Foregoing the Cookie Cutter Approach: Re-Imagining Brand as an Animator

Creative Studio Someone’s Cousin modernizes Keebler’s Elves with Frankie

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

Beckoning from stacks of cereal boxes or spying out from confectionery counters are a cast of mascots that have gone beyond simple representative imagery and become part of the cultural zeitgeist. The refined Mr. Peanut. The Viridescent Jolly Green Giant. And, oh yeah, who could forget The Kool-Aid Man. Everyone knows them. They’ve jumped from packaging to animated series, filmic references and societal reference points.

It is no easy task to create a character that goes on to enjoy such prominence in the everyday, but Keebler achieved it with their own mascots, the Keebler Elves, conceived by Leo Burnett Worldwide in 1968.

Re-imagining any established brand as an animator is an exciting proposition. But, when your brief requires you to do so for such a well-known, much-loved mascot, the task is loaded with a great sense of responsibility. That’s what animation and VFX collective Someone’s Cousin found when asked to bring Keebler’s jolly mascots into the modern age – with help from Frankie video review.

“Animation is such a visual thing,” says Chris Johnson, Creative Lead and Owner of Someone’s Cousin. “I was never a fan of getting email responses from clients. I’d always want to talk to them. There would always be something they couldn’t convey or explain and it would just take another phone call or another e-mail. But, with Frankie, it’s instant.”

Ditching brick and mortar

Someone’s Cousin is very much a studio born of today’s creative environment. It has no address, no lobby, no break room. Someone’s Cousin is a global company in the most real sense, with creatives collaborating across the planet using remote technology that enables cross-continent workflows.

“We might not be in the room. We don’t even have a room,” explains Johnson. “Nevertheless, our clients can count on us to move animated mountains for them. Where we are isn’t important; what is is the work we deliver. And we can deliver work to the level we do, despite the leagues separating us, thanks to interactive video review tools like Frankie.”

Johnson wanted to escape the big city, and Someone’s Cousin was born. Fresh air and space seemed preferable to bricks and mortar, but there were other benefits too: the ability to scale up and down as necessary, with team sizes oscillating from one to 13 depending on project requirements.

With Johnson’s expertise and the flexibility of Someone’s Cousin, the studio was perfectly positioned to tackle challenges like that presented by Keebler.

Turning things up to Elven

For those not in the know, lore has it that Keebler elves don’t make cookies. The Keebler Elves make Keebler cookies. To shed some light on this magical process, Someone’s Cousin was hired to modernize the elves, but also the cookie creation process and environment where these fantastical beings thrive.

“The Keebler Elves live in the Hollow Tree, where they bake all kinds of cookies in magic ovens," says Johnson. “Keebler wanted to expand the Hollow Tree using the power of CG, introducing a new audience to a living, breathing world.”

Someone’s Cousin needed to animate a tiny, imaginary kingdom of elves joyfully going about their business, interacting with one another and their environment. As the Keebler Elf world has lived and breathed for some 50 years, the work was about more than just creating something fun: Someone’s Cousin needed to respect art direction that had been established long before some members of the team were even born.

Leonardo would become Johnson’s biggest challenge on this project. As the chocolate cookie painter, Leonardo had only ever featured in illustrations or 2D animation some three decades ago. This meant Johnson and his team had the responsibility of effectively designing this confectionery connoisseur from scratch. The process required a very flexible and open dialogue with Keebler, ensuring the remote Someone’s Cousin team did the elf lore justice.

“The work went through so many versions so often – and that’s exactly where being able to annotate within Frankie and collaborate with the client became invaluable,” says Johnson.

“The feedback might’ve been, ‘can Leonardo’s hat be slightly smaller?’. Rather than simply request that in an email, the customer could indicate the exact desired size by drawing on the screen. ‘Move this over here’. ‘We don’t want this’. ‘Add a cookie there’. It’s all communicated so much more simply in a visual context. We could collaborate back and forth by painting in Frankie where we wanted elements to be edited very quickly.”

A constant channel of communication was maintained with Keebler, ensuring all updates remained completely on-brand. Using this ongoing stream of feedback, Someone’s Cousin could perfect the CG recreation of Keebler’s imagined world, its inhabitants, the atmosphere and every single element – down to the color and grain of the wood used for the furniture.

Not just the cookie cutter approach

The Keebler project, while an exciting opportunity, was also one of Johnson’s most demanding in terms of budgeting, resource allocation and deadlines. From award to finish, the project was due in just six weeks, which meant the studio needed to maximize the time spent talking to Keebler and communicating with the wider team.

“Advertising is changing constantly, with budgets and the demand for content constantly flux,” says Johnson. “Studios need to figure out a way to manage these requirements and deadlines as quickly and as inexpensively as possible. Frankie is a good fit and solution for these challenges."

Someone’s Cousin’s processes have been streamlined using Frankie: it fits naturally within the remote studio model, ensuring all involved understand the exact creative vision and what needs to be done next to deliver upon it.

“Someone’s Cousin can achieve challenging briefs like reimagining a much-loved brand, in six weeks, without ever stepping into the same room. I can jump on a session with them, visualize what needs to be done on a project, save a PDF and distribute it. That wasn’t possible even a few short years back. Frankie is a perfect fit for the future of advertising.”


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