‘Let’s All Go to the Lobby’: SVA Faculty Members Recast the GEICO Gecko

October 30, 2013

As head of computer graphics for Framestore New York, SVA faculty member David Hulin (BFA Computer Art, Computer Animation and Visual Effects) recently updated a classic movie theater commercial for a long-time client, the auto insurer GEICO. Many moviegoers will  remember “Let’s All Go to the Lobby,” an old school animation featuring singing soft drinks and perky popcorn dancing merrily across screen. The new 40-second spot—recently singled out by Adweek as an Ad of the Day—faithfully replicates the original, and there’s a cameo by the famous GEICO spokeslizard. Also on Hulin’s team was fellow faculty member Seth Gollub (BFA 2005 Computer Art), who served as VFX supervisor. We asked them about their postmodern spin on the iconic classic.

Were you familiar with the original “Let’s All Go to the Lobby” spot before this assignment? What was your reaction when seeing it for the first time?

David Hulin: I hadn’t ever had the pleasure before this script came in. I quickly found hundreds of references to it on YouTube (especially this one) and realized the cultural importance of it to American moviegoers. I really loved the simplicity and the nostalgia of the piece, especially with the super catchy classic soundtrack!

Seth Gollub: I thought it was a great concept in that it is precisely the opposite style of animation we employ for the gecko. I thought this dynamic contrast of styles would make for a memorable spot.

Please tell us about your process of reproducing the original 1953 segment frame by frame. Did it involve early animation techniques, state-of-the-art tools, or both? Were there special challenges?

DH: It’s pretty much the perfect example of making things look really simple when in fact they aren’t. The rigs had to be designed completely accurately to match the cell animation. The comp team did a great job of adding a 1950s film look and transition FX, down to seeing the edge of the film negative and the hand-animated hair in the gate. It’s a lot of very talented artists designing organic texture—that’s VFX in a nutshell.

Nostalgia with an ironic twist is a popular cultural trope and the retro look is everywhere these days. Why do you think this sensibility works so well in advertising?

DH: People always respond to familiarity. Resurrecting classic characters, when they are so closely associated with fond childhood memories such as a trip to the movies, is particularly powerful. Advertising loves a bit of emotional piggybacking!

That little GEICO gecko has been around for years! What makes him such an endearing mascot?

DH: Sincerity. He’s a real character, not a two-dimensional cartoon character. Every fidget, every nervous glance at the camera and misplaced footstep is part of making him a normal little dude going about his business. You know exactly what he’d feel like if you reached out and pinched his little podgy midriff between your thumb and forefinger.

SG: Over the years we’ve really created a distinct personality for our gecko. He has a unique combination of confidence and humility, and performs a lot of subtle gestures with his hands and facial expressions. A lot of people feel they can relate to all these “nervous ticks.” We spend quite a lot of time trying to act out and choreograph the action before we even begin animating.

Seth, you’re not the only SVA alumnus who worked on the project. Other faculty and alumni on the team were Euna Kho (BFA 2012 Computer Art, Computer Animation and Visual Effects), compositing supervisor Han Hu (BFA 2007 Computer Art), Shayne Ryan (faculty member, BFA Computer Art, Computer Animation and Visual Effects), Sylvia Apostol (BFA 2007 Computer Art) and Andy Rowan-Robinson (faculty member, BFA Computer Art, Computer Animation and Visual Effects). In what ways did SVA prepare you to make the leap from student to professional?

SG: Quite simply, SVA gave me the confidence and basic skills to feel as though I could animate on a professional level. I don’t ever feel an artist should grow complacent or feel as though their training is complete. We should be in a constant state of evolution. SVA was the first step in my quest as an animator and I would have gotten nowhere without that experience.

David and Seth, when you teach, what do you tell students who want to stand out from the crowd?

DH: I always encourage people to do fewer shots to a higher level of finish rather than do lots to an average level. SVA provides an amazingly high standard of foundation skills, but we need people who want to continue to be sponges for knowledge after they graduate. Anyone, no matter how many decades of VFX experience, who says they know it all is an idiot! You always have to be willing to keep learning. And keep your ears and eyes open. (Oh yeah, and don’t watch TV or have 200 chat windows open at work!)

SG: I try to remind students to separate the technology from the art, and never forget that at the end of the day, we are simply aiming to create a series of pretty pictures. I encourage them to never betray or forget their fine arts background; if they don’t have a background in the arts, then they should pursue it. The industry is in a constant state of evolution—artists should be as well. Never grow complacent or be satisfied with your current skill level.

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