The German studio’s ad for Sony Ericsson mobile phones is a fast-moving jaunt through the graphic styles that defined every decade from the 1950s to the present day.
The new ad for Sony Ericsson mobile phones pulls off a difficult trick – it uses retro stylings to advertise a modern mobile phone. The commercial is for UK and European TV broadcast.
The work of Parasol Island (a relatively new 25-person German studio), it’s a romp through graphic styles spanning every decade from the 1950s to the present day.
The ad comes in two versions: the full 45-second one, and a 30-second version, which skips the opening scenes. The concept is simple: a glitchy, compelling electro track plays, and with each phrase spoken by the female voiceover, the key words appear on the screen. In under a minute, the ad takes in neon cursive script straight out of a 1950s diner; punky collage text; gaudy 1980s stylings in acid-bright colours; graffiti style; and chunky, curvy, Summer of Love-inspired capitals.
The spot is a great example of how typography can capture the mood of a whole era. The idea of using type came from within Parasol Island.
“The brief was quite open,” says Steve Scott, who directed the ad for Parasol Island, of the direction the team received from agency Serviceplan Power of Sales.
“We were pretty much given free rein. We came up with the board and style frames. We were given some really simple rules to follow – make it look cool, make sure the phone is nicely integrated. So we pushed the idea that every lyric relates to a specific decade, and that there was a sense of travel through each scene. The agency were really supportive in that sense.”
Coming up with the ad’s series of contrasting looks required hours of digging through the archives. “We ended up looking at lots and lots of record covers, posters and old ads,” says Scott. They found plenty to inspire them.
“I was particularly taken with the 1970s ads of Robert Abel. He did a fantastic ad for Levi’s jeans, and his Seven Up ad from 1975 is just very cool. That was a big inspiration.
"I love Martin Sharp and Milton Glaser, so I wanted a touch of that in the 1960s one. We looked at movie posters as well, there’s a bit of a reference to the Logan’s Run movie poster. I think even working in the Parasol office has its own influence – it’s filled with fake pink flamingoes and palmtrees, which tends to have an influence...”
Next, the team matched each lyric to a style. “We really reacted to the music,” says Scott. “Some words just suggested specific decades. ‘So sexy’ screamed out to be a lurid 1980s Miami Vice airbrushed landscape.
"‘So beautiful’ felt like it had to be a psychedelic 1960s cover. There was a countdown, so this felt like it should be a Tron/old-style computer games look.”
They then sketched out each scene; this is the point in the process where the type took centre-stage. Scott says, “Mostly the typography was hand-drawn and designed. I think there might be two fonts there that we didn’t design. We wanted to give the whole thing its own flavour and uniqueness, so it was better to avoid other peoples’ fonts if we could.”
Of the nine looks created for the full-length ad, Scott says that his personal favourite is the 1980s section, which is so ultra-tacky it’s back to being glamorous again.
“Sebastian Onufszak had designed the second part of the scene and I had to look at the first part. Normally I would avoid the aesthetics of the 1980s, having grown up then, but I spent a lot of time researching and discovered a lot of design work and styles I hadn’t seen before.”
Once all the segments of the ad had been locked down, the Parasol Island team had to figure out how to move smoothly and dynamically between scenes whose mood was completely contrasting. Scott says that maintaining a sense of novelty and freshness was crucial.
“The main goal was to create a quick journey through this strange space and avoid repeating a move that had already been done,” he says.
The team found that many of the transitions could be resolved by knocking up a quick animatic. “A lot of them came fairly quickly and felt quite natural,” says Scott.
Typical scene-changes work through a smooth camera sweep from one to the next, through a zoom into a dark area of the image which evolves into the next scene, or a zoom back; one involves a section of the scenery tearing away as though it’s a paper screen to reveal a new scene behind it. However, others were harder:
“We did get stuck on one transition,” says Scott. “We had to go from a fairly full background with wooden panelling, to an airbrushed dark space. We didn’t want to repeat ourselves, but simply moving the camera meant we had the problem of where these two spaces join – perhaps it could have been the edge of a wooden table or something.
“We tried a few things, but nothing really worked,” he continues. “In the end I had this idea that we could simply crumple up the background into a paper ball. So we did a stop-motion test and it looked really neat.”
One thing that snarled up the process was the fact that, although the team had created animatics for individual transitions, at no point did they create a 3D animatic for the whole spot.
“We basically split three scenes up and then tried to stitch them back together,” says Scott, a little ruefully. “We were up against time, but it did end up slowing the 3D down, and the last few days were fairly hectic.”
Because each scene of the ad is based around a single image, the team made extensive use of Illustrator and Photoshop for the project: each scene was drawn in Illustrator and then textured and refined in Photoshop.
Meanwhile, the star of the commercial – the mobile phone – was modelled in Maya to make it stand out. “We then did the animation using After Effects for the 2D elements, and Maya for the 3D elements,” says Scott.
“Because of the timeframe and stylistics, we wanted to keep the ad mainly with a 2D, illustrated feel, which is why about two-thirds of the ad was done in After Effects. The 3D mainly came in to show off the phones, but also to add a more dynamic camera movement and space that you can’t get in 2D.”
The Parasol Island team had just four weeks in which to make the ad, from storyboarding to production. This meant that, at times, it was a case of ‘all hands on deck’.
Scott explains: “I think we worked out that at some point, almost everyone at Parasol had a little hand in this job – maybe 20 people. But there was a core team of three designers, three After Effects animators and three 3D animators.”
Because the project moved at such a pace, there was little time to refine the initial concept or try out alternative ideas. “I was initially worried that it could look a complete mess, with everything jarring against each other,” confesses Scott.
“We made everything have an illustrated feel, and that seemed to tie everything together.” The spot is now showing on British and Austrian TV; it is expected to screen in other European countries later in the year.
“It felt like a real challenge to integrate all these styles and get the whole thing completed in such a narrow timeframe,” says Scott. “I would have loved another week of polishing things off, but at a certain point you just have to let a project go. And because it was done so quickly, it still feels fresh to me, and not over-done.”
For the record
Some of the team’s research led them to graphics that were more entertaining than inspiring: “A band called Lime did some fantastically bad airbrushed covers,” recalls Steve Scott. “Lots of gleaming lips and cocktail glasses.” The team gleefully used this as the basis for the 1980s segment.
While the scenery was sketched out in Illustrator and Photoshop and then animated in After Effects, the mobile phone itself was created in Maya for a photorealistic finish.
Steve Scott says that the sheer number of looks in the ad proved to be a headache: “The most challenging aspect of the job was making a 30 second ad which had eight scenes [the 45-second version has nine scenes], all of which had completely different designs, and then getting them all to integrate.”
Project: Sony Ericsson
Client: Serviceplan Power of Sales/Sony Ericsson
Studio: Parasol Island, www.parasol-island.com
Software: Adobe After Effects, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Autodesk Maya
On the CD: You can view the sequence on this month’s cover disc.the present day