That five minutes of magic was the video above: TV Ratings 101, made for ESPN to use in training its new advertising representatives. Why yes, those are puppets.
JESS3 had never considered employing puppets before, but we’re so glad we did! For TV Ratings 101, the move to feature Chip and Clay was a last-minute decision by Mark. Everyone had agreed on papercut, but it dawned on our team that puppets would be the perfect addition we were all looking for. In thinking about really recreating a real 1970s-style sportscast — and with the client suggesting Sesame Street as an inspiration — I mean, why not use puppets?!
Surprisingly enough, introducing puppets actually simplified the production process. After the shoot, which did take a couple of takes per scene to get the voice over right, the editing proved really straightforward. Whereas, producing a few seconds of animation can take hours for complex scenes.
For this video, we really wanted to expand on JESS3’s expertise in animating paper. We sought a balance between the 2-D and 3-D approaches that we have employed elsewhere, adding bends, folds, extrusions and bevels to create a depth that 2-D paper pieces lack. For example, when crafting the faces, instead of being glued on flat, it was cut flat but glued down with a bend to give the paper volume and reflect light uniquely from different angles.
Before creating the characters, however, our storyboard artists first illustrated each scene. The papercut team hunted down the right paper to match the style of our digital storyboards, then redrew and cut out each piece. Some folks had over 20 parts to cut.
It turns out that one of the most difficult and demanding elements of paper art is the gluing. If the glue dries wrong, well, brace yourself to start over from scratch. If you placed the glue on the wrong part, start over. If the eyes are glued onto a character in a way that makes him or her look funny, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Start over.
Once all of the pieces are perfectly constructed, enter stage right: the photographer. The photography required a lot of foresight into the scenes that we needed to animate. We also had to make certain that for each piece the light was exactly the same. The shoots resulted in literally thousands of photographs, which we imported to a computer in preparation for the animation. On the computer, each image was cut out by vector paths and cleaned up here and there.
In the end, prepping each digitized image took as long as the papercutting. Then animating them was another beast of a project. And of course animating each character requires animating his or her shadow. The whole process really illustrated how the steps necessary to animating paper build on each other, becoming extraordinarily complex very quickly.
That’s the long version of how we pulled this off. The short version? All it takes is foam core, puppets, paper and a little imagination to transform JESS3 LA into a stage and studio for a full-blown puppet and papercraft shoot. That’s exactly what happened last month, and the result could arguably be JESS3’s best work yet: TV Ratings 101. See the full behind the scenes below: