How it was Made – Got Termites?

Abbott Animation has always enjoyed working with Davidson Advertising, especially when it comes to Arizona Pest Control. Our work with them has broadened our knowledge and creativity.

Recently we produced a new commercial in their “Got Bugs” style, this time focusing on termites. Typically, we receive a short phone call and even shorter script that we build our ideas off of. This time we were given:

Arizona Pest Control Script

From there, we start our brainstorming session. Due to our previous work with them, we already know our “why” and “style” and “how” (more detail in a future blog to come) – now we just need the story. We often kick around multiple ideas while brainstorming and no idea is too silly to mention during one of these sessions. This time, because we are maintaining a previous thematic look with similar dialogue, we decide to pull in images alluded to in the script. It’s a fairly character driven, short commercial and we knew we had to have a strong presence with the character animation to make an impact. The termite was placed in a house, destroying it, where it goes through a death sequence as AZ pest comes in to save the day.

The next step is to develop the look of our ‘hero’ character – the termite. We sketched up multiple possibilities to provide to the client. Each one had a distinct style and flair, allowing the client a wide range of choice but also the ability to mix and match if they so desired.

Termite Submission 1

The client actually ended up going with the main look from image 2 but wanted the arms of 3 (without the tattoo). So that’s what we built for them!

Initial Character Submission

Our first submission was very bare – no surfaces/materials, only the basic look of the character for client approval. Further development gave us our color palette and overall demeanor of our termite dude. During development, we looked up multiple types of termites and their various types in order to achieve a character that had style but would contain enough “real world” elements for customers to attach to.

Character Material Test

During production, we often sketch up a storyboard to share with our clients. (We’ll have a future blog post highlighting the benefits and process of producing a storyboard!) This particular project did not require us to share a storyboard with our client. However, we still like to do one in house in order to time out shots and make sure everyone is on the same page. Especially on commercials, where timing is key and we want to neither over- or under-produce a shot where a tenth of a second can matter.

Rough Storyboard

Because this storyboard was in-house only, it was very simple and without a lot of the directions typically included. However, it was vital for the timing and layout of our shots. For example. timing the storyboard to the scratch VO allowed us to see how much time we could devote to the wide cut of the house destruction. This allowed us to see that we needed to pull half a second from the termite death scene for that destroyed, termite infested house to really make an impact.

Next, we worked on the layout and lighting of our environment. Keeping in mind the location and audience, our house has a southwest feel, which was an interesting challenge for depicting realistic termite environment you could see from the exterior.

Termite Environment House
Termite Environment Close

Our first environment was the exterior of the house. The other main environment was the hole the termite was sitting in. Both needed to be lit similarly despite the vast differences in scale. This required sensitivity to both the strong moonlight and the off camera street lights. Scaled environments such as this can sometimes require non-realistic setups in order to actually make them feel realistic. We are careful to keep in mind both the realism and the end product.

Next it is important to break down the character movement into its core concepts. Blocking out camera and character movement is called an ‘animatic’ – it’s not a full animation but it allows both the animator and others to see the entire shot put together without the time devoted to rendering.

Finally we worked out the special effects, sound effects, and final renders of the animation. These are often tackled last for a variety of reasons. Firstly, special effects can take hours, days, or even longer to solve. You want to make sure you have your animation fairly set before trying to add complicated effects. Sound effects are driven by the actions of the character, on or off screen. With the time it takes to either find or produce sound effects, having what you want where decided in your animatic can dramatically help your overall composition.

While we tested and built the lighting for the final render earlier on, the final composition requires the rendering of multiple passes, compositing those with the special effects, sound effects, voice-over and music, and then final tweaks or color corrections to the piece as a whole. When everything combines, the result is a commercial that the client is happy with, the customer remembers fondly, and we are proud to show off!

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