One of our long-term bank customers sends exceptional Christmas “cards” to its employees. These are several-minute long videos, made with panache and fantasy, in which the management board members play unusual roles with wit and unprecedented ease. We’ve had the Christmas version of James Bond, crazy preparations for the Christmas Eve meal. But this time it was to be different…
We came up with a great idea already in the first meeting – an animated video clip. A collage of figures, faces and sketched bodies. We have management board members’ faces in many photos, and we can draw anything. The script is ready after just a few moments: the board is a band trying to play a Christmas song – but with poor results. The rehearsal gets interrupted by teasing and prodding requests. The rescue comes from Santa (a bank employee). From the on, everything goes smoothly. The clip ends with short, spontaneous wishes.
Which song should we choose? Additional challenge comes from the fact that the board members should sing Polish lyrics to a well known piece of music – Christmas, but also banking related! Our first choice is “Christmas is all around” blockbuster from “Love Actually,” but after a few days of discussions, we get a request from the bank to find a different soundtrack. We get many suggestions: from “Let it snow” by Dean Martin to “All I want for Christmas is you” by Mariah Carey and Wham’s “Last Christmas.” Eventually, we choose the classic “Santa Claus is coming to town.”
We get down to script details. The customer prepares for us a brief for dialogues which are to precede the song: passions, interests, music tastes of the board members, or even their small eccentricities can be great material for our writer Krzysiek. He is also going to be the author of the lyrics, so I ask the customer to send us a short list of terms and phrases relating to important events of the past year. The lyrics are ready in a flash and they’re a success – no changes requested!
The dialogues take a bit longer to write – they should be about a minute long, so that the viewers do not get bored, they must be lively, witty, but at the same time they cannot harm anyone. It also takes a little time to distribute instruments among the members of the band. One of them can play an electric guitar, others have precise music tastes that are well known to the public, so it can’t be a matter of coincidence. But finally, phew! We’ve got it!
Now we need to focus on the production. Time is rushing out, many processes must happen simultaneously.
Tomasz Lubert, known composer and a friend of Krzysiek, agreed to arrange the song for us. He records several soundtracks with various instruments – opulently. Later they will be mixed and mastered with previously recorded vocals. Tomasz also records a juicy rock guitar solo, which we need for the dialogue part.
Simultaneously, Aude drafter Magda is developing the storyboard and characters. Choosing one of the two presented drawing styles is easy, but working on the details is quite the contrary. There are several people on the side of the customer giving the opinion, so we need to content all of them. The proportions of photographed heads and sketched bodies and the perspective choice are the problems which take most time and evoke biggest emotions. Should we choose Euclidean or hieratic perspective? But no person from the board can be bigger than others, which would make him more meaningful. Another thing: hair and outfit. Magda is a veteran drafter, battle-hardened like Rocky Balboa. She keeps producing more and more characters with the speed of a fighter’s fist, and eventually our vision gets clear. This is very important – we make sure the customer understands from the start, that at a certain stage making corrections in the drawings which are already being animated will not be possible without additional costs and time.
In the meantime, our company expert on animation, Sebastian, is gathering energy. He knows there are sleepless nights ahead of him, because he can’t get down to work before the recording is ready, and Magda is drawing all the sequences needed for animation along with the accepted storyboard. In a video clip, animation is made to an existing soundtrack – contrary to a commercial, where it is music illustrating the image.
The bank isn’t lolling either. One of the ladies from the communication department turns out to be a choir singer, which helps us find the lead vocal who is going to play Santa. She is a talented singer and plays an important executive role in the bank, but she works outside Warsaw. And that’s when things get tough. She is so busy she would like to do the recording in her location. We try to arrange that, but the costs turn out too high, and it’s also risky from the logistics point of view. We manage to find a singing director who is able to come to the Warsaw studio. But he asks for an amateur tape with background music for rehearsing. Fortunately, at around the same time Tomasz Lubert completes the arrangement and is able to provide us with the tape.
The recording takes place in a small studio in a former film company. There’s the director and three ladies from the bank, including our direct commissioner, as backup singers. The lead vocal is using the same microphone that the Polish singer Doda does (this small studio is her favorite place to work) and is doing great. Both Krzysztof and the sound producer are impressed. No need for computer correction or adjustment, unlike with many singers. All that is left is mixing and mastering, and we can start editing. And Krzysiek needs to record all the board members voices for the dialogue part.
It seemed the last thing would be a piece of cake. But no one assumed the board would be that busy. To set up a meeting for all of them in one place is impossible. So the recording takes place during three improvised sessions at the bank. Then the sound is unified and mastered, so that the recording is pleasant to listen to. And there it is!
Sebastian is keeping his head to the grindstone day and night. A four-minute animated film is a lot of work! There are ideas coming up which were not detailed in the storyboard. The instruments should really play, the guitar strings should vibrate, the key of the piano should really work. Magda is adding new sequences, and Aude team is going through heated artistic debates. Santa’s face with huge artificial beard will be easy to animate to imitate singing, but what about the remaining characters? The management board faces were to be still, but it looks horrible when they speak without moving their lips. How to animate the photos to make them “speak”? Sebastian comes up with an idea after watching old Monty Python animations. The result is a killer. It’s hilarious, but will the board approve of it? Will it not offend them? They are top financiers, serious people. Our discussion in the agency reaches the peak. Eventually, I manage to find a compromise. I ask Sebastian for sample animation with dubbing. Monty Python-style head with lips moving versus a head that is moving and quaking, but with motionless lips. I send them to the customer. I will accept any decision, even though I’m for the “killer” idea with every fiber of my being. And there it wins, very narrowly. Sebastian works over the weekend, and on Monday, December 17, the video can be finally presented to the management board. We have a small bloomer, because Krzysztof, constantly asked for making the dialogues more dynamic has cut off the CEO, and Sebastian did not animate him in the right place. But fortunately we manage to fix it all in a few hours. The CEO speaks and moves as he should.
The video is presented to the management board. We are told they were laughing.
The management board has no time to play in a movie, they only agree to dub it. Who you gonna call? That’s right – we’re the Ghostbusters!