is well-chosen. We all agree that there is no CG-style, but O’Reilly’s work still screams “digital”. That’s because, like Muffin Man, O’ Reilly’s graphic vocabulary is retro —it harks back to the 80′s when digital art was in it’s infancy and had a definable look. You could even call it digital primitivism, though I suspect the artist is having too much fun to care to give it a moniker at all.

    With an infinite array of effects available to them, the Perretts limited themselves to those that produced a certain effect —claymation. O’Reilly does the same thing limiting himself to the flattened space, out-of-gamut psychedelic hues and fractured geometry that make his work ostensibly early-digital.

    Both studios are taking full advantage of the CG medium by selecting the capabilities that make sense to them and ignoring the rest. That’s what all good artists and designers do.

  • nave

    This is a cool animation in that it looks great for something that is CG, I think its very rare to see something that can make us question if it has been made with modern or traditional techniques. But this one will have people wondering how it was produced, well, certainly people who aren’t as technically educated as you guys in the industry.

    However, it doesn’t have that “warm” effect on some people/purists/geeks not because it’s trying to “pretend” to be stop motion but maybe because at the heart of it is money …money, money, money! Rather than for the love, this was made for the money.
    But then these talented guys, as much as they do it for the love, have to eat too!

    Unless they’re robots sent from the future. Then, there is no love. And we should find them and destroy them.

  • nave

    like, i just thought of this thing which is, like, kinda funny and relates to our debate in some sort of way, which isn’t very easy to, like, point out. well, not right now anyway. But here it goes…

    So, whats the difference between a joke that IS funny and makes you laugh real hard and a joke that IS NOT funny but still makes you laugh real hard?

    aaAAHHhh…

  • PerswAsian

    Couldn’t using CG to “mimic a look from decades ago” technically be considered “the inherent appeal in your chosen technique”?

  • http://www.lifeformz.com/weblog/blogger.html Brian S.

    Why not make it in stop-motion? Any number of reasons. Cost. A lack of readily available stop-motion animators, rig-builders, set builders, space to make the spot within the client’s schedule.

    Is CG really a style any more than 2-D is? Are you just tired of that particular British / Cosgrove Hall animated doll look, and would be saying the same thing if it were done in stop-motion — that it “wasn’t pushing the boundaries of what stop-motion was capable of?”

    In that sense, perhaps it wasn’t. We’ve seen better stop-motion, better examples of this aesthetic. But I think this was a particularly well-executed CG-in-the-style-of-a-particular-stop-motion-aesthetic spot and proves that one no longer needs to go the stop-motion route to get this aesthetic. It’s not quite to the level of a fully-CG Wallace & Gromit (i.e. as lush as the original), but still a step towards it.