Psyop: Norton “Stuff Anthem”

Working with Smuggler for agency Leo Burnett Chicago, Psyop directed a lovable new spot for Norton, an anti-virus and personal data protection company. (Ah, anti-virus software. It’s been so long since I’ve even thought of you … but I digress.)

The spot is huggably fun. With a palette of subdued jewel tones and a cast of friendly folk, it draws me in (pun intended) over and over, as I look for new details and relish the ones I’ve already collected.

The spot’s co-creative director, Fletch Moules, was kind enough to chat with us over tea. Actually, it was over e-mail, but I was drinking tea at the time.

Interview with co-creative director Fletch Moules

When you started working with Leo Burnett, how fleshed out was the script and visual direction?

Leo Burnett sent us a fun script outlining the importance of our personal data. The VO was pretty much fleshed out, but there wasn’t really a visual direction set, leaving us with the challenge of how to explore the world of “Stuff,” convey its message and the branding of Norton.

We had shared a couple of visual references early on, but nothing too concrete. The aim was to keep the tone fun and light, to keep it simple and let characters move about freely without being bogged down in an information overload.

The biggest visual challenge was how to express the sense of stuff. We floated around a few different ideas on how this could work, but soon settled on the idea of the strings.

Technologically and creatively, it seems we’re at a weird crossroads: the distinction between analogue and digital matters less and less. A lot of digital stuff looks analogue and, in some cases, analogue even looks digital. I feel like “Stuff” is a good example of what I call “analogue ambiguity.” What do you think about that? Do you agree?

I guess with the ease at which we create great visuals these days digitally, there is always a tendency to revere the analogue era of our industry. We really wanted “Stuff” to have a traditional 2D feel. In order to achieve that in the timeline we relied heavily on new techniques in digital production — all the characters are 3D, the backgrounds are projected in Nuke and AE, and much of the character lighting is done with Nuke’s Relighting tools using normals passes. At the same time, we used some pretty old-school animation techniques, like when the taxi takes off and heads to the town.

I think it’s great that it’s a mixed bag of old and new techniques. It’s all about the story and the visual style that supports it.

What were some of the references you used when developing the look of this spot?

I really wanted the animation and the story to unfold as simplistic as possible. The aim was to create a handcrafted world for a software company. Though the characters are all 3D, my intention for the campaign was to have a traditional 2D feel. So of course we referenced animation classics like UPA, Fantasia, Robert McKimson and Chuck Jones, then applied their thinking to our world with a modern, whimsical touch.

Visually it had to feel hand-crafted and that’s why we really pushed the brush strokes and kept things a bit loose. The color palette was very important. We developed a base palette from Norton’s brand and this set the tone for beginning and end. However, I wanted the viewer to feel like they went on the journey with Mr. Stuff. When things got tough for him, so did the palette.

How much evolution did the character designs go through? Did they change a lot as you worked on the project?

Honestly not very much. At the pitch stage we’d loosely explored various versions of Mr. Stuff, but soon went down a path of very simple shapes for all the characters. Leo Burnett loved this approach, which was great. Our lead designer Kenesha then fleshed out Mr. Stuff’s final look (still at the pitch stage) and he went straight into production.

I really like the cel animated liquid sequence. Was that, in fact, hand-animated? If so, why did you go that route?

Our goal for the whole spot was to try keep the look as 2D as possible. I loved the work that Psyop’s 2D animators had done on the Reebok Zigtech spots, and thought this spot could really use that touch. When we came up with the water sequence, there really was no doubt how we’d approach it … get the Zigtech guys!

What was the biggest creative challenge for this project?

The biggest challenge of the whole job was trying not to say the word “stuff” in meetings!

Seriously, Leo Burnett and the client were fantastic to work with. Together we quickly nailed the visual style, branding and narrative. So the biggest challenge was just the deadline. We had six weeks to deliver the 60” from award.

What about the biggest technical challenge?

Again, really it was the timeline. We had to make creative and technical decisions quickly, with no time for going back. So things had to be flexible.

One thing we did to help this was to implement Nuke’s relighting tools into our work flow by using normals passes. This let the compers get to work a lot earlier in the process than usual … and let me make lighting calls up until the last day of production.

As the subway takes off, we see a character in the background running to catch up with the train. I love that detail and the character on the left edge of screen turning to see him. Where did that idea come from? Did you have to fight to keep it in the spot?

That’s also one of my favorite moments. All credit goes to Dan [Vislocky], our animation lead for that. Those extra human touches really sell the moment and make for a few extra viewings.

A Little More on Fletch

If you’ve been paying close attention to Motionographer, you’ve seen Fletch’s name pop up more than once. Before joining Psyop’s LA office, Fletch worked up quite a résumé for himself.

He worked as a model maker and sculptor on features including Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Moulin Rouge and Red Planet. Also of interest to our readers: Moules worked in London as head of 2D at Nexus Productions, where he worked closely with Nexus directors Smith & Foulkes to bring their short film, This Way Up to life.


Advertising Agency: Leo Burnett, Chicago
Global Creative Director: Mark Tutssel
Executive Creative Director: Susan Credle
Creative Directors: Dave Loew, Jon Wyville
Art Director: Rainer Schmidt
Copywriter: Tohru Oyasu
Executive Producer: David Moore
Producers: Christopher Cochrane, Stephen Clark

Director: Psyop
Production Company: Psyop/Smuggler
Psyop Creative Directors: Fletch Moules, Laurent Ledru
Psyop Executive Producer: Neysa Horsburgh
Psyop Producer: Amanda Miller
Psyop Associate Producer: Hillary Thomas
Smuggler Executive Producer/Partner: Patrick Milling Smith
Smuggler Executive Producer/Partner: Brian Carmody
Smuggler Executive Producer/COO: Lisa Rich
Smuggler Executive Producers: Allison Kunzman, Laura Thoel

Models and Textures: Rie Ito, Brianne Meyers, George Longo, Matt Berenty
Riggers: Sean Kealey, Alon Gibli
Animation Lead: Dan Vislocky
Animators: Sam Ortiz, Minor Gaytan, Blake Guest, Kevin Koch, Jacob Frey, Chris Meek
Designer: Kenesha Sneed
Lighters: Hao Cui, Sarah Bockett, Stephen Delalla
2D animators: Taik Lee, Regis Carmago, Shervin Etaat, Jooyong Kim
Compositing: Fletch Moules, Michael Garrett, Miguel Bautista,
Flame: Kim Stevenson
Editor: Brett Nicoletti
Typography: Siggi Eggertson

Music: Human