It’s not often that a spec ad catches our eye the way that this Air Jordan short, “Become Legend,” has. It’s no wonder Nike’s ad agency Wieden+Kennedy has worked with the piece’s producer Image+Noise in the past.
Production of the short was led by Michael Emry, a producer and director at L.A. and Portland-based Image+Noise. The mission, according to Emry, “was to create a vibrant, quirky world of myth and adventure around Nike’s most iconic shoes. Similar to how swords were revered in old legends, the shoes would seem like secret artifacts bestowed upon the brave and bold to aid them on their journey to great trials and deeds. Think Excalibur, but for your feet.”
Emry has found a great deal of success doing commercial work for several major global brands – Toshiba, Red Bull Media House, Puma, and more – but his latest project was done without a commission. Its execution is indicative of Emry’s desire to do more independent work, where the full creative burden falls onto his shoulders.
To put together “Become Legend,” Emry and the Image+Noise team teamed with U.K. visual artist Troy Browne, whose specialty is collage. Together, they were able to get a full narrative across in just 30 seconds, featuring some exciting visuals that had us pausing time and again to more closely examine some of the intricate details.
We spoke with Emry about the challenges he and his team faced while putting together their distinct-looking short, and his ambitions to get into more independent animation in the future.
Cartoon Brew: How did this piece come together, and what were your goals in making it?
Michael Emry: It was a pretty organic process. I stumbled upon Troy’s Instagram and loved the loudness of his style. I wondered what kind of story could fit well in the look and thought of this concept while out on a run. A few days passed and I saw he had come back from paternity leave and was open for projects. So, it seemed like perfect timing!
How did you split up the labor to produce the short? Was this something you were working on in the background or was it a priority at the studio?
Emry: It was a priority for me because it was just one of those projects that gave you energy as you worked on it. So, it was hard to pull yourself away from it or put it on the back burner. Troy built out the initial characters while I went into the environment design and the initial animatic. Danny Stern, being a mograph master, was crucial in making sure the project didn’t get “stuck” anywhere from a technical side.
Can you briefly talk us through the process of blending the different techniques used to produce the short? Which tools did you use to realize your vision?
Emry: Since Troy’s style relies on photo collages to build the characters, there was a lot of hunting for royalty-free assets to build scenes with. It can be a slog, but you get a big dopamine hit when you find the exact photo of a rock at the exact perspective you need. From an animation side, characters were rigged in Duik or hand-animated with rotation and parenting. Environments were made in 3d AE layers to get a “truer” parallax.
What challenges did you encounter during production, and how did you overcome them?
Emry: It all comes back to the photos. Working with baked-in 2d assets, perspective was tricky to achieve. Turning a character’s head 3/4 is easy enough with shape layers. But it proved challenging to modify photo layers to achieve the same effect. Lots of tweaking and distortion were needed frame-by-frame to make it seem organic and natural. Sometimes you need to search and find new reference photos to swap to get to the next pose.
Most of the work you’ve done has been commissioned, but do you have plans to do independent work in the future?
Emry: Of course! It’s all about what the idea is and who you have in your corner to make it happen. The concept for me is a priority over the medium, whether commercial, narrative, or some flavor between. Presently I’m in pre-production on an animated children’s book I wrote about loneliness in early adolescence, which I’m incredibly excited to move forward on.