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  • Originally published on
  • Friday, Dec. 22, 2017
Salvation Army's "Emma" Tops Quarterly VFX/Animation Chart
Moth Studio directs PSA via production house Hornet for The Richards Group

Directed by Moth Studio via multimedia production house Hornet for The Richards Group, this animation campaign for the Salvation Army tells different stories about hardship and what generosity means to those in need—as well as to those who give.

One of these public service spots introduces us to Emma, an elderly homeless woman who remembers her childhood when she had a roof over her head. Back then, she loved holiday dinners when family got together and listened to Xmas music. She particularly enjoyed a piece of pie for dessert. Those days were long ago but thanks to the Salvation Army—and the donations made by people into that group’s famous red kettles—Emma can again experience a holiday meal, a sense of belonging and hopefully a better life down the road.

Titled “Emma,” this PSA topped SHOOT’s last quarterly VFX & Animation Chart of 2017.

Emma’s story is one of three told in the campaign about people helped by and/or helping others through the Salvation Army. There’s Chloe, a young girl who uses her good fortune to give a coat to warm another child during the winter season. And then there’s Gus, a boy who faces the possibility of a giftless holiday with personal grace and resolve.

Evoking empathy
The ability of filmmaking—in this case animation disciplines—to evoke empathy for those in need is what makes this work noteworthy and subtly remarkable. SHOOT selected “Emma” for its empathetic look at a homeless woman—a character akin to someone whom many of us would likely have walked by on a city street without noticing or certainly not giving her a second thought.

“Emma” serves as a reminder that the holidays are a time not only for family and celebrations, but also to find gratitude for what you have and compassion for those who have less. Moth embraces this message conceived by a creative team at The Richards Group, Dallas. Dropping a donation in a Salvation Army’s red kettle sparks advancement along a path of good, translating into help for Emma and others.

Each spot, including Emma’s story, feels like a contemporary children’s storybook that was rooted in history while having modern design. For Moth, one of the key things to get right with the look of these spots was the balance between traditional and contemporary. They needed to reference the long history of the Salvation Army, have the nostalgic warmth of the holiday spirit, but also be clearly talking about the present and situations that still resonate for individuals in 2017.

Moth’s starting point visually was children’s storybooks and 2D illustration, using that to evoke a classic winter tale with current style and sensibilities. For the characters, they went for elegance over cartoony with sophisticated lines, colors and textures. And then for the environments, they studied images of American cities and towns across the country to try and get a feel for how to evoke different regions without being specific and then building a rich magical world, thinking of the backstories for the characters who inhabit them. By mixing 2D characters with elements of 3D backgrounds, Moth and the Hornet studio were able to create dynamic camera moves and maximize the depth of scenes. Moth prides themselves on using the beauty and poetry that animation and illustration can infuse into a narrative,

Though the locales are not clearly defined, geography was a consideration according to Ifor Ashton, producer for the Moth group. “Early discussions with the agency,” related Ashton, “revealed that each of the films should represent a different climate and be set in a different state of North America. With the ‘Emma’ film, we decided it should be set on the West Coast, providing contrast to the other two typically seasonal films. We are unsure whether it was actually the most challenging piece out of the three, but it was certainly an interesting design task to think about a visual representation of Christmas without the more stereotypical imagery associated with the holiday.”

In terms of the prime lesson learned from this Salvation Army campaign, Ashton shared, “From a production perspective, it has been the most ambitious commercial project for us to date. Working on three films back to back with such a large and talented team pushed us beyond anything we have produced so far and has made us eager for more!”

See the Quarterly Top Ten VFX Chart here.

Credits for ScreenWork: 

Client The Salvation Army Agency The Richards Group, Dallas Todd McArtor, creative director/art director; Danny Bryan, creative director/writer; Dan Case, art director; Tara Robinson, writer; Bridget Fontenot, broadcast producer. Production/Animation Hornet Inc., New York Moth Studio, director; Hana Shimizu, exec producer; Sang-Jin Bae, head of production; Kristin Labriola, development producer; Eva Dahlqvist, Dez Stavracos, producers; Daniele Baiardini, Stephanie Andreou, editors; Moth Studio, Leonie Despres, Mandy Wickens, design; Moth Studio, storyboards; Carlos De Faria, Tyler DiBiasio, Anne-Louise Erambert, Anne Escot, Reg Isaac, Tucker Klein, Jennifer Zheng, 2D animation; Bianca Beneduci Assad, Carlos De Faria, Tyler DiBiasio, Lior Wolff-Epshtein, Anne-Louise Erambert, Anne Escot, Freya Hotson, Tucker Klein, Harry Slinger-Thompson, Mick O’Sullivan, Jennifer Zheng, cleanup; Luke Carpenter, Luke Doyle, Lindsay Horner, CG animation; Daniele Baiadini, Quian Shi, compositors; Stef Roberts, editing assistance. (Toolbox: TV paint, C4D, After Effects, Flash, Premiere, Photoshop) Music Pierre O’Reily. composer/conductor/arranger/piano; James Fitzpatrick, orchestra contractor/session producer; The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra; Jan Holzner, recording engineer; Triona O’Neill, vocals; Tom Bullen, recording engineer; Nick Taylor, mixed and mastered music. Sound Design Box of Toys Audio Post Matt Cimino, audio engineer. Postproduction Mark Sullivan, online Flame artist; Jennifer Brannon, sr. producer.

Category: Top Ten Visual Effects/Animation Chart

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