Monday, February 24, 2014

Toying Around At The Box Office

(Clockwise l-r) LEGO® characters Unikitty (Alison Brie), Benny (Charlie Day), Metal Beard (Nick Offerman), Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), Batman (Will Arnett), Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Emmet (Chris Pratt) and President Business (Will Ferrell) from “The LEGO® Movie,” from Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures and Lego System A/S. A Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.
Now that The LEGO Movie is a certified hit ($183.1 million domestic and counting after three weeks in theaters), and a sequel already has been announced for May 2017, I've started to wonder what other toy-based screenplays might be coming our way. Many past adaptations haven't been very good – Battleship, G.I. Joe, or The Smurfs anyone? – and though I am not a fan of the Transformers movies, they have made a great deal of noise at the box office (pun intended).

What's surprising about The LEGO Movie is that it is quite entertaining for kids and their parents. Friends are telling me they have taken their children to the theater for repeat viewings. This is perhaps more than any studio expects from a kids' movie released in February. “The LEGO Movie is everything we hoped it would be, and then some," said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros. Pictures in a news release."...We are thrilled by the overwhelming response and early word-of-mouth that has made this movie a must-see, and we have every expectation that this is just the beginning of a long and successful run.”

What's different about The LEGO Movie is the fact that it is animated. (Much of that workload was handled by Australia's Animal Logic.) To me, that seems a more natural fit for turning playground or playroom nostalgia into box office gold. Perhaps my reasoning for this is because when I was child, some of my favorite toys also were developed into animated series such as The Smurfs and Transformers shows. Today's live-action adaptations just don't have the same attraction for me. Then again, I'm not necessarily the intended audience, but people my age do decide whether or not to take our children to these movies – hence the incredible success of The LEGO Movie – and people my age are the ones writing the reviews for newspapers and the web.

So with that in mind, here are some of the toy-based movies we can expect to see soon, as well some I would like to see:

There are several movies based on board games in various stages of production, including Ouija board, Candyland and Monopoly. Ouija (2014) will be a small-budget horror movie. I'm not a fan of the horror genre in general, so I don't expect much from this movie and I don't expect to see it. The two other board game adaptations mentioned here are still in early development. It's a safe bet I won't see them either.

In other toy-related movie news: Expect to see film versions of the Hot Wheels and Tonka toy lines as well. Think Disney/Pixar's Cars without the cache that Disney/Pixar brings to animated features. Like me, I think most ticket buyers will see them as a Cars facsimile.

As far as what I would like to see get made: I would not be opposed to a modern Peanuts feature that ties in the old Snoopy Sno-Cone machines. Snoopy could open his own snow cone food truck. Crazier things have happened. Or how about a sci-fi take on the View-Master? And I can't be the only one who thinks Chris Hemsworth would make a good He-Man, but this would have to be live-action, and I doubt the actor would tie himself to another super-hero type of film series. And finally, LEGO has an extensive collection of space-themed collections that could be put to good use. The ball is in your court on that one, Warner Bros.

Courtesy of

UPDATE: Turns out a Peanuts movie IS in the works! The first teaser was released on 3/18/14. See it here:

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Making Commercials: Luxury Made From The Land

By Michael Fickes

In a spot called “Details,” Lucky Post animates the details behind the western spirit of RAM’s Laramie Longhorn Truck. 

A recent spot for RAM’s Laramie Longhorn Truck pretends not to tell a story. It is a series of animated iconic images from 19th century Texas juxtaposed with the RAM truck. No voice over tells you what is going on. Instead, a surprisingly (because it could be found at all) fitting needle drop track of music combined with subtly presented sound design creates a Western aura. Four wrought iron signs tell you what you need to know. Everything – all the images and sounds – emerge from a sepia-toned map of Texas.

The assignment
“Everyone knows that RAM trucks are rough and tough,” says Sai Selvarajan, editor/designer with Dallas-based Lucky Post, the post house that produced the commercial. “This commercial is about the brand’s high-end, luxury model with interior finishes done in wood grain, chrome accents and leather stitching.”

In short, the assignment was to make a point about Western-style RAM luxury by associating it with iconic, historical Western tools and a historical map.

Lucky Post got the nod from The Richards Group, RAM’s advertising agency, which provided references from an earlier print campaign that embodied the desired aesthetic. Lucky Post Animator Seth Olson and Selvarajan then collaborated with the agency creatives to develop the concept.

“The previous campaign developed a visual style related to the historic West,” Olson said. “The agency wanted to continue that theme, and we liked a sepia map from that work.”

The spot
The commercial begins as a virtual camera pans west across the map from the Gulf of Mexico into Texas. The camera pulls back and dotted lines denoting original cattle trails shoot north on the map.

“Those are the actual cattle trails,” said Selvarajan. “All the details we used are accurate.”

The RAM truck drives into the scene from the direction of the Gulf. It appears as a sepia sketch. Almost instantly, it develops layer upon layer of crosshatched lines. Eventually, the crosshatching fills in and turns the image into a photo of the truck. The effect looks like ink or paint washing across the sketch, creating a photograph.

“Old maps were drawn with ink and painted with watercolors,” Selvarajan continued. “That led to the idea for ink and watercolor reveals. Maps from this era also have crosshatched detailing done in ink. We used layers of crosshatching to turn the sketch into a photo.”

“We made the cut-outs of the truck and other photographic images in Photoshop,” Olson added, “then we animated with After Effects.”

Back to the spot: The Laramie Longhorn logo materializes above the truck using the layered crosshatching paint. A pickaxe and sledgehammer modeled after 19th century versions of the tools appear.

The music and sound design effects begin with the first scene. You can hear the Gulf lapping the Texas shoreline and the sound of the truck’s tires on gravel. Selvarajan roughed in the sound design using Final Cut, and Scottie Richardson, Lucky Post’s sound designer/mixer, handled the final track and finish.

Another pan to the southeast draws the scene across typed paragraphs – if you pause and read, you’ll see advertising copy about the truck. On the bottom right of this scene is a historical fencepost with barbed wire set before an heirloom platter.

The point
Copy points come up as signs: “WOOD: That’s felt the bite of barbed wire.” The words are arranged on an ornamental iron sign.

A photo of the interior with its wood accents paints itself into the northeastern part of the frame.

The camera pans north, following a cattle trail past an image of an old lantern, and arrives at another sign: “CHROME: Etched with the pride of an heirloom.”

A chrome-plated revolver materializes.

The camera keeps moving, and a stitched leather belt with a buckle materializes followed by a third sign: “LEATHER: Sewn with the soul of the West.”

Then comes the fourth sign and the whole point: “Luxury born from the land.” From the land represented by this Texas map. That’s a clever story.