Five Companies Collaborate For McCann-Erickson/San Francisco

Z Animation ( has created and produced the entire animation package for the third installment of Microsoft ‘Realizing Potential’ Global live action/animated corporate branding campaign, first introduced by agency McCann-Erickson/San Francisco in 2002.

The global TV, print and Internet campaign (with English language narration by William H. Macy), specifically highlights Microsoft education and economic development projects in 32 countries throughout Europe, Asia and America. The initial airdates include the U.S., France, Germany, South Korea, Japan and China, with other nations in the EC, Asia and Pacific Rim also able to adapt and customize announcers and supers for their own versions.

Created by the McCann-Erickson team of Creative Director/Copywriter Dante Lombardi and Creative/Art Director Chris Toland, the all-HD campaign of six spots (‘Ripple,’ ‘Security,’ ‘Startup,’ ‘Imagine Cup,’ ‘Parents’ and ‘Mr. Kato’) is a highly cooperative effort between five companies: Z animation (Animation production); Anonymous Content (Live action production); Mad River Post (Editing), A52 Post (final compositing) and Elias Arts (music). As with the previous campaigns, the familiar Microsoft animated ‘white line’ is used as a transitional device, metaphorically turning dreams to reality.

According to McCann-Erickson Executive Producer Matthew Winks, the creative and technical objectives for this campaign differed from previous efforts. ‘ In early versions of the campaign, we were speaking more broadly about how Microsoft software helped people realize their potential,’ he explained. ‘This time, we were even more specific about the initiatives and efforts Microsoft is taking in countries around the globe and having a local impact on areas such as economic development for various countries for things like computers in classrooms and small business initiatives as well as innovation and in helping protect people computers. Production wise, we were looking for an animation studio that would take the campaign into the CG world but still maintain the hand-drawn animation look of past campaigns.’

On the strength of a test using Bauhaus Software Mirage 2D Animation software, the Z Animation team of co- directors Joel Parod and Claire Armstrong-Parod was awarded the project. ‘We went with Mirage because it could give us that soft pencil hand-drawn look the agency wanted, and could also handle the huge animation files required for HD Said Parod. ‘We could directly import the live action footage and animate directly on top, and see it played back instantly. Many of our animators actually preferred Mirage over traditional animation, because it allowed us to import the live action footage and draw the white line right over the screen, while also creating mattes and composites.’

Live action was directed by Andrew Douglas of Anonymous Content (Los Angeles) on location for two months in Tokyo and Berlin in the fall of 2005. ‘We’sd shoot in Tokyo with a Japanese cast, change the location, then shoot a Korean or a Chinese version. We used the same concept in Europe with French, German and English,’ said Winks. ‘It was an efficient way to shoot and satisfied all the different markets with a single concept.’

Accompanying the production to Europe was co-director Armstrong-Parod who worked closely with Douglas and the agency team, making it easier to match footage later on during post. ‘They were able to grab stills right off the video tap and do rough sketches for us while we were shooting, which was extremely helpful,’ said Winks.

While the live shoot was in production, Z Animation Executive Producer Peter Barg and his team set up a complete ‘animation studio in a box’ at a Los Angeles location that was central to all the companies involved. ‘This was an exceptionally complex project,’ Barg observed. ‘Success was entirely contingent on everyone working together and was the best way to accommodate the almost daily, sometimes 24/7 back and forth workflow between Z Animation, Mad River Post and A52.’

To accommodate the needs of international distribution, it was decided from the start to finish the campaign entirely in HD, and North American NTSC versions were letterboxed to resemble HD 16:9 aspect ratio. ‘Not finishing in HD would have made it really expensive to go back and refinish in HD later on,’ added Winks. ‘HD is more expensive and slightly more time consuming, but we felt we’sd see savings in the months to come as requests for foreign cinema versions came in.’

‘We loved working on this campaign,’ Armstrong-Parod added. ‘The agency gave us really strong concepts to run with, and the live action was exquisitely shot by Andrew. The standards were very high from the get go.’

For Z Animation, Joseph Emerling was the Animation Technical Director and Michael Pierce produced. Additional Credits for Anonymous Content include Executive Producer Andy Traines and Producer Suzanne Hargrove. For Mad River Post, Michael Elliott was the Editor and Janie Ford produced. At A52, Kirk Balden was the VFX Artist, Mark Tobin the Post Production Executive Producer and Jenny Bright the Post Production Producer. The colorist was Stefan Sonnenfeld at Company 3 (Los Angeles, CA). Music was composed by Jimmy Haun, Jonathan Elias, Chip Jenkins, Christopher Kemp and Dave Wittman of Elias Arts (Los Angeles, CA).

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