Animators wow audiences with toy, restaurant commercials

November 12, 2018

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) — Atwater Studios has a 3D animated “Bob” from Bob’s Discount Furniture in the works, once used 11,000 pencils to build a Mount Holyoke College logo for a photo shoot and opens all the doors and windows in winter to photograph Friendly’s sundaes while the ice cream is still frozen and before the chocolate syrup runs.

Not to mention the extensive work Atwater does for Lego, which maintains its North American headquarters a few miles away in Enfield, Connecticut.

The company makes so many animated shorts featuring licensed Lego toys, including “Star Wars” Legos, an in-house voice of Yoda they must have. The voice actor must be certified by “Star Wars” executives.

“There isn’t a day that we come to work where we don’t feel very lucky,” said Tim Palmioli, director of operations at Atwater. “To be able to do what we do, to work with these iconic Lego toys that we all grew up with. All the ‘Star Wars’ characters. Its just so special.”

Lego uses the videos it has Atwater make as those short ads that play before YouTube videos, and Lego also features them on its social media feeds like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

In October, Atwater won awards at the 58th annual Hatch Awards at the House of Blues in Boston. The company won a silver award for an animated Lego “Star Wars” piece and two bronze awards for another Lego “Star Wars” piece and a Lego Marvel Superhero short.

Sometimes the videos are animated, sometimes its live action with kids, sometimes there are grownup and kid actors hired to portray a family playing with Legos.

Atwater has also shot Lego toys for box covers. One trick, director of photography Victor Janczar said, is to get super close with a wide-angle lens normally reserved for landscapes. The resulting image has a heroic quality and looks more lifelike.

Photographing inanimate objects can be a challenge, he said. Take the products made by Excel Dryer of East Longmeadow. The restroom hand dryers look great in person, but photographing all those hard, round edges made of various materials can be tricky. The light plays differently across the object.

“In some cases, you are trying to photograph a chrome sphere,” he said.

Atwater Studios occupies 3,000 square feet on Warwick Street. Founder and owner Joseph Pellegrino Jr. plans to move into space five times as large in about 18 months, Palmioli said.

It’ll be part of a redevelopment project of a former foundry building about a block away on Liberty Street, and Palmioli already has plans for the space: a soundstage and recording booth and what he calls a “lifestyle” studio with fake walls that can be dressed as a kitchen, a bedroom or a living room for photo shoots.

“We really want to raise the level of creative (work) that’s coming out of Western Massachusetts,” Palmioli said.

And in raising that level of excellence, make Western Massachusetts known as a place where companies can get their photography, animation, design and video work done.

“There is no reason why local companies can’t get their creative done here,” he said.

Local stalwarts, like Smith & Wesson, use advertising agencies in Boston or even further away. Even longtime customer Friendly’s uses Atwater only when it’s test-marketing products. Atwater makes the menu inserts and table tents for local promotions. But if the product goes chainwide, the photos are reshot at a studio in Philadelphia.

“They do great work,” Palmioli said. “But we can do that here.”

And Atwater has been successful in getting work from Massachusetts companies. They do package design work for New England Treatment Access, the marijuana dispensary in Northampton.

Mat Dubord, creative director, showed a prototype cookie box Atwater is designing for New England Treatment Access. Not only are they worried about the font, the size, the color and the look, but also what type of cardstock is used and how the new box will feel.

Helen of Troy Ltd., which opened a new headquarters in Marlborough in 2016 after being based in Texas in 2016, licenses brands like Honeywell and Pur and uses Atwater Studios.

Palmioli showed an animated video of water moving through a Pur water filtration medium. It’s for a presentation to Pur’s in-house sales force, he said.

Atwater ramped up video work last year when it bought Doodle Pictures, a 3D animation studio in Enfield. Both Doodle and Atwater work for Lego.

The animated videos start with a script, said Dan Konieczka, director of computer-generated images. Then they go to a storyboard, which marries the script to drawings of what the final animations might look like.

Then staff refines the images while someone does what’s called rigging. That’s when animators digitally set up all the structures of the scene so that wrists bend where wrists should bend and so on.

Next images must be refined and lighted digitally so they look right.

It can take months, Palmioli said.

And Konieczka said Atwater Studios often works with just the barest of outlines. It’s making videos now for Lego sets that won’t come out until 2019.

The movies the Legos are tied to are not even done yet, and the studios certainly are not going to share plot points. That means no one can tell Atwater if two Lego characters are supposed to be friends or enemies.

And that’s why in Atwater’s video for an “Avengers: Infinity War” Lego set, stuff happens to comic book bad guy Thanos that doesn’t happen in the movie.

“But that’s fine,” Konieczka said. “Because that’s what would happen when kids start to play with the toy. Everyone can have their own story.”


Online: https://bit.ly/2QAG0mB


Information from: The Springfield (Mass.) Republican, http://www.masslive.com/news/

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