Country music fans, and more than 400 country music artists and celebrities, gathered along the banks of Nashville Cumberland River for the 2006 CMA Music Festival, country music biggest party. For the June 8 -11 event, FlickerLab, the New York-based development and animation studio, created 16 minutes of animation in just two days using Kabuki software. The animations feature the fictional redneck and Capitol recording artist, Roy D. Mercer, who announced the daily musical lineups on the festival River Stages and the Main Stage. FlickerLab also created four original animations promoting Black N Blue, Mercer 13th collection of bodacious rants, which were screened during the festival at the Capitol Records booth. At the ultimate summer festival experience, the heart-pounding performances and the heart-warming encounters between the artists and their admirers were captured on film for a two-hour television special to be broadcast on the ABC Television Network, Monday, July 24th at 9:00 PM/ET.
The infamous Roy D.Mercer is voiced by Brent Douglas on radio station KMOD in Tulsa, OK, where, every day, he makes rude, crude and lewd telephone calls to individuals who have been set up by their coworkers, friends or family members. In each prank, Mercer calls an unsuspecting listener and accuses them of the most preposterous wrongdoings imaginable. When rebuffed, Mercer idly threatens to give them “an ass-whuppin’ or to ‘put a pop-knot on your head big enough to need its own zip code.’ A lively argument inevitably follows until Douglas and his partner in comedy Phil Stone drop the charade and reveal the practical joke. These routines have been the fodder for the 13 record albums which have consistently landed Mercer on the Billboard comedy charts. To turn Roy D. Mercer into a live, real-time animated character, FlickerLab used its unique proprietary software, Kabuki, a revolutionary animation production system that provides the ability to produce unparalleled live programming with cartoons while maintaining the traditional look and feel of 2D animated characters or cutting edge CGI. Kabuki, invented by digital animation pioneer Michael Ferraro, takes animation cel assets and assembles them into a performable database, a kind of digital actor. Cartoon characters are then puppeteered to perform live for broadcast, conferences and other entertainment venues. Lip-synch is driven by a real-time, voice-activation system. “FlickerLab and transparent creative management, inc., which manages the Mercer brand, worked closely on developing the animated brand. Steve Keller, one of transparent creative management’s Principal Partners relates, “FlickerLab is one of those rare creative companies that understands the delicate balance of art and commerce. From the beginning, they worked with us to create an animated version of Roy that represented not just the character but an entire culture. They literally brought Roy to life!” Keller added, “Roy’s video appearances on the main stage alone were enjoyed by a combined total of 161,000 people who attended the nightly shows at this year’s festival, which is country music’s consummate fan event.” Harold Moss, FlickerLab Creative Director, explained, ‘Steve Keller and his partner, Mandy West, made it all happen with the record label and the CMA Music Festival. In a matter of days, Steve wrote the pieces, edited Roy’s dialogue, and sent it all off to us. The Festival was the perfect place to introduce the animated Roy to the world. We had been developing Roy for some time, translating this very successful radio personality and his family to animation, both visually and story wise. Having designed all the characters and their world, the incredibly talented animators at FlickerLab then built out all the animation for the Kabuki model. Using Kabuki, Tim Lagasse performed the animation to the tracks Steve provided, allowing us to turn around 16 minutes of animation, including the intros, promos, and a couple of Roy prank phone calls, in just two days. This amount of animation would have easily taken weeks without Kabuki.’ Moss continued, ‘Now that the Kabuki model exists, Roy D. Mercer can show up anywhere. He can do live appearances, can host a television show, or guest DJ on a country music channel as Roy, an animated character. He is freed from the constraints that you would normally associate with animation and is able to go out into the world and perform as if he were a real person. We’re in the process of further expanding the Mercer brand with a television sitcom about Roy and his family, which is currently in development.’ Animation Director/Kabuki Puppet Master Tim Lagasse added. ‘The earlier versions of Kabuki required a great deal of time to input a gesture, but with this latest version I was given quite a range of possibilities for Roy movements and, when it came time for me to perform Roy, I never lacked for a gesture; I had a very broad palette. With the software, I am really connected to this character. I perform with a keyboard, musical midi controllers, or any kind of a digital controller which can be plugged into a computer, and puppeteer a 2D character. It is remarkable to be able to create animated content in real time.’ Mercer is the first animated character FlickerLab has created with the new and improved Kabuki program and he joins the ranks of characters previously animated with Kabuki including Bugs Bunny, Big Bird and Kim Possible.
The FlickerLab creative team included Creative Director Harold Moss; Executive Producers Sally Anne Syberg and Tammy Walters; Kabuki Inventor and Technical Director Michael Ferraro; Animation Directors Tim Lagasse and Phil Lockerby; Character Designers Zartosht Soltani and Max Porter; 2D Animators Phil Lockerby and Nikolay Nachev; Kabuki Puppeteers Tim Lagasse and David Michael Friend; Composite Artists Harold Moss and Sean McBride; Brent Douglas, the voice of Roy D. Mercer, and Phil Stone, radio DJ at KMOD, Tulsa, OK.
Flickerlab utilized Kabuki Real Time Animation Software, Adobe After Effects, Apple Final Cut Pro, PowerMac G5 dual processor, 2.5 gigs memory, Nvidia Graphics Card 256 mgs, audio and lip synch G4 laptop, MAX Msp, MOTU midi interface and EMU Midi control surface in the execution of the project.
Representing Capitol Records Nashville were President/CEO Mike Dungan; Senior Vice President, Marketing Fletcher Foster; Chief Operating Officer Tom Becci and Vice President, Sales Bill Kennedy.
About FlickerLab Founded in 1999 as a design and animation studio, today FlickerLab principals, long-term collaborators and strategic partners employ their skills, technology and industry experience on a variety of projects be they concept-to-screen development and production, or design and execution of commercials or broadcast promotions. In addition to high quality creative digital content development, FlickerLab works with clients to extend their project reach through advertising, Internet impact, online marketing, and merchandising. The company portfolio includes high profile work for media and entertainment companies including A&E Networks, Bravo, Comedy Central, Discovery Home, Disney Channel, Lifetime, Lions Gate Productions, Michael Moore Productions, MTV, Nickelodeon, Planned Parenthood, The Cartoon Network and The WB, and product/service companies including Bassat Ogilvy, Continental Airlines, Grey Worldwide, Johnson & Johnson, McCann Erickson, Microsoft, Party City and Procter & Gamble, among many others.