Dolly Parton Spreads Holiday Cheer with Help from Ingenuity Studios' Animation
December 28, 2020

Dolly Parton Spreads Holiday Cheer with Help from Ingenuity Studios' Animation

Though the COVID-19 pandemic made live shoots a challenge in 2020, that didn’t stop Dolly Parton’s team from giving her fans a series of delightful holiday music videos from her first holiday studio album in 30 years, “A Holly Dolly Christmas.” 
It was released on Butterfly Records in partnership with 12Tone Music, with representation by CTK Management, and includes some of the most timeless Christmas songs, as well as a few original tracks. Duet partners and featured artists include Michael Bublé, Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley Cyrus, Jimmy Fallon, Willie Nelson, and others. 

Ingenuity Studios was called on by Video Commissioner David Goldhahn of Marbaloo Marketing to develop an animated likeness of Dolly Parton to capture her unique persona in a fun, flirty, and cheerful way. Through the use of a 1950s character and background aesthetic (known as UPA style), this retro animated version of Dolly takes center stage in a trio of catchy holiday music videos for duets with Michael Bublé, Jimmy Fallon, and Willie Nelson, respectively, as well as for a special advertising campaign for Spotify featuring animated pop-up holiday books, enhanced video content. Dolly and her leading men were brought to life with inverse kinematic (IK) rigged characters which are essentially poseable, reusable digital puppets that obey real physics, allowing for faster, realistic, high-quality animation. All backgrounds were hand painted. Her team loved this look so much that they added merchandise with this retro rendition of Dolly on her official website.

“Cuddle Up, Cozy Down Christmas” (Dolly Parton duet with Michael Bublé)

This festive and light-hearted holiday video was created with hand-drawn 2D characters and props. The audience is transported to a cozy ski lodge called Holly Dolly Ski Resort, complete with views of snowflakes falling out the window, a crackling fire and a piano that’s just perfect for Michael Bublé's lounge-singer crooning. Through the magic of animation that can defy the rules of logic, Bublé plays that piano in the pool, up a ski lift and then down the mountain with Dolly atop giant candy cane skis. Everyone at the lodge gets cozy and cuddly, even the family of mice in the walls, the gingerbread man and woman cookies on a tray, and the snowman and snow-woman outdoors. 


“All I Want for Christmas is You” (Dolly Parton duet with Jimmy Fallon)

This joyful video begins with Dolly and Jimmy chatting over a bi-coastal Vroom call (a nod to Zoom). Dolly intends to throw a gigantic Christmas concert special in Nashville and Jimmy wants to join her for the final number. As the countdown to the show begins, we follow both of their very different journeys intercutting through the song, as we culminate to the big Christmas concert.

Dolly's journey is smooth and fantasy filled, including her very own custom magical flying sleigh spreading holiday cheer high above various landmarks, spreading unity wherever she goes. Meanwhile, Jimmy's trip from New York City, on the other hand, gets held up by a series of slapstick-laden vignettes and fun, over-the-top detours with colorful pit stops. Jimmy's roundabout trip sets the stage for a dramatic, nick-of-time entrance, and as the last verse of the song begins, we end on a lavish and spectacular outdoor concert reminiscent of MGM movie musicals. 


“Pretty Paper” (Dolly Parton duet with Willie Nelson)

Set in rustic Fort Worth, Texas (the town that inspired Willie Nelson's original song) during Christmas time, we follow Dolly and Willie as they ride down Main Street in a horse-drawn carriage, while playing their song. Created as a single shot, the camera stays fixed on Dolly and Willie, as the background town slowly passes by populating Main Street with fun vignettes featuring an eclectic cast of characters that tell their own tiny stories. This town is meant to be a fantasy version of the Stockyards in Fort Worth. The pace of this song necessitated something restrained compared to the previous two upbeat videos, and Ingenuity Studios decided that a single-shot style would create a gentle, even flow. 

Threads of Continuity Throughout 

There is intentional continuity between all three music videos. Dolly has the same festive look, and in the video featuring Willie Nelson, she dons a new outfit. The Ingenuity Studios team leveraged the same rigging and puppet set up as in the previous two videos with Michael Bublé and Jimmy Fallon, respectively. All aspects of the video were storyboarded and hand-drawn by Ingenuity Studios artists -- from the backgrounds to the artists performing, on through to every detail of the scenes that Dolly and her leading men gleefully steal.

“We were thrilled to help Dolly Parton spread holiday cheer as we close out a challenging 2020 and look ahead to the new year,” said Alex Popkin, director of design + animation at Ingenuity Studios. “We’re proud of the team for developing a creative theme that brought out Dolly’s personality and authentic charm. They put a lot of heart and soul into this collaboration. We hope Dolly’s fans appreciate all of the little touches and easter eggs we included with great care! Of course, we hope the fans of Michael Bublé, Jimmy Fallon and Willie Nelson are also thoroughly entertained. I’m not joking when I say our motion graphics team breathes, thinks, and dreams in 2D animation. We enjoyed envisioning, and then bringing to life, a joyfully animated Dolly Parton universe and some of her dear friends.” 

A Collection of Holiday Classics Old and New

Last year, Ingenuity Studios completed a series of animated holiday music videos for Universal Music Group for classic holiday songs by Burl Ives, Bobby Edwards and Brenda Lee in a similar UPA-style aesthetic. Popkin added, “We really view that experience as foundational in allowing our team to develop a streamlined approach for all three Dolly Parton videos, as well as for the additional aspects of Dolly’s Christmas 2020 brand including Spotify advertisements and enhanced video content. While there was some overlap of the various moving parts, the team pushed through and persevered as they always do. We also created the animated holiday music video for Kelly Clarkson’s duet with Brett Eldrege this year. Our studio is built around multi-skilled artists that can flex when needed. In this case, our lead designer also handled storyboards, and character rigging, and our lead animator also handled compositing and effects.”

Technology used by the Ingenuity Studios team included Photoshop, After Effects, DuIK Bassel, RubberHose, Adobe Character Animator, and TV Paint Animation.