Students love to fill their notebooks with doodles. Recently, Charlex played on that theme in a commercial for Subway, but rather than using pencil drawings, the facility brought the sketches to life.
The spot, titled “Notebook,” is one of three campaigns for Boston agency MMB, built around healthier fare and a handy gift cards. Rounding out the trio was “Parfait” and “That’s a Lot.”
“Notebook” and “Parfait” were the subject of “quite a bit of back and forth in terms of concept," reports Charlex director Ryan Dunn. “The agency was bringing a diverse range of ideas for these spots, and after a few rounds of conceptual brainstorming, we finally landed on two scripts and designs that everyone was happy with."
“Notebook” is a back-to-school promo exploring the notebooks and doodles of an unseen high school student. As the person daydreams of gift cards and tasty Subway sandwiches, hip music and fun animation guide us through the project. The spot owes much of its look to art director Masayoshi (Masa) Nakamura. “He was perfect for this job due to his specific, idiosyncratic style and his hand-drawn doodles that are the keystone of the spot,” explains CD Manny Bernardez.
While Masa created the main keyframes, Charlex recruited a small arsenal of artists to complete all the in-betweens. The company also recruited 2D animator Elena Wen, who brought a complementary flavor to the project. “From there, it was a matter of nailing the timing, and being sensitive to how much was going on in a 15-second spot,” adds Bernardez.
To be certain it was timed out smoothly, the team built a comprehensive animatic to ensure that the section with the Subway card and the offer were communicating to the viewer. “It's easy to get caught up in the intrigue of these individual animations,” adds Dunn, “but it doesn't add up to much if we forget to create cohesive visuals that complement the voice over.”
After constructing the basic plan, the team decided to use stop motion, to give the piece a hand-made and youthful feel. “By combining VFX trickery and elements of stop motion, we were able to seamlessly build the entire environment where the doodles lived,” reports Bernardez. The team then worked on the lighting, color correction, and other facets of the process to make sure it all felt very realistic and hand-drawn.
In contrast to “Notebook,” “Parfait” is food-focused, and meant to feature photography of Subway's new all-day Parfait offering. Charlex focused on creating bookends for the edit, that stress the fresh ingredients used by including images of a farm, shot in a hyper-real style. Bernardez built a visual language that would stand out from the crowd but still mesh with the food photography. Ultimately, the inspiration came from old food labels and the landscape works of American painter, Grant Wood. “His paintings are beautifully lit with amazing colors, and I loved how well they worked within our creative brief,” adds Bernardez, who used the images as a springboard.
He began to build a real-life miniature set with Dunn using a photo-collage mock-up, "in order to get the flow of how it would all look," says Bernardez. "Real food is very tricky to do in 3D," he notes. "So we had to shoot live-action food and use that to influence the rest of the world we extended in CG."
"And with our great CG department at Charlex," Dunn interjects, "we knew we could pull off the effect and create a seamless bridge between our miniature set and the VFX signs and backgrounds."
The end result is an opening shot borne of photography and CG. Bernardez muses, "The client liked the first five seconds of their spot so much that we made it six." The spot ends with a similar-looking outro, and there are also supers — designed to match the style of the bookends — that complete the look.
See the Charlex Subway Spots: