Z Animation Goes Outside the Line for Southern Company and The Richards Group

Z Animation Goes Outside the Line for Southern Company and The Richards Group

TV commericial animation company Z Animation, teamed the talents of two of its directors, Norm Bendell and John Ryan, to design and animate a package of four :30 2D commercials for Southern Company and agency The Richards Group in Dallas. Southern Company, based in Atlanta, GA, is one of the leading energy producers in the country, and its new "Common Sense" campaign, created by Art Director Nick Munoz and Copywriter Dustin "Doc" Ballard, invites customers to go online and see how Southern Company is working hard to offer its customers a balanced approach to energy choices.

The campaign's simple message of energy choice and efficiency is balanced by its equally simple and playful "nervous-line" watercolor design approach, a style embodied by Norm Bendell, an award winning illustrator and character designer famous for print and TV work for Perrier, Budget Gourmet, IBM, AT&T, Club Med, and American Express. Rather than just create a few rough sketches, Bendell came up with finished art that could be plugged right into the agency's basic three-panel layouts. He also came up with the idea of adding the character of a small dog as a counter to the campaign's "everyman" main character. Bendell says, "In both my print and film work, I like to bring in an element that represents something the audience has to pay attention to. It could be a bottle with a pair of eyes that follows the action, or in the case of this campaign, a cute, minimalist dog. I usually take a more complex design approach, but this campaign was more about taking things out than putting them in. It's an abstract design idea, but it's an element that everyone can relate to."

Southern Company 01
Southern Company 02

Fellow Z Animation director John Ryan, a highly versatile animator, was brought in to adapt Bendell's designs for animation, add background elements to flesh out the neighborhood location, and give both human and dog characters their own distinct acting styles. The sparely designed characters created by Bendell meant a unique set of challenges. "As an animator, it's actually easier to have more detail to work with. The more lines you have, the more underlying structure you have to work with," Ryan explains. "Here though, you have one character with only a few scraggly bits of hair that describe the back of his head, so there's no way to contain our line. As animators, it's a very delicate dance to have to know where that underlying structure should be and keep tabs on it so that the audience is able to come in and complete the character outline subliminally."

Z Animation's Executive Producer Peter Barg stated, "Adapting someone else's style is a very difficult process, but Norm and John collaborated on another project last year, and I knew it would go smoothly. Together, they created a simpler, more sparse version of a tried and true style, and the end product flowed beautifully."

Gabriel Silva produced for Spotmakers, the in-house production arm of The Richards Group in Dallas. For post house Charlie Uniform Tango in Dallas, Jeff Elmore was the Executive Produce, Dave Laird handled the online conform on Autodesk Smoke, and Russell Smith was the audio engineer.

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