Cool Zone Submitted for Your Approval:"The Minotaur of Atlanta"

CG may have largely replaced stop-motion animation in the feature film effects biz, but the art of puppet pushing is still very much alive in the realm of television advertising. One of the latest entries is “Minotaur,” a Nike spot directed and animated by our friends Mark Caballero and Seamus Walsh of Screen Novelties. An homage to monster movies of old, the spot blends live action background plates and actors with stop-motion beasties for a dynamite 15-second tribute to “Dynamation.”

Part of ad agency Wieden + Kennedy’s “Nikelab” campaign, the spot depicts Falcons quarterback Michael Vick as “The Minotaur of Atlanta,” a towering half man-half bull mythological creature charging through the city streets. Ahead of him, a hydra appears rearing its three hideous heads and snapping at panicked citizens as they run for their lives. Employing a few of Vick’s signature moves, the Minotaur is able to put his scaly opponent on its back and continue on his path to the stadium.

Though they have built up a solid body of commercial work over the years, Walsh and Caballero are known best for helping legendary stop-motion master Ray Harryhausen complete his long-lost short The Tortoise and the Hare, which won an Annie Award in 2003.

In addition to studying tape of Vick in action, Caballero and Walsh drew heavily from their mentor’s library of classics. "[The agency] really wanted the look and feel of ‘Dynamation’[Harryhausen’s signature brand of stop-motion], and wanted the creatures to be imbued with that kind of personality," Caballero tells Animation Magazine Online. "We just followed poses from Ray’s work, modeling the minotaur’s movements on the Cyclops from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and the Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth, and the Hydra’s movements on the Rhedosaur in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.

The puppet design and fabrication team–consisting of Carol and Steve Koch, Cesar Romero and Robin Walsh–managed to create some cool creatures on a very tight schedule. The whole project was completed between late August and late November.

According to Screen Novelties, Wieden + Kennedy and Nike exhibited great respect for Harryhausen throughout the project. Though it was not a legal necessity, they sought and received his blessing to proceed with the spot. And rather than mocking ’50s era special effects by making the animation jerky and hokey, they allowed Screen Novelties to produce smooth, skillful animation worthy of its source of inspiration.

"We were thrilled that they let us oversee every aspect of the spot, from directing the live-action, to picking the music," Caballero notes. "It was important that all the different elements have the same period feel."

The live action elements were shot on 16mm film and further treated to mimic the graininess of an old film print. Walsh, Caballero and Chris Finnegan then animated the minotaur and hydra one frame at a time on high-res digital still cameras and DP/effects supervisor Anthony Doublin composited them into the shots. Post production services were provided by John Sterneman and I/O Film.

The spot leaves something to be desired, but only because it lasts just 15 seconds. What makes "Minotaur" cool is that it proves that stop-motion still has potential in creature effects work. Like the Daily Variety reviewer who mistakenly referred to the stop-mo North Pole inhabitants in the movie Elf as "CGI snow creatures," the uninitiated will probably assume the commercial was achieved through computer animation. With stop-motion animator Barry Purves (Hamilton Mattress) assigned to head up animation on the upcoming rehash of King Kong, we’d love to see director Peter Jackson throw in a little bit of traditional monster movie magic just to see if anybody notices. Unlikely, but you never know.

Until then, you can catch "Minotaur" on the tube or online at www.nikelab.com. For more information on Screen Novelties, visit www.screen-novelties.com.

Screen Novelties Credits:

Directors: Mark Caballero & Seamus Walsh

Executive producer: Chris Finnegan

Producer: Colleen Miller

Anthony Doublin

Animation: Caballero, Walsh, and Finnegan

Puppet Design: Carol & Steve Koch

Costume Design: Cesar Romero

Puppet Fabrication: Robin Walsh

Sound Design: Ernie Sheesley

Post Production: John Sterneman and I/O Film

Client: Nike

Agency: Wieden + Kennedy

Creative Directors: Susan Hoffman & Roger Camp

Copywriter: Mark Fitzloff

Art Director: Danielle Flagg

Agency Producer: Shannon Worley