Aric Ackerman Joins MTh as COO
Angeles, CA (February 20, 2013) – Production company MTh (Motion Theory) announced
today that Aric Ackerman has joined the company as Chief Operating Officer. In
his role as COO, Ackerman will manage finances and help drive business
development and joint ventures across film and advertising sectors for MTh. He
will also serve on the Board and manage finances at sister company Mirada, a
studio co-founded in December 2010 by Guillermo del Toro, MTh partners Mathew
Cullen and Javier Jimenez as well as Guillermo Navarro.
“MTh is an incredible studio with experience that spans concept development, live-action and digital production, essentially the complete lifecycle of creative development. This is a tremendous opportunity as the company is poised to grow dramatically,” said Ackerman. “The level of talent here is enviable. This is a company with a fantastic foundation and I’m looking forward to helping the great team take MTh to new heights.”
Ackerman has over fifteen years of experience in driving production, post-production and business development efforts in advertising and film. He previously spent eight years as COO of @radical.media overseeing 300% business growth through acquisitions and added operations in four countries. Most recently he co-founded and was CEO of Resolve Market Research until its sale to another industry player. He guided the firm in delivering expert consulting in digital media and mobile services. Currently, Ackerman serves on the Board of Trustees of the Motion Picture Pension and Health Plans. Aric began his career in entertainment and media with Price Waterhouse where he rose to a Principal Consultant advising three of the major Hollywood studios.
“Aric is a successful veteran with a proven track record, and we’re thrilled to have him on board,” said Javier Jimenez, co-founder, MTh. “His broad range of experience will be invaluable across many aspects of our business, and as we prepare for a new growth phase for both companies.”
See Danny MacAskill And Lolo Jones As Cogs In A Crazy, Red Bull-Driven Rube Goldberg Machine
Based on massively viral past hits like OK Go’s "This Too Shall Pass," Syyn Labs
has earned a reputation as the go-to production company for
mind-blowing Rube Goldberg machines. Their latest video, which debuted
yesterday on YouTube, takes the skill set to a whole new level: It
features a Rube Goldberg machine that’s not only life-sized but also
powered by Red Bull athletes.
The video, shot at a former Marine Corps base in Irvine, Calif., combines the spectacle of extreme-athlete stunts with the distinct whimsy of a Rube Goldberg contraption. Eleven athletes perform different stunts, each triggering a sequence of mechanisms that leads to the ensuing stunt. Skydiver Sean MacCormac leaps from a plane, trials bike rider Danny MacAskill scales a three-inch pipe, Olympic athlete Lolo Jones runs hurdles. The chain reactions unfold until the final step--axes breaking a block of ice to reveal a can of Red Bull--is complete.
Syyn cofounder Adam Sadowsky directed a 23-person crew of NASA aeronautical engineers, mechanical engineers, and former Disney Imagineers. They worked closely with athletes to devise stunts that were visually interesting, though overly extreme moves were generally avoided--they would have risked a high rate of failure and reshoots (reshoots get tricky when you have to re-create a highly specific chain of events). “The athlete reliability was actually pretty high,” says Sadowsky. “In some cases [the stunt] was well within their skill set. Or it was sort of a life or death scenario--it just had to work.”
After a month of devising stunts and mechanisms, Syyn shot the video in four hours. They filmed continuous takes with a RED camera mounted on a Mercedes SUV, meanwhile capturing additional angles and close-ups with 40 GoPro cameras placed around the set. The final video stitches together the best shots. “We tell our stories with kinetics,” says Sadowsky. “It was an exciting opportunity to put together a machine that does honor to these extraordinary athletes.”
Ad of the Day: FEMA To prepare for Hurricane Sandy, you needed to be ready yesterday
As Hurricane Sandy proves once again, people are notoriously reluctant
to deal with natural catastrophes until they're literally on their
doorstep. There's stark data behind this: 91 percent of Americans
believe it's important to be prepared for emergencies, but only 58
percent of households have taken any steps at all to prepare.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency tries every year to improve those statistics through ad campaigns urging people to plan for the worst, not just hope for the best. The PSAs are important, but often creatively underwhelming—sometimes too dull, sometimes too esoteric. This year, Leo Burnett in Chicago delivered the excellent 60-second spot below, featuring the slogan "Today is the day before"—reminding viewers that you never know when a cataclysmic disaster will strike (even if, in the case of a hurricane, you have some advance warning). It could always be tomorrow, so you should prepare today.
The TV spot deals not with a hurricane but with an earthquake—the Loma Prieta earthquake, which hit the Bay Area on Oct. 17, 1989. The ad shows stylized (and fictional) footage of the day before that momentous day, and indeed, it appears just like any other day. Using a split screen, the spot also shows today, and the inference is clear. Though things are quiet, you could be hours away from an emergency for which you might not have the supplies or the plan to help—potentially even save—yourself and your loved ones.
Scare tactics only get you so far. This spot commands attention with its compelling setup and great details. If nothing else, it's fun to see what a difference 23 years makes—in the city skyline, in fashion, in how people do something as simple as read a book. It pulls you in, and sets you up for the message: that one thing most assuredly hasn't changed in those 23 years. You need to be ready for history to repeat itself.
The spot points to the website ready.gov/today, which has a fascinating map of the U.S., with each state emblazoned with a date. Each of those dates, it turns out, is the day before some disaster—you can click on each one to read about it. The site gives a more palpable sense of the dangers we face, and expands the message well beyond the Bay Area.
The TV spot broke in September as part of National Preparedness Month. How many heeded its advice ahead of Hurricane Sandy is, of course, unknown. But there are surely many people today who still wish it was the day before.
Christopher Leone Directs 'Wolfpack of Reseda' for Fox Digital Entertainment
Eight-Episode Web Series Now Available on
Los Angeles, CA (February 16, 2012)—MTh director Christopher Leone directed the first season of the original scripted web series WOLFPACK OF RESEDA, which is produced by Fox Digital Studio (FDS). An unconventional comedy about the doldrums of suburban life with a monster movie twist, the series follows the startling transformation of Ben March’s mundane, 20-something existence in the Los Angeles sprawl of Reseda when he becomes convinced that he’s been bitten by a werewolf. Episode one of WOLFPACK OF RESEDA debuts today on Myspace and can now be viewed here: http://www.myspace.com/wolfpackofreseda.
“Since WOLFPACK was developed specifically with the streaming universe in mind, we had a lot of latitude to create something funny and cool and different,” said Javier Jimenez, owner/founder of MTh served as executive producer on the series. “Working with Fox was great – they have spot on taste and terrific instincts as to what would work in the digital space.”
“You haven’t read a Vanity Fair profile of Christopher Leone. Not yet. But you will. Chris, along with lead Tate Ellington, the entire cast, and writer Brian Frank are all quality on the rise,” said David Worthen, SVP and creative director for Fox Digital Studio. “The discipline of digital dictates that we place bets on up-and-coming talent, and looking at our first release, WOLFPACK, I’d say those bets have paid off, big time.”
Helming a comedic story that’s peppered with dark elements, Leone brings a tonal playfulness to the series that unexpectedly mixes facets of workplace comedy with the conventions of horror.
“I think the webseries format is evolving quickly, but we’re mixing storytelling styles from both movies and television,” Leone explained. “I filmed the series cinematically in big widescreen format, and the entire first season tells one complete story in about 70 minutes, like a movie. But at the same time we structured the episodes so each one ends in a cliffhanger, hooking the viewer and motivating them to click to the next episode. It was definitely a new and interesting way of filmmaking and I think the end result really holds up whether you watch it episodically or in one complete piece.”
Featuring up-and-coming talent, new episodes of WOLFPACK OF RESEDA will be released on Myspace and via other Fox digital distribution channels. After it debuts online, the content will also be available as a 70-minute feature via Netflix.
Jeff Scruton Joins MTh
Appointment coincides with expansion into new Los Angeles headquarters
Los Angeles, CA (February 10, 2012)—Commercial production veteran Jeff Scruton has joined Motion Theory as president and executive producer. He was most recently at MJZ where he spent seventeen years as senior executive producer. Scruton will spearhead the company’s evolution and expansion into a new 7,000 square-foot home base in Los Angeles, CA.
“As the industry has shifted, MTh has succeeded in becoming an active creative partner with its clients and has helped incubate early ideas into new advertising territories,” said Scruton. “I admire the multifaceted approach Javier Jimenez and Mathew Cullen (MTh co-founders) have taken to support their clients and their directors. The talent on this roster has been producing innovative work for years, and I’m looking forward to fostering the growth and expansion of the company and selectively building the roster to provide even more creative diversity.”
“Jeff is an industry icon, and we are thrilled that with the many options presented to him—he chose MTh. Jeff was our first choice for helping to evolve the company and roster,” said Jimenez. “With the recent signings of Guillermo del Toro and Marlind &Stein adding to a great roster, and now the addition of Jeff Scruton, this is an incredibly exciting time. Everyone in the company stands to benefit greatly from his experience, leadership and incredible reach into the advertising world.”
Scruton started at MJZ when its roster was just four directors. Over the past seventeen years, he helped shape the company by supporting its top tier talent, and overseeing hundreds of high profile productions that have garnered recognition from Cannes Lions, DGA, AICP, D&AD, and others.
Directorial Duo Mårlind & Stein Join MTh Roster
MTh has added Swedish team Mårlind & Stein to their directorial roster. Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein have worked together as a team for ten years on commercials, television programming and feature films. Their latest film and biggest project to date, Underworld Awakening starring Kate Beckinsale, is slated to open in theaters January 20, 2012 and has brought much attention to the talented pair stateside.
“We considered several different commercial production companies in America, but felt an instant connection to the people at Motion Theory and their close relationship and access to Mirada as a creative resource,” said Mårlind. “We knew that Motion Theory was the right place for us to be able to do the work we do best, and we’re looking forward to directing more spots for US audiences.”
“Not only do they come from a feature background, but they have made tons of commercials so Mårlind & Stein really know how to craft a compelling, visual cinematic story within a short form frame,” said Executive Producer/Partner, Javier Jimenez of MTh. “They understand the demands of commercial production timeframes and constraints— but also have experience managing feature film budgets and working with high-profile actors.”
Mårlind & Stein specialize in nuanced comedy and high-octane drama, which is quickly apparent from their body of work. They began directing commercials together at Stockholm-based production company Camp David in 2006, helming spots for UNICEF, Reebok, Nike, IKEA and Toyota. Their debut feature, Storm, was critically acclaimed and was followed up by Shelter, starring Julianne Moore and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. Motion Theory is the first company to jointly represent Mårlind & Stein as a directorial duo in the U.S.
Though now professional partners for more than a decade, Mårlind & Stein were first brought together by an interest in cinema as young children and started making their own movies at age 15. Mårlind attended the American Film Institute after completing his Ph.D. in Sweden while Stein began a successful career editing trailers upon his graduation before the two started to work together. After working on parallel paths for over six years, Mårlind and Stein began collaborating on projects, resulting in their award-winning work for television, film and commercial productions in Sweden. Most recently the crime drama series “The Bridge” that the two created for Swedish television has been bought by the BBC under the title, “The Tunnel,” and is now being co-produced in France and the UK.
Syyn Labs Goes Bungee Jumping With the New Chevy Sonic
“Some people play with blocks; we play with shipping
containers,” deadpanned Syyn Labs president Adam Sadowsky, director of the
latest launch stunt produced via Motion Theory for the new Chevy Sonic.
To introduce the all-new 2012 Sonic with a bang, Chevrolet agency Goodby
Silverstein & Partners commissioned the mischievous rocket scientists at Syyn
Labs to devise an unforgettable stunt that would incorporate online and social
media fan participation. The stunt can be viewed live at www.letsdothis.com.
“We decided to keep it simple,” joked Sadowsky. “Build a 90-foot tall structure out of shipping containers, have a Chevy Sonic slowly get pushed off the edge through a gear system that inches forward based on clicks of viewers interacting with the stunt in real time on the Chevy Sonic website. The car will get caught by bungee cables connecting it to a 90-ton hydraulic crane parked directly opposite the structure.”
The Syyn Labs team spent a week building the tower structure starting with approximately 80,000 pounds of ballast at the bottom over a steel support deck. The shipping containers were stacked, aligned with pins and chained together—wider at the bottom to provide strong support. The structure is topped with a second steel deck and custom-made rail system allows the car to slide without any friction. The rail system was welded onto the length of a 53-foot run, cantilevered 50 feet out over the edge of the tower so that prior to dropping, it will appear as if the Sonic is floating in mid-air.
Positioned near the car on the upper deck is a large finger pointer sign mimicking a computer’s cursor. This sign will light up as fans click on the Chevy Sonic site driving software, in turn, triggering a custom-designed gear system that will move the car slowly forward. The gear system runs on a one-horsepower motor to move 14 interlocking handmade, toothed gears (some weighing over 100 pounds each) that will slowly inch the car forward out on the rails. Several cameras placed around the tower will offer several birds-eye-view vantage points of the stunt live via www.letsdothis.com. The stunt begins today. When enough clicks have driven the car across the platform and the car is teetering on the edge, someone’s final click will set the bungee adventure in motion.
Show the Monster
The New Yorker
In 1926, Forrest
Ackerman, a nine-year-old misfit in Los Angeles, visited a newsstand and bought
a copy of Amazing Stories—a new magazine about aliens, monsters, and
other oddities. By the time he reached the final page, he had become America’s
first fanboy. He started a group called the Boys’ Scientifiction Club; in 1939,
he wore an outer-space outfit to a convention for fantasy aficionados,
establishing a costuming ritual still followed by the hordes at Comic-Con.
Ackerman founded a cult magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland, and, more
lucratively, became an agent for horror and science-fiction writers. He crammed
an eighteen-room house in Los Feliz with genre memorabilia, including a vampire
cape worn by Bela Lugosi and a model of the pteranodon that tried to abscond
with Fay Wray in “King Kong.” Ackerman eventually sold off his collection to
pay medical bills, and in 2008 he died. He had no children.
But he had an heir. In 1971, Guillermo del Toro, the film director, was a seven-year-old misfit in Guadalajara, Mexico. He liked to troll the city sewers and dissolve slugs with salt. One day, in the magazine aisle of a supermarket, he came upon a copy of Famous Monsters of Filmland. He bought it, and was so determined to decode Ackerman’s pun-strewed prose—the letters section was called Fang Mail—that he quickly became bilingual.
Del Toro was a playfully morbid child. One of his first toys, which he still owns, was a plush werewolf that he sewed together with the help of a great-aunt. In a tape recording made when he was five, he can be heard requesting a Christmas present of a mandrake root, for the purpose of black magic. His mother, Guadalupe, an amateur poet who read tarot cards, was charmed; his father, Federico, a businessman whom del Toro describes, fondly, as “the most unimaginative person on earth,” was confounded. Confounding his father became a lifelong project.
Before del Toro started school, his father won the Mexican national lottery. Federico built a Chrysler-dealership empire with the money, and moved the family into a white modernist mansion. Little Guillermo haunted it. He raised a gothic menagerie: hundreds of snakes, a crow, and white rats that he sometimes snuggled with in bed. Del Toro has kept a family photograph of him and his sister, Susana, both under ten and forced into polyester finery. Guillermo, then broomstick-thin, has added to his ensemble plastic vampire fangs, and his chin is goateed with fake blood. Susana’s neck has a dreadful gash, courtesy of makeup applied by her brother. He still remembers his old tricks. “Collodion is material used to make scars,” he told me. “You put a line on your face, and it contracts and pulls the skin. As a kid, I’d buy collodion in theatrical shops, and I’d scar my face and scare the nanny.”
Del Toro filled his bedroom with comic books and figurines, but he was not content to remain a fanboy. He began drawing creatures himself, consulting a graphic medical encyclopedia that his father, an unenthusiastic reader, had bought to fill his gentleman’s library. Del Toro was a good draftsman, but he knew that he would never be a master. (His favorite was Richard Corben, whose drawings, in magazines such as Heavy Metal, helped define underground comics: big fangs, bigger breasts.) So del Toro turned to film. In high school, he made a short about a monster that crawls out of a toilet and, finding humans repugnant, scuttles back to the sewers. He loved working on special effects, and his experiments with makeup grew outlandish. There is a photograph from this period of del Toro, now overweight, transformed into the melting corpse of a fat woman; his eyeballs drip down his cheeks like cracked eggs. (“It’s a gelatine,” he recalled. “It looks messy, but it’s all sculpted.”)
He attended a new film school, the Centro de Investigación y Estudios Cinematográficos, in Guadalajara, and after graduating, in 1983, he published a book-length essay on Alfred Hitchcock. (Discussing “The Birds,” del Toro notes that “in the terror genre, an artist, unbound by ‘reality,’ can create his purest reflection of the world—the cinematic equivalent of poetry.”) In 1985, he launched Necropia, a special-effects company, making low-end bogeymen for films being shot in Mexico City. “Producers would call me on Friday and say, ‘We need a monster on Tuesday,’ ” he said. In 1993, he released his first feature, “Cronos,” about a girl whose tenderness for her grandfather deepens after he becomes a vampire. The girl has her abuelo sleep in a toy box, not a coffin, and pads it with stuffed animals. The grandfather doesn’t want to kill, and his predicament is captured with grim humor; at one point, he licks the results of a nosebleed off a bathroom floor.
“Cronos” won an award at Cannes, and del Toro began working in Hollywood, where monster design was in a torpid state. The last major period of innovation dated back to 1979, when the Swiss artist H. R. Giger unveiled his iconic designs for Ridley Scott’s “Alien.” The titular beast’s head resembles a giant dripping phallus, and for years afterward monster designers emulated Giger’s lurid sliminess. In 1982, the effects technicians Stan Winston and Rob Bottin slathered the spastic creatures of “The Thing” with Carbopol, a polymer used in personal lubricants; four years later, in “The Fly,” Jeff Goldblum’s skin sloughs off, revealing the gelatinous insect within.
Del Toro embraced the cliché with his first studio feature, “Mimic” (1997), in which oozing giant insects overtake the New York subway system. But his subsequent monsters were strikingly original, combining menace with painterly beauty. Starting in 2004, he made two lush adaptations of the “Hellboy” comic-book series, which is about a clumsy horned demon who becomes a superhero and battles monsters. The vicious incisors of “tooth fairies” were offset by wings resembling oak leaves; the feathers of a skeletal Angel of Death were embedded with blinking eyes that uncannily echoed the markings on a peacock. A del Toro monster is as connected to a succubus in a Fuseli painting as it is to the beast in “Predator.” His films remind you that looking at monsters is a centuries-old ritual—a way of understanding our own bodies through gorgeous images of deformation.
The dark, sensual fairy tale “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006), del Toro’s most heralded film, is not what is typically conjured by the phrase “monster movie.” As is often the case in del Toro’s work, the worst monsters are human beings. In the violent aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, a defiantly imaginative girl, Ofelia, recoils from her harsh life—her stepfather is a Fascist captain who tortures dissidents—and descends into a ravishing underworld of sprites and satyrs. Though she barely evades the jaws of a famished ogre, she ultimately finds comfort in this spectral realm. For del Toro, who jokes that he “never willingly goes outside,” fantasy, even violent fantasy, is a refuge. The story of Ofelia inverts the usual scheme of horror; it’s as if one of the teens in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” had fought to remain trapped inside the world of dreams.
Many contemporary filmmakers seem embarrassed by the goofiness of monsters, relegating them to an occasional lunge from the shadows. Del Toro wants the audience to gawk. In the Mexican film industry, he told me, “it was so expensive to create a monster that, even if it was cardboard, they showed it a lot.” For del Toro, one of the key moments of horror cinema is in “Alien,” when Harry Dean Stanton “cannot run because he is in awe of the creature when it’s lowering itself in front of him. It’s a moment of man in front of a totemic god.”
Del Toro has battled to get his opulent vision of monsters onscreen. Miramax, which financed “Mimic,” found del Toro tediously arty and commissioned a second-unit director to add what del Toro calls “cheap scares.” He returned half his salary for “Hellboy,” and his entire salary for “Pan’s Labyrinth,” because he insisted on creature effects that his backers considered too expensive.
“Pan’s Labyrinth” received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, but del Toro refused to reposition himself as a highbrow auteur. His next film was the hectic “Hellboy II.” As del Toro has put it, “There is a part of me that will always be pulp.” He may be proudest of his schlockiest creations, such as the vampire Nomak, in “Blade II” (2002), whose toothy mouth folds open sideways, like labia, forming the ultimate vagina dentata; or the behemoth plant of “Hellboy II” (2008), which ravages Lower Manhattan like a greenhouse Godzilla. The plant monster’s demise is one of the most memorable in movie history: it spurts emerald blood that covers everything it touches in a lush carpet of moss. Del Toro does not worry that such fancies will sully his reputation. “In emotional genres, you cannot advocate good taste as an argument,” he said.
Although del Toro makes suspenseful movies, he often seems less like a disciple of Alfred Hitchcock than of Hieronymus Bosch. “I don’t see myself ever doing a ‘normal’ movie,” del Toro said. “I love the creation of these things—I love the sculpting, I love the coloring. Half the joy is fabricating the world, the creatures.” The movie that he most longs to make is an adaptation of a grandly ridiculous H. P. Lovecraft novella, “At the Mountains of Madness,” in which explorers, venturing into Antarctica, discover malevolent aliens in a frozen, ruined city. Some of the aliens mutate wildly, which would allow del Toro to create dozens of extreme incarnations. He said, “If I get to do it, those monsters will be so terrifying.” (EXCERPT)
Click here for full article.
Syyn Labs's League of Extraordinary Nerds
The geek darlings
behind Syyn Labs have created feats of fancy for the likes of Google, Disney,
and the band OK Go. Now it's time for their biggest challenge yet: Create a
business from their techy passion projects.
"We're a sensationalism service," says Brent Bushnell. Ask cofounder Adam Sadowsky and he says, "We're a one-stop production company: We make physical art that moves people." "We want to be the 'engineering is cool' group," Bushnell adds. Another cofounder, Eric Gradman, sums it up this way: "We're a glorified drinking club with an art problem."
Syyn Labs, the art collective/budding company that Bushnell, Sadowsky, Gradman, and four others founded last year at Barbara's bar at the Brewery Art Colony in Los Angeles, is all that and more. It's the best of what happens when a bunch of nerds, including a physicist and a psychology PhD, get together to obsessively create something mind-blowing simply because they love the challenge.
Syyn's first official project was to help build the complex series of chain reactions that performed simple tasks -- known as a Rube Goldberg machine after the legendary cartoonist who devised the concept -- at the heart of indie rock band OK Go's "This Too Shall Pass" video. After it became a viral hit in the spring of 2010 (20 million views and counting on YouTube. Check it out -- again. I'll wait), corporate America came calling. Everyone from Google to Sears has tapped Syyn to build something that inspires wonder, gets their brand noticed, and is infused with the kind of unbridled joy that tends to get squashed out at most companies.
Syyn is discovering that the playfulness game can be a tough racket. Most clients just want what worked for the last guy, and Sadowsky, Syyn's president and sole full-time employee, insists, "We're not a Rube Goldberg company." These guys can make a car-battery commercial beguiling, but it may take some beer and an all-nighter in the desert to do it. And clients like Sears ... well, that's not how Craftsman tools get made. Can these nerds transform their art collaborative into a true business without losing its mischievous, anarchic spirit? It would be their most audacious project yet.
Syyn is itself the embodiment of a Rube Goldberg machine: an eclectic cast of characters, featuring seven founders and some 50 volunteers, ages 24 to 40, whose assembled talents cause a domino effect of creativity. "I have a hard time categorizing them," says Cristin Frodella, a senior product-marketing manager at Google who hired Syyn to build a machine to publicize its global online science fair, which was set to launch in January. "They're fun, smart, geeky, and really plugged-in." Gradman, who at times sports a red Mohawk, is a fire-juggling circus performer, rock musician, semiprofessional whistler, and software engineer. Bushnell is a video-game developer, serial entrepreneur, and Silicon Valley royalty (he's the son of Atari founder Nolan Bushnell). Heather Knight, the only woman among the dozen or so regulars, has worked at both the MIT Media Lab and NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab and is earning a PhD in robotics at Carnegie Mellon while simultaneously starting Marilyn Monrobot Labs, a robot theater company. "It was cool and all, making things for space," Knight says, "but I was looking for a creative outlet."
OK Go front man Damian Kulash set the Syyn machine in motion. The band, already known for imaginative productions such as its dancing-on-treadmills hit in 2006, thought a music video featuring a Rube Goldberg machine would be captivating. They just needed someone to build it. In late 2008, Kulash, through his nerd circles, posted the project on the online discussion boards for Mindshare L.A., a monthly gathering of art and tech hipsters run by Syyn cofounder and designer Doug Campbell. (Think TED with booze and a great DJ.) The Syyn members, who banded together after meeting at Mindshare, applied for the OK Go project because it sounded like fun.
"They definitely had the right mix of talents," Kulash says. Despite their inexperience -- this was Syyn's first time working together and its first Rube Goldberg machine -- Kulash chose them because "I thought having a large group of people would provide different ideas that would help the machine feel more musical." Syyn was also willing to work for "low dough" over six months, and like Kulash, they were creative workaholics. A revolving group of staff and volunteers pitched in when available, creating a sense of chaos. "The project was a wild, untamed beast," says Kulash, who served as artistic director. Many of the components required dozens of iterations before they worked and looked film-worthy. "We were winging it," says Syyn's Hector Alvarez, a founder and a former ad agency art director. "We spent months learning the physics." The finished product -- 89 specific interactions, from tumbling dominoes to raining umbrellas and a TV-smashing sledgehammer, all in sync with the music -- took 85 takes to execute in a single shot.
"I don't think any of us anticipated it would be seen as a skill set that's beneficial to other companies," says Sadowsky, 40, a serial entrepreneur who has started video-game and tech businesses. But the unintended consequence of the Rube Goldberg machine -- its 90th interaction, if you will -- is that the phone started ringing. The company has since built RGMs for both Disney and The Colbert Report. It created a "DNA Sequencer," a 100-foot music-pulsating light sculpture in the shape of a double helix for Glow, an outdoor public-art event in Santa Monica. The group consulted on stunts for a TV game show and is in talks to make spectacles for a Las Vegas hotel and the opening of a Hollywood movie. It's building two pieces for Coachella, the arts-and-music festival in California, a natural fit for these Burning Man regulars. And this being L.A., Sadowsky, a former child actor who appeared on the 1980s Jason Bateman sitcom It's Your Move, has already met with TV networks about developing a reality show to chronicle Syyn's adventures. As of December, the company had generated around $350,000 in revenue -- a good start, but not enough to support a full-time team.
As their eclectic project list indicates, Sadowsky and company aim to strike a balance between corporate projects that pay the bills and ones that are simply fulfilling. In a perfect world, each project would be both, as with its work for Google's science fair, where a hamster running on a wheel triggers a chain reaction that ends with neon-orange lava erupting from volcanoes on a world map. "We want to show through spectacular displays of physics or robotics that a bunch of nerds can have a fun time and do great stuff," says Bushnell.
But for most clients, they're buying buzz and not the messy, nerdy process behind it. After directing the OK Go video, Zoo Film Productions director James Frost brought in Syyn on a commercial for Sears's DieHard batteries. Syyn set out to create what must be the first car organ: 24 cars (and their horns) powered by one battery and controlled by a keyboard. After wiring the vehicles through the night out in the middle of the desert, it wouldn't play. "The creative director of the agency said to me, 'What is going on?' " Frost recalls, indicating that the plaintive cry was less restrained than his retelling. "When the client comes to the shoot, they expect it to work."
"I asked Adam [Sadowsky], 'What happens if I can't get it to work?' " Gradman says. "He said, 'They'll probably sue us.' " But Gradman solved the wiring issue, and mod icon Gary Numan was able to play his 1979 hit "Cars" on the car horns. Syyn embraces this flirtation with disaster as a badge of honor. "These guys thrive on the pressure," Frost says.
The incident underscores Syyn's main challenge. Big corporations don't seek out high-wire danger. And they don't regularly hire companies with a "staff" that works mainly nights and weekends and puts a premium on having fun. "I couldn't tell who was doing what," says Michael Blum of Riverstreet Productions, which hired Syyn to create a teaser ad for the Disney XD channel. "They seemed to have a shared brain."
Sadowsky is trying to set up a pipeline of projects. One source: a new deal with award-winning production house Motion Theory (which did Katy Perry's "California Gurls" video). He's also adding a jigger of discipline, setting up weekly meetings (ugh) where the core group decides which gigs to pursue. Sadowsky takes the lead on assigning who works on which projects, and he's developing a workflow, budgeting on a per-second basis for RGMs, and reminding people to log their hours so they can get paid. (Gradman: "Yeah, I don't do that.")
Sadowsky is trying to balance that process with the kind of serendipity that leads roboticist Knight to say, "As far as job satisfaction, we're off the charts." Last October, for example, David Paris, a Miami caterer visiting L.A. on vacation, heard Syyn encouraged volunteers, so he simply showed up to help. Paris played such a big role on the Google machine that Syyn not only paid him but also invited him to join the team. Now he's moving to L.A. "We want this to get big enough so guys can quit their jobs," Sadowsky says.
Until a few months ago, the group's "office" was still Barbara's bar, and it had to build the DNA Sequencer in one member's backyard. Now Syyn occupies an airy warehouse in a former paint factory in an L.A. industrial area. As much as anything, the move, says the Syyn team, makes this feel like a company rather than a hobby.
And yet Syyn's nerd core remains untamed. On a weeknight in mid-October, a dozen members of the group stand around sipping "safety juice" (Tecate beer), assessing their chances in chess boxing (yes, a real sport), and reviewing their progress on the Google machine. "We've shot flame balls in the air, trained hamsters, played with Slinkys, and built rockets," Campbell says. "That's a week at the office."
The fireballs, it should be noted, were strictly for their amusement.
Before everyone resumes building, they insist that Dan Busby, one of Syyn's founders, demonstrate his contribution again. With a flip of a switch, Busby, a physicist by training and an electric-vehicle engineer by day, summons a dazzling white ribbon of electricity that dances between 5-foot-tall metal rods angled like a TV antenna, perfectly evoking a mad scientist's lab, before flipping a circuit breaker.
"Awesome," Bushnell marvels.
"Do it again!" someone else says.
High-voltage debauchery, just as Syyn's tagline promises. Who wouldn't want some of that juju?
Motion Theory Signs Guillermo del Toro for Worldwide Commercial Representation
production company Motion Theory announces
that filmmaker Guillermo del Toro will be helming commercials as the newest
director on the Motion Theory roster. Del Toro joins a slate of creative talent
that includes Mathew Cullen, Grady Hall, Jesus de Francisco, Mark Kudsi, Kaan
Atilla, Chris Riehl, Syyn Labs and Christopher Leone.
This news follows the launch in December of Mirada, a new creative studio designed for storytellers co-founded by del Toro, cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, director Mathew Cullen and executive producer Javier Jimenez. Mirada is a sister company to Motion Theory, and operates as a unique entity: part concept and design studio, part visual effects and animation, and part creative development company.
Said del Toro, “When we were laying the groundwork for Mirada late 2009, it was always with the intent that I would eventually explore the storytelling medium of the commercial. I’m passionate about transmedia and have dedicated myself to becoming fluent in the language of videogames, book publishing and animation, and advertising is an extension of this narrative field. I am also dedicated to nurturing up-and-coming filmmakers, so in addition to taking on commercial projects, I look forward to providing creative mentorship to current and future Motion Theory directors.”
Motion Theory, which recently celebrated 10 years in the advertising and music video business, has grown from a small boutique operation to a bustling production company. Recent projects from Motion Theory directors include Absolut “Absolut Night” directed by Mark Kudsi, Audi “Footsteps” directed by Mathew Cullen, and Target spots directed by Chris Riehl.
Said Jimenez, “Guillermo embodies the type of forward thinker that is representative of Motion Theory’s directing talent. He’s someone who pushes the envelope conceptually and aesthetically, and uses inventive approaches to tell stories. We’re thrilled to introduce Guillermo to the advertising world.”
Guillermo del Toro is a director, producer, screenwriter, novelist and designer who has created memorable stories and characters for feature film, novels and other forms of media. Among his directing credits are the acclaimed film “Pan’s Labyrinth” and the “Hellboy” franchise, and his many producing credits include “Biutiful” and “Don't Be Afraid of the Dark.” Born in Mexico, he is known for his rich imagination, fantastical visual style and affinity for monsters.
Audi - Footsteps
From when life first emerged from the sea, to animals in the forest, to man taking his first steps--this evolution of life and the subsequent progression of humankind are depicted in "Footsteps."
From those initial human steps which make imprints in the ground follows a horse's hooves galloping and making their own imprints, and then train tracks. Clearly we are now witnessing the progression of modes of travel, the ultimate being the appearance of an Audi A8 accelerating into the distance.
A parting message reads, "Progress can't be stopped. But it can be driven."
Reflecting the relentless drive that propels life, "Footsteps" was conceived by a creative team atVenables, Bell & Partners, and directed by Mathew Cullen of Motion Theory.
Katy Perry In A 'Sugary Sweet Paradise'
As soon as he heard Katy Perry's summertime smash "California Gurls," director Mathew Cullen knew exactly what he didn't want to include in his treatment for the video: sun, surf or anything that had to do with summer. And luckily, Perry was thinking the same thing.
"The lyrics were so literal that when I pitched it, I said, 'Look, I want to so something that's a metaphor for what the song's about,' and I guess it was something different from what the other directors were pitching her," Cullen told MTV News. "It was a concept that really stood out for her. Because I think, automatically, since the song has become this summer anthem, it really invokes strong visuals. And I just wanted to do something a little different."
So Cullen, Perry and a whole host of creative types (including surrealist Will Cotton, famous for his candy-coated landscapes, who served as the artistic director on the video) descended on Los Angeles for a very hectic three-day shoot, where they created "Candyfornia," a fictional land filled with a whole lot of sugary set pieces, mean-spirited Gummi Bears and plenty of frosting.
"What really stood out for me is the idea of California as this sugary sweet paradise, so Candyfornia is this place where desire can always be fulfilled, but where pleasure can turn dark. The kind of place where Gummi Bears aren't your friends," laughed Cullen, the founder of Los Angeles-based production company Motion Theory. "I also tried to inject some California iconography into the landscape: the Hollywood Hills made of ice cream, Sunset Boulevard as Sundae Boulevard, the Capitol Records building as pancakes and the Walk of Fame as a gingerbread path."
And while folks have been marveling at both Candyfornia and Perry's cupcake-enhanced bras since the "Gurls" video premiered on Tuesday, there are two key moments that really have jaws dropping: Perry's nude scene on a cotton-candy cloud and those chest-mounted frosting cannons she sports at clip's end. Sadly, Cullen can only take credit for one of those.
"The nude scene, yeah, we shot that on a closed set. Well, at least it was a closed set while she was getting on the cotton-candy cloud," he laughed. "And though we had lots of strategically placed cotton candy, let's just say we had to add even more in post[-production].
"[The cannons] were actually Katy's idea. She wanted to have fun with it, and so we did it," he continued. "We got it in two takes. I was surprised. We shot it at the end of the first day, and it had everybody rolling on the floor. She was so great to work with. A total pro, and really into it."
Even though he set out to avoid making a typical beach video (there is a powdered-sugar beach, after all), even Cullen will admit that he's won over by the song's summer-friendly message: that California Gurls really are the greatest in the world. Then again, he might not be the most impartial guy.
"I am a native Angelino, so I do think that California Girls definitely have something to them," he laughed. "Though I'm a bit biased, since I've been here my entire life."
A Better Bullseye
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.”
The Jesus Shot
You know viral marketing has gone mainstream when Tiger Woods does it. The ultimate corporate pitchman for bedrock American brands like Buick, Gillette and Gatorade released his latest commercial only on the Internet. In a promotion for EA Sports' Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 video game, Woods appears in a video where he appears to walk on water and hits a shot off a lily pad. It became the talk of the Web — at least the golf-crazy precincts of the web — when it was released on YouTube Tuesday. As of Friday morning, the video had been viewed more than 600,000 times on YouTube. While EA Sports' Woods promo is a professionally produced video, the idea is actually a response to an amateur video posted last year on YouTube, which is shown at the beginning of the ad. That video showed a glitch in the 2008 version of the game where Woods could walk on water and hit a shot. The glitch is real, according to EA Sports, but affected just a small number of the games. "So far, we [have] gotten a great response; everybody thinks it's hilarious," said Praveeta Singh, product manager for EA Sports. "Our ad agency came to us with the idea, and we thought it would be fun. We pitched the idea to Tiger and his people and they liked it, too." Singh said EA Sports filmed the spot with Woods in June, prior to his U.S. Open win and subsequent knee surgery. Woods said recently he won't even swing a golf club until next year. However, Woods will be in New York on Wednesday to promote the release of the 2009 version of his namesake game with a media conference and party, Singh said. EA Sports will also promote the game — which sells for $59.99 for XBox 360 and PlayStation 3 — via traditional television and magazine advertising, Singh said, but viral marketing has become more important as people embrace new technologies. She admitted that the company had concerns that the "Jesus shot" phrase used in the original YouTube video, as well as showing Woods walking on water, had the potential to offend some people. So far, she said, the feedback from consumers has been uniformly positive. "We had no choice to use the phrase because it was used in the video we were responding to," Singh said. "We were hoping there was no sensitivity to that. The video is very lighthearted and we are not looking to offend anybody." Marketing expert David Meerman Scott agreed that the clip was unlikely to offend people. "This doesn't cross the line," Scott said. "If they had used anything overtly related to religion, like a halo on Tiger's head, then there might be a danger." Scott, the author of The New Rules of Marketing and PR, said the EA Sports video was an effective attempt at viral marketing, which he defines as "when something spreads online like a virus because people share it." The best marketing is interesting content, Scott said. Viral marketing, he added, is just like word-of-mouth advertising except that it happens exponentially faster and more efficiently. Instead of telling a friend something, the Internet makes it easier to share, so now you can email 10, 15 or 100 of your friends, who then pass it along to their friends. That's how a video posted on YouTube with little fanfare can be watched by more than 600,000 people in a few days. "I watched it and I thought it was really cool, so did my wife and daughter," Scott said. "I'm not even a golfer, but it works because he's so famous and people do talk about him like he's Jesus-like, and now you see him walking on water. It's tongue in cheek and it seems to work."
Weezer Youtubian Anthem
The Los Angeles Times
On the surface, Weezer's quirky new "Pork and Beans" video, which has helped create a wave of buzz for the band's new album, is just another example of how to make a good viral video. You take an idea that people are going to talk about, mix in some famous faces, throw in an embarrassing moment or two, and watch as your firework climbs, explodes, and inevitably fades out. But "Pork and Beans" is more than just another drop in the viral bucket. In a way that no work of culture has previously done, the video weaves a masterful tapestry of Internet "memes," bringing together the oddball shorthands of web culture with many of the oddballs who created them. Director Mathew Cullen managed to wrangle a dozen of YouTube's most recognizable viral stars and bring them all onto one surreal soundstage. The result — a chorus of voices singing about how they refuse to be ridiculed, judged or labeled — is unexpectedly compelling, and even literary. In the video, Weezer shares the spotlight with Tay Zonday ("some people out there in our nation don't have maps") and Judson Laipply of YouTube's No. 1 all-time video. The video is so rife with YouTube allusions, in fact, that even a seasoned Internet reporter couldn't identify them all. "Pork and Beans" has struck a loud chord with the online audience, too, with its nearly 6 million views, enough to make it one of the most-watched videos of the month (and remember, YouTube alone adds hundreds of thousands of new videos every day). "I wanted it to be a celebration of the creativity and individuality that's being expressed" by online performers and artists, said director Cullen, a co-founder of the Motion Theory production studio. "And on the opposite side, I wanted it to be redemption for those that had been unintentionally embarrassed." That would be people like Lauren Caitlin Upton, whose hapless map answer on Miss Teen USA won her a lifetime's worth of ridicule packed into three days. But in this video, Upton gets to own her unhappy moment — wearing her gown and sash, she proceeds to blend that nasty maps question in a high-speed blender. (That scene is also an allusion to Blendtec's series, where the host demonstrates the blender's power by doing things like turning an iPhone into a pile of smooth metal dust.) One-time laughingstocks like Chris Crocker of "Leave Britney Alone," and Gary Brolsma appear, lip-syncing the words to "Pork and Beans": "I'm gonna do the things that I wanna do / I ain't got a thing to prove to you." In the last couple of years, YouTube has become a volcano of cultural effluvia, spewing out great plumes of artless footage, little of which appeals to anyone except its creator. But, this video seems to say, who cares? There are no rules about who should be able to make movies, or sing, or pretend to be a ninja. The "Don't quit your day job" mentality has no place online. "Pork and Beans" finds the harmony in all the YouTubian discord. Taken together, all the strange, silly, lame and embarassing voices make for a powerful choir, and the message of Weezer's lyrics and of Cullen's video become one: judge us all you want, but we're not going anywhere — and we're definitely not going to stop making videos! The result is a subtle anthem for the YouTube generation. All creativity is created equal. Plus, the video is just fun. Cullen and Weezer spun off a series of other "Pork and Beans" extras, including a duet between Zonday and Weezer guitarist Brian Bell, and a backstage conversation between Liam "Kelly" Sullivan the shoes-obsessed drag queen — and a Rubik's cube champion. (Kelly solves the cube for him in less than 10 seconds.) Though music videos make up a significant part of YouTube's most popular fare, many of them were created for late-night MTV, then dumped onto the Web almost as an afterthought. "Pork and Beans" bucks that trend and shows that Weezer is practicing what it preaches when it comes to taking creative risks online. Written by David Sarno
In the sculpture garden of New York's Museum of Modern Art, director Mathew Cullen takes in his surroundings, assessing light and shadow. Cullen, co-founder of Motion Theory — the production company behind some of the most remarkable video work around, including Hewlett-Packard's "Hands" spots and the music video for Beck's "Girl" — is tanned, round-faced, cheery. But behind that chipper exterior, a complex apparatus is whirring away. "My father was a mathematician," he says, "so I was always drawn to a visual aesthetic of science and technology and numbers. I try to break things down into visual components." The MoMA shoot is part of an ad for New York's first global marketing campaign; as Cullen and co-director Jesus de Francisco organize their actors in the courtyard, vans packed with camera equipment head across the 59th Street Bridge to collect what seems to be tedious footage of the hazy skyline. Three months later, those bridge shots will emerge as an exploding electro-montage of Manhattan, mixing animation with live-action footage — shape-shifting skyscrapers sprouting trees on rooftops, colossal blood-red pumps sauntering across a busy intersection. It's a pop-up book on steroids. Cullen and executive producer Javier Jimenez co-founded Motion Theory in 2000. Now it's leading a wave of New York- and L.A.-based companies that are reinventing the TV commercial, even the look of video itself, and changing the way advertisers and other clients connect with the public. Old tagline-driven spots are giving way to content that's at once more visceral and cerebral. Upstart shops which specialize in animation and motion graphics, have embraced a trippy style that draws from cartoons, comic books, and video games — a 2-D aesthetic with occasional live-action footage. More established production companies such as RSA Films, Radical Media, and Anonymous Content make edgy live-action commercials with the same high production values as their film and TV work. But no one blends those worlds better than Motion Theory, with its radically strange hybrid of live action, visual effects, and 3-D animation. By embedding layers of visual texture in its work, Motion Theory has set itself apart, whether in ads for Budweiser, Electronic Arts, and Microsoft, or music videos for the likes of Modest Mouse's "Dashboard." Motion Theory's ad for Reebok's Wrapshear running shoe begins with an urban obstacle course that sprouts from the sneaker, a blend of cartoonish line drawings and live action. The geometry is brilliant: When a runner leaps onto a fire hydrant spouting water left and right, pigeons shoot like fireworks around him, creating first perpendicular and then chaotic movement across the screen. For the return of Sears's decidedly unsexy paper catalog, Motion Theory directors Grady Hall and Mark Kudsi created a "living" book centered around one dizzying effect, where live-action scenes become catalog pages and vice versa. The viewer watches a young couple's life unfold in a flutter: walls break apart and flip left; appliances "turn" into newer ones; live action becomes still photography and then comes back to life. If Motion Theory can give Sears some edge, it's doing something right. A Gatorade ad from last year, directed by Cullen and Grady Hall, is typical of the company's aesthetic. In a style characteristic of what cultural critic Scott Bukatman has called "topsy-turvydom" — the way ornate visual effects can seemingly liberate the viewer from gravity itself — the spot imagines an elaborate system that propels Sidney Crosby, the all-star center for the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins, as he breaks for the net. After the camera tightens in on Crosby's face, it pans out over the rink, where engineers in a NASA-like nerve center hover over a virtual simulation of the game, orchestrating his moves. Moving inside Crosby, the camera plunges several layers to a grimy, sweaty boiler room under the ice, a Fritz Lang set reimagined by Terry Gilliam — pumps, gauges, men shoveling hockey pucks into a goalie-mask boiler spewing blue flames. Gatorade powers the Stanley Cup pistons that in turn power Crosby. Swooping back up through the layers, the camera pulls out from Crosby's eye and follows the puck into the goal. Like much of Motion Theory's work, the Gatorade spot is all about patterns; each element of the action becomes a kind of proof. The engineers, for instance, are looking for a calculus, an all-inclusive formula that reveals the perfect strategy and shot. To create the effects, Motion Theory mapped out how the action would look before going into production. They then created elaborate 3-D computer models, then shot the footage and built set pieces or props they could later enhance in 3-D. (They also embedded "Easter eggs" for hard-core Crosby fans: as we fall through to the bowels of the operation, for instance, we catch a glimpse of a creature that's part insect, part appliance — a nod to the fact that as a kid Crosby used to shoot pucks into the dryer in his basement.) For Jeff Jackett, the marketing manager for Gatorade at Pepsi-QTG Canada at the time, the ad works because it is so dense, so heavily layered with imagery and ideas. "In today's media," he says, "where a lot of folks take content and view it online, then have the ability to pause and rewind, this richness of content, the eye candy in every frame, really encourages that viewer." In other words, it's the sort of material that naturally moves from TV to the Web. There, obsessive fans can pore over the details, the Gatorade logo burning into their retinas all the while. But Motion Theory is about more than visual effects. For Cullen, it's a whole new way of thinking. "It's also editing, animation, the way people build sets and score music — it comes from graphic design," he says. "When you edit, it's the way you transition from one scene to the next, the way you incorporate type--these things are just beginning to make their way into films and TV shows." As a self-styled "microstudio," built on the old Hollywood model, Motion Theory is constructed differently from traditional production companies, which conceive each project around an A-list director, then bring in talent as needed during each stage of production. Instead, Motion Theory pools everyone under one roof: writers, artists, visual-effects people, animators, programmers, designers, and directors. Effects people and designers don't simply come in at the end of the process to execute someone else's idea — they help visualize the project from the outset. And while Motion Theory is outfitted with many of the standard tools used by movie studios and visual-effects companies, it also writes proprietary code to do what it can't accomplish with off-the-shelf software. "The advantage," Jimenez says, "is that we basically have an R&D team, so we're developing ideas during our free time, which a normal production company wouldn't have the ability to do." That inventiveness explains Motion Theory's ability to create utterly novel effects. In its video for Beck's "Girl," the singer strolls around East L.A. while live-action streetscapes magically collapse in on themselves — a trick inspired by Al Jaffee's fold-ins from Mad magazine. When Beck reaches for pills in a drugstore, the shelves spontaneously merge to reveal the words side effects: death. A mural that reads beauty and grooming supplies implodes to become beauty lies. Throughout the video, more sinister truths "unfold," a concept that parallels the song, whose upbeat tune masks its dark lyrics. "I look at things structurally," Cullen says. "The foundation of the work we do is the understanding of visual syntax, the relationship of objects to each other." The video is an exercise in geometrical precision, solving the technical challenge of re-engineering real-world locations with elaborate camera and computer tricks. While the footage of Beck sauntering around East L.A. was done documentary-style, with a handheld camera, Motion Theory used motion-control photography and computer graphics to create the illusion of, say, a wall as it reconfigures itself. To crank up the photorealism of the digital effects created for the fold-ins, they added layers of textures and materials shot in live-action, followed by another overlay of digital effects — falling dirt, candy exploding out of a piñata — to make them even more convincing. Chris Carbone, an analyst with Social Technologies, thinks the visual-effects trend is about ratcheting up expectations. "Younger consumers — digital natives — grew up in a world where their baseline was The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings, and SpiderMan," he says. "But now that world-class effects are the standard, visuals need to be integrated in the message even more than in the past, and that's true of movies or marketing." That line of reasoning led HP to Motion Theory's door in 2006. David Roman, worldwide vice president of marketing communications for HP's Personal Systems Group, had come on board in 2005 while the company was struggling, post-Compaq merger, to better compete with Dell. Roman wanted to create a global campaign to attract a younger demographic. Goodby, Silverstein & Partners developed the idea of a series of spots in which celebrities were seen from the neck down, using only their voices and hands to communicate how they use their PCs. Motion Theory produced the first "Hands" spot for HP's global "Personal Again" campaign and eventually three others. "We were looking for a compelling way to say that you can tell who somebody is by what they're doing on their computer," Roman says. Cullen shot music producer Pharrell Williams, Survivor creator Mark Burnett, novelist Paulo Coelho, and tech entrepreneur Mark Cuban, each in one continuous take, as they described what was on their HP notebooks; their gestures illustrated the story by conjuring up animation and photography that seemed to flow from their fingertips. The campaign wasn't about pitching the product, Roman says, so much as communicating an attitude: "Here's a company that has its heritage and tradition but is also the company you want to be associated with — we're on top of tech, we're clever." "Hands" went viral. Spoofs proliferated. "It became iconic," Roman says. "When you get viral distribution and word of mouth, that peer-to-peer communication really has value." Even Bill Gates asked HP to create a "Hands" spot to use in a speech announcing a Microsoft-HP partnership. Motion Theory's name riffs on Newton's eponymous theory: a body remains at rest or in motion unless acted on by an outside force. Cullen and his colleagues at Motion Theory don't seem to rest much — look out for Nike and Reebok commercials airing later this year, as well as a video for the South London singer Adele. "I was always drawn to the idea that everything we do is constantly moving and evolving," Cullen says. Now he and the Motion Theory crew are eager to figure out just what shape that evolution will take. "If you look at the grassroots of the most influential work being done out there now, it's short films, virals, commercials, and music videos," Cullen says. "And that's one of most exciting things about this business. We don't have to go through the studio system to bring a new vision to life. We can wake up one morning, decide we're going to do something, and just do it." Diane Mehta's work has appeared in The New York Times, Elle Decor, and The Atlantic Monthly.
Beck Goes Mad
As we've mentioned in the pages of MAD, Beck's recent video, "Girl," showed the artist walking through an L.A. neighborhood populated by life-size versions of Al Jaffee's Fold-Ins! (Editor Charlie Kadau had a similar experience after eating some tainted mayo... but that's beside the point.) Since its completion, the video's been named in Rolling Stone's "Hot Issue," dubbed a "must-see" by Entertainment Weekly, and called "brilliant" by New York Magazine. We spoke to Al Jaffee and to the directors of the video, Mathew Cullen and Grady Hall of Motion Theory, for a closer look at the most disturbing and puzzling video since R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet." Some moronic queries for the video's directors, Mathew Cullen and Grady Hall of Motion Theory. Q: Did you read MAD while growing up? Mathew: We were both fans of the magazine, but Alfred E. Nueman was my imaginary friend. He was responsible for any mischief I did as a kid. Q: Did you actually buy the magazine or would you just do the Fold-In and leave it on the rack? Mathew: I would do the Fold-In on the rack, then buy a copy that was unfolded. Grady: Like my father before me, I was a bit of a shoplifter. MAD was among my first big scores. Q: Where did the idea for this video come from? A: The song was this light and fluffy thing that seemed to talk about serial killers and poisonous women. Thematically, that seems to mach up with Fold-Ins, which often take on dark topics with humor. We added that basic structure to the idea of showing the side of L.A. that's NOT Beverly Hills and Hollywood, the L.A. where most people live. Q: Did you consider holding off on this video idea until you could work with a more appropriate artist — like, say, Ben Folds? A: The great thing about Beck is how he's always playing with the language, hiding things in plain sight. The Fold-In concept was a perfect match for the song, and for that sensibility. Q: You actually had all the Fold-Ins built? A: Yeah, the Fold-Ins were a combination of real props and computer-generated effects. Q: How big a crew did it take to create them? A; We had about 75 or so people working on the shoot, and about 30 people at Motion Theory who did the hard stuff, making all the effects and live-action work together. Q: How did you fold the Fold-Ins? A: We made a deal with the devil. Q: What was the longest it took for any single one to be completed? A: All of them took about a half-day of shooting, and about six to eight weeks of post-production. Q: If there's one celebrity you could fold-in, who would you choose? A: Probably Schwarzenegger, because then he'd be skinny enough for us to kick his ass out of the governor's office. Q: Where are the giant Fold-Ins now? A: Some are around the office. Some left and got minimum-wage jobs. Q: Is it true that Al Jaffee did all the choreography for the video? A: We're happy to say that Al Jaffee gave his blessing for the video, both before and after we did it. But in between that time, we put together our own usual bunch of idiots to create all of the Fold-Ins. It was excruciatingly difficult, and gave us an even deeper respect for Al Jaffee's work over the years. Q: Was anyone hurt during the Fold-In process? A: Yeah, paper cuts everywhere. Q: When you do your laundry, do you do air dry or fluff and fold? A: What is this laundry of which you speak? Q: Would you consider doing a "Spy Vs. Spy" video for your next job? A: Can I take out a life insurance policy first? Some stupid questions for the creator of the MAD Fold-In, Al Jaffee. Q: Were you surprised to hear that your Fold-Ins were going to be in a music video? A: I was utterly shocked. I simply can't understand how anyone can fold a video disc. Q: Is it true that you agreed to let Beck use them after — and only after — you found out Frank Sinatra was dead? A: MY GOD! SINATRA'S DEAD? Q: Be honest now — have you already cleared off a spot on your mantle for an MTV Music Award? A: Don't need to. I have 22 mantles in my apartment and am sure I can make space for one more honor. Q: You gave nods to Beck in you Fold-Ins in issues #457 and #458 — was this some sort of sordid "you scratch my back, I"ll scratch yours" arrangement? A: Correction: that's "You scratch my BECK and I'll scratch yours." Q: What do you say to MAD artists, like John Caldwell and Rick Tulka, who claim you've "sold out"? A: I can't believe that. I was the best man at their wedding. Q: What'd you think of the finished video? A: Superb! My only criticism is the silly way the scenes seem to fold from one thing into another. Q: Finally, what did you have for lunch today? A: A chicken bone sandwich. Older MAD fans who remember the retching Jackal will know what I mean.
The Hot Issue
Hot Video Directors — You've watched it, and you've watched it again. As Beck ambles through East L.A., hanging with mariachis and monotoning the lyrics to "Girl," his seemingly stable surroundings collapse in the center and fold together, revealing heretofor unseen meanings: a child's sidewalk artwork transforms into a crime-scene body outline. A drugstore display becomes a dire health warning. And you think, "How the fuck did they do that?" In this case, "they" is Motion Theory, a Venice, California, directing team that pays the rent by creating FX-heavy ads for Reebok, Budweiser, and HP. Three years ago, Micheal Stipe handpicked the team for R.E.M's "Animal" video, and they've been at it ever since, racking up wildly inventive clips for Less Than Jake, Velvet Revolver, and Papa Roach. But it's Beck's latest that has made Motion Theory among the most sought-after video visionaries. And, yes, they got the concept from the classic Mad Magazine fold-ins created by Al Jaffee. "Growing up, we were big fans of these fold-ins," admits the co-director Mathew Cullen, 29. "And they really match the dichotomy of 'Girl,' which sounds summery on the surface, but once you dig into the lyrics there are darker themes." Of course, seeing the high-concept to seamless fruition can be a bitch. "Folding reality isn't an easy thing," says Grady Hall, 35, the video's other director. "We don't think in terms of hours worked, but in the souls lost to the pit of despair." What like-minded artists are on their dream list of future collaborators? "Well we always whisper among ourselves about Radiohead and Bjork," says Hall. "You know, when Gondry and Spike aren't available."