A Jolly-Good Spot
November 11, 2010

A Jolly-Good Spot

A whimsical trip inside Santa's beard

Award-winning animation studio Nathan Love (of production company Mothership) has ventured where few directors have dared gone, particularly around the holiday season: inside the depths of Santa's beard!

For a 30-second spot promoting Oregon Lottery's holiday scratch-off game What's In Santa's Beard?, Portland agency Borders Perrin Norrander (BPN) tapped Nathan Love to create an animated world filled with kooky holiday characters and the potential winnings from playing the lottery game.

BPN approached Mothership and Nathan Love with an open creative brief and script outlining the characters and action one would encounter inside Santa's infamous beard. This open door gave Nathan Love’s director Anca Risca and her production team free reign to design the environments and characters to their fancy.

"Borders Perrin Norrander was incredible to work with; the agency shares the same sense of irreverence as Nathan Love, so we were a perfect match right from the start," says Risca. "BPN gave us a lot of trust and was completely open to our interpretation of the creative and design--no matter how out-there it was. Mothership provided fantastic creative support up until delivery. Everyone shared the same communication goals, allowing my team and I to push the spot to really fun and unexpected places." 

Set to a whimsical holiday track, the commercial, titled “Beard World,” swoops inside Santa's beard to reveal a snowman in his kitchen, the sink running syrup from a candy cane wall. Next up, a pine tree decorates a man with ornaments, a walrus flosses his tusks, and French hens in red high heels gossip over wine in a hair nest café. The spot closes with a cameo of local Oregon legend D.B. Cooper, who in the early '70s infamously stole a suitcase of cash and parachuted out of a commercial Boeing 727, never to be seen again. (The Oregon Lottery spot posits where he's been hiding all along.)

The all-CG spot is rich in detail, with a handcrafted feel and stop-motion-style animation. Risca and her team imagined Santa's beard as a clay-sculpted world inhabited by characters carved from wood and environments imbued with the look of miniatures.

The one continuous camera move, which was inspired by Nathan Love executive creative director Joe Burrascano's recent trip to Disneyworld, plays out like an amusement park ride as it takes the viewer through the different "rooms" inside the beard.

To execute the concept, the team cut storyboards while character designs were being refined, starting with a timed :30-second 2D animatic, then moving into a more detailed 3D previs, during which time they also placed all the beard hairs into the various environments and finalized camera motion. The seamless camera move was split into six different shots, which were edited together concurrent to the compositing phase.
The previs was created with Autodesk’s Maya 2011, and later assembled within Adobe’s After Effects. 

Once animation was finished, lighting, rendering and compositing continued until the final look was achieved. The group used the following software to garner the end results: design, Adobe Photoshop; modeling, Maya 2011 and Pixologic’s ZBrush 3.5; animation, Maya (for 3D) and After Effects (for 2D); lighting, Maya; Compositing, After Effects and The Foundry’s Nuke; rendering, Chaos Group’s V-Ray; asset management, Temerity’s Pipeline.

“To overcome the challenges of imitating stop motion, we paid a lot of attention to the scale,” says Risca. “We thought about the imperfections that tools on that scale would create, and how they would look in a macro-world. In developing our environments, characters, and props, we included detail created from wood carving, the raking of texture into clay, and the thickness of individual threads. We also paid attention to animation style, working on every other frame and avoiding the overuse of squash and stretch, to make it feel less cartoony.”

A core Nathan Love group of about 10 was tasked with the project, with an additional 20 extra hands coming on board during production. The project began in August and delivered in October.
Nathan Love also produced the audio for the spot, working again with sound designer and composer Drew Skinner. Together they have handled their clients' audio needs for almost all of their previous work including the Pop Secret and Baskin Robbins campaign, and also their horror short, Blood Trail. 

"Anca's incredible design sensibility and awesome sense of humor were the perfect fit for this spot," shares Burrascano. "Everybody loved working with her. Besides giving our clients a very unique and beautiful commercial, she made the entire process a lot of fun. I can't wait to see what she does next."

Added Borders Perrin Norrander Producer Scott Fox, "The work that went into this spot far exceeded everyone's expectations. Nathan Love blew us away from the onset of this project."