Google Creative Lab Partners with 9
Animators for Pixel 2 Campaign
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
Creative Director and WNW Member Kristen Lewis just spent 9 months as a freelance Creative Lead at Google Creative Lab in London. There, Kristen led GCL's latest project, "iPhone People Talking Pixel," a collection of animated bite-sized films that bring to life the unscripted opinions of iPhone users who tried out Google's new Pixel 2 phone for a week. Last month, Google Creative Lab received two D&AD pencils for the work.
In our interview below, Kristen discusses the project, from getting to work with all of the awesome creatives at Google Creative Lab to curating a diverse and global group of animators, most of them WNW members. The nine animators involved offered a variety of styles including 2D and 3D animation, frame by frame, and mixed media, which brought unique challenges and ultimately a richer aesthetic. Kristen also shares why she prefers animators with an ability to capture humanity and vulnerability and why it's great that there's still room for work that feels intimate and handcrafted. "People like human stories. That will never change. How we bring them to life in different ways is the fun part."
What lead you to join Google Creative Lab in London as a Creative Lead? What about the prospect of working there most excited you?
Creative Lab called me up and asked me to come in, and I had no idea what to expect. But I did know I would be learning something new every day from everyone around me and that’s what excited me the most. It certainly lived up to that expectation and exceeded it. Everyone working in the Lab has such diverse skillsets - and almost everyone is from a different place - Israel, Germany, France, Brazil, UK, Italy, Greece, the US, and Sweden. It’s a constant education, which I think is what everyone dreams of.
In what ways were you surprised early on?
For a place with an incredible amount of projects going through at lightning speed, everyone takes the time to also have a life. They’ve built a culture there where they are laser-focused on the work - they bring their best to it, but also know when to turn it off, go outside and see the world, and enjoy their lives and their families.
You recently led a project called “iPhone People Talking Pixel.” Tell us a bit about what it’s all about.
It seems that despite all the advertising budgets in the world, most of the time, consumers just want to know what other real people think about a product. So the team took a very simple construct - the testimonial - and tried to do something new with it. We asked some long-time iPhone users to try out the Pixel 2 for a week, and then we talked to them about how it went. We then asked 9 animators from around the world - some up and coming, some established, to help us bring those audio files to life in a series of short animations.
The roster of animators involved is pretty staggering, and we’re not just saying that because most of them are WNW members. What were you looking for in their portfolios that made them feel like the right fit?
I love when animators can replicate extremely subtle human gestures - a nervous look in an eye, a tiny shrug, an awkward pause. Each animator we chose had the ability to find that vulnerable human-ness and bring it to the project, no matter what their animation style was. It’s emotional depth that I look for. I feel like animators that can capture and celebrate those moments have an affinity for the human spirit. And those are the type of people I like to work with.
Did you want a particular stylistic thread amongst all the animators or were you seeking out a wide variety of aesthetics?
We wanted a wide variety of aesthetics to celebrate the individuality of each of the people featured, and ended up with a variety of 2D and 3D animation, frame by frame, and mixed media (stop motion clay layered with 2D animation).
What were the creative parameters you gave the animators? Or did they pretty much have free rein to do what they do?
I spoke with my co-creative lead, David Bruno, a lot about finding the right balance for this. We wanted the animators to have freedom to explore and we also wanted the project to hang together as a series, so it was about finding that balance of keeping it surprising for the viewer but also giving them cues that they are all part of one series. It was very collaborative. As with any creative process, it’s a lot of throwing things up on the wall and seeing what sticks, but luckily for us, the roster was so great that we had a ton of great stuff to choose from.
What are other creative considerations that came with the project? What were some of the creative challenges?
We thought long and hard about whether we wanted to share the images of the people we chatted with with the animators, and ultimately decided not to. We wanted whatever the animators had in their head to be solely based on voices, and I’m glad we made that call. During the process, it was a challenge to take the animations far enough down the line for us to see the intent for but not so far that the animators were doing too much time-consuming work. I think that’s a challenge in general with animation, but it’s important to me not to have the people I’m working with burning out unnecessarily. We were working with 9 animators at the same time, as well as leading other projects, so the only challenges were just making sure we were had enough time to give everything the love it needed.
This project just received two D&AD pencils which must make you pretty proud. Why do you think these films resonated with audiences as much as they did?
At every awards show there’s sweeping, amazing work out there that pushes what’s possible in filmmaking, editing, lighting, and CGI. I’m always so inspired by that work. And I also love that there’s room for work like this project; work that feels intimate, human, and handcrafted. People like human stories. That will never change. How we bring them to life in different ways is the fun part.
What advice from this experience can you share with fellow creatives?
I think it’s great advice to nose around the WNW site and check out what other people are doing and make a mental list of people you want to work with, even if you don’t have a specific project in mind at the moment. Often times, a project comes up and there’s no time to do a whole lot of research - so you want that dream list ready to go.
What’s next for you?
I just moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area last week, so am currently enjoying this large fireball in the sky and replenishing the Vitamin D deficiency I developed in London. I’m continuing to working on some projects for Google Creative Lab from here, and I’m also developing a series of short doc films about female creatives working in fashion, design and filmmaking.