The best thing to come out from this year's Superbowl was an interactive music promo that merged Max Fleischer-style animation with OTT hip hop visuals.
This year's reaction to Superbowl 2019's ads and halftime show seems to be one of marred disappointment; besides a curious Andy Warhol-featuring promo for Burger King, it seems the ever-anticipated line up of blockbuster commercials left many underwhelmed, and that's before you get to the music.
Whilst many were as unimpressed with the Maroon 5 interlude as they were with the Superbowl's interruptions of the advertising sort, one genuine highlight was a TV spot for startup app Expensify, as made up of an original song by hip hop artist 2 Chainz and some wonderfully trippy animation from Augenblick Studios.
Expensify This, directed by Andreas Nilsson, is billed as 'the world's first music video you can expense' and features 2 Chainz trying to film a typically OTT hip hop video under the wary eye of a finance bod from his record label (as played by Parks and Recreation star Adam Scott), making for the standout music and advertising moment of Superbowl 2019.
Expense receipts pop up throughout the video which you can scan on screen using the Expensify app, and these same receipts show up in the Max Fleischer-esque sequence halfway through the promo, showing 2 Chainz enter the cartoon world of your most luxurious dreams.
"Who doesn't love seeing 2 Chainz riding a stoned reindeer?" says Greg Kletsel by email, the illustrator who we last spoke to about his promo art for Netflix's Disenchantment. Greg had been working with Augenblick Studios as a character designer on various projects throughout the year when the 2 Chainz spot came up. Studio head Aaron Augenblick and animation director Devin Clark reached out to the artist to see if he was interested in working on characters for the commercial.
"I jumped at the opportunity and was fortunate to work alongside Tim Beckhardt, an amazing artist/designer/animator who created the overall style of the piece.
"My role was to sketch out as many character concepts as possible over a few days, and then the team would interpret the sketches to fit the style Tim established. It was an amazing feeling to see my rough sketches be translated into animated designs by the insanely talented team at Augenblick."
Most of Greg's characters in the Expensify This video were influenced by 2 Chainz's lyrics for the track, whilst also twisting specific references from the live action video (for example, the four cowboys that follow 2 Chainz around in the video become a four-headed cowboy character in the animated sequence).
The influence of the live action framework around the cartoon - along with the added pressure of Superbowl expectations and an interactive element - leads one to wonder how daunting this project was to work on for Devin and Aaron of Augenblick, a studio with hit cartoon experience from Superjail! and music video expertise for the likes of Run the Jewels.
"The animation was its own world in the video so we weren't overloaded with the scope of the entire project," Aaron reveals in our email chat. "We had a brilliant, experienced director in Andreas who weaved all the separate elements together, so we were able to concentrate all of our efforts on making the animated world as engaging and dynamic as possible.
"The theme of the video was expensive decadence, so we tried to make the whole thing look like over-the-top eye candy."
The animation's director Devin concurs with this. "I wouldn't say it was daunting, but it was definitely a unique project - and certainly the first interactive music video commercial I've ever worked on.
"There was a little bit of back and forth with the agency to make sure the QR codes you see in the receipts were clear and and on screen long enough to be scanned. But, overall integrating those interactive elements was fairly painless on our end," he tells me.
Devin also reveals the brief was to create a "surreal animated dream world" for the commercial, for which he and Aaron used the touchstones of Max Fleischer's '30s cartoons and 1960s psychedelia as a jumping off point.
"Which, as an animator, is always a fun mission to have," he continues. "Fleischer studio's work was definitely a huge influence on the video; those old Betty Boop cartoons are often set to music with all the characters bouncing to the beat of the song. We wanted to capture that same energy where everything is alive and moving to the music.
"We also looked at Yellow Submarine, Felix The Cat, Malice In Wonderland, and other trippy cartoons from the 70's. We wanted to take the sensibilities of those old cartoons and merge it with a more modern psychedelic style. Between Greg's characters and Tim Beckhardt's designs we couldn't have asked for a better team to envision this psychedelic world."
"When we realised we needed to populate this animated world with a ton of humorous and weird looking characters, we knew Greg would be the perfect man of the job," Devin tells us. "His character designs have so much personality it was a blast to bring them to life."
"We needed artists who could nail the surrealist retro look and of course Greg came to mind," agrees Aaron. "One of my favourite things about Greg is his raw creativity; he can fill up an entire page with stream-of-conscious ideas that make your head spin."
The characters and their world have had quite an impact, in spite of being one segment in an already hilarious and OTT music promo.
"The response to the music video has been extremely positive," Devin gushes. "Of course, for me, the animated part is too short. I want to spend more time with cartoon 2 Chainz in this insane warped reality. Can we pitch this as a TV series somewhere please?"
We would definitely watch the shit out of that show. Make it happen, Adult Swim.