Sheffield animation studio Finger Industries takes animation through the looking glass for a recycling campaign promoting the eco-credentials of glass.

Environmental concerns are now firmly rooted in the minds of the public, meaning that environmental campaigns increasingly need to up the ante so their message is heard above the waves of greenwash.

Dutch agency These Days, along with Sheffield-based animation studio Finger Industries, has stepped into the ring with a brilliant viral for Friends of Glass that is designed to encourage the use of glass over plastics, and shows the various incarnations of a recycled bottle.

Finger Industries was initially approached by the Antwerp-based ad agency These Days, after it had seen the animation for Lloyds TSB that the Sheffield studio had previously created.

The early brief consisted of the lyrics of the song that runs through the viral, along with a basic storyboard. This provided enough for Finger Industries to start planning the overall look and flow of the animation, and its characters.

“The style of the initial designs came from a number of things,” reveals Jonny Ford, creative director at Finger Industries. “One was drawings of the French landscape that I did from the Eurostar as we came back from the first meeting in Antwerp. I’d been absorbing a lot of 1950s book illustration that may have filtered through as well.

“We needed to try a new direction with the characters, especially after spending a good two years working on Lloyds TSB’s For The Journey campaign in a very specific and well-known style. So for this project they became more angular with strong, flat colours and a greater variety of body shapes,” Ford adds.

The team kicked off with a written production structure that outlined all the elements needed for pre-production, production and post, as well as technical specifications, formats, deadlines and budget.

Armed with initial animation roughs, the team spent two days at the offices of These Days reviewing the brief, early designs, and lyrics to develop a clear direction for the story.

From the meeting, an 11-page storyboard was created for the 90-second spot, as well as a storyboard animatic that was matched to an early cut of the song. Key to the viral was the realization of the central character, Hank, which was was provided by These Days from the get-go.

“When These Days came to us, the concept for Hank was pretty fully formed and all we had to do was work out his facial features, which turned out pretty graphic and minimalist, as there was so much going on within the frame,” says Ford.

“We just wanted to focus on his expressions, and he needed to be clearly visible, even in the long shots.”

The 2D animator then took the face with a couple of basic expressions and then lip-synched and animated Hank’s whole performance in Flash over a period of about two weeks.

“Flash was the preferred option of animation for Hank as he’s essentially a traditional 2D cartoon on a 3D model. Having worked extensively in the program for a number of years it was relatively easy to match Hank to the soundtrack,” says lead artist Arthur Tubb.

“As Flash is a fairly fluid and intuitive program for animation, it was helpful for roughing out all the animation to begin with, before going back and tweaking various aspects to create humour and exaggerate expressions.”

Aside from the talking, singing bottle, the viral features a raft of human characters, which were all created from the same base mesh. With the designs all sharing the same facial structure, it was easy to then quickly edit and remodel the base mesh for faster character turnaround.