Started in 2011, Adult Swim’s ongoing ID Project invites the network’s favorite animators, studios and directors to contribute on-air spots with one lone directive: Make something fun.
“By design they’re not super well-defined,” said Jason DeMarco, VP and creative director of on-air for Adult Swim. “We want to see what they come up with in that vacuum and then we help them shape it if we feel it needs shaping.”
For London-based design studio Art&Graft, that kind of open-ended challenge can be almost “harder than when you’re given a brief,” said the company’s creative director Mike Moloney, “because you’ve got just so much to go on.”
Invited to participate in the ID Project after doing outstanding work on projects such as fellow Turner-owned channel Boomerang, Art&Graft responded by creating its own parameters for the Adult Swim spots, settling on an 8-part ident series with a rigid narrative through line.
The IDs send up the current VR craze by bringing an unlikely demographic into the mix: the elderly. The spots’ shared narrative device is simple but effective: Put the old person in a new place and see what happens when they go into the comparatively loony virtual reality world and then come back to actual reality.
“You start somewhere super boring then you go somewhere completely abstract or crazy,” said Moloney, “and then you come back to the boring place you were in and [the people there are] somehow reacting to wherever you’ve been.”
In addition to VR being fertile ground for poking fun, Art&Graft had a slightly more philosophical agenda behind its concept.
“You see old people sometimes at the bus stop or the train station or whatever, and they seem to be the only ones who aren’t staring into a mobile phone,” Moloney said. “You think for them it must feel that they’re almost being left behind with a lot of the technology… I think there’s something nice about just including them, and it might be a kind of view of the future in terms of when we’re all old maybe that’s how we’ll be spending our time.”
DeMarco concurred. On an animation-driven network such as Adult Swim, “you don’t see enough stuff focused on the elderly in a fun way,” he said, “and I really like that it focused on this sweet old lady. I thought that was cute but not cute in a way that didn’t feel like Adult Swim.”
Demarco also liked how the animation style and story-driven nature of the IDs makes them feel like something richer and more fleshed out than the average promos.
“I love the clean line work,” he said. “It doesn’t look like an animated show you have seen before, but it looks like it could easily be one. It doesn’t look like a bunch of college kids doing squiggly line work. It looks like it could be a show. It doesn’t feel like flying logos and a network ID.”
Created in Flash, the IDs were beefed up using 3D but are “fairly traditional in that it’s pretty much frame by frame,” Moloney said. “We’ve been into this kind of black outline style for a while,” which helps articulate “a big contrast in the jumps from a boring kind of world to a super colorful crazy kind of world.”
That dramatic transition to the VR world also “influenced the grayness in terms of the color palette” in the physical world, which “makes that visual leap a bit more absurd.”
Further enhancing the virtual/physical reality transition, a spare but elegant sound design by Dave Meckin utilizes noises ranging from the snap of the VR mask to video game blings and chimes to beautifully juxtaposes the sensory overload of the illusory realm with the drab nature of the actual world.
“These projects are not projects that are going to be pulled apart,” Moloney said. “It’s not your normal kind of branding exercise where it has to hit a certain demographic and do a particular job.” Instead they strive to establish their own narrative universe, using the same amount of time as a normal network ident. To that end, the sound is crucial in communicating a massive scope “really, really quickly,” he concluded.
For a contribution to the ID Project, every detail counts in creating something worthwhile. “Adult Swim asks really good studios to do stuff and their standard always remains super high,” Moloney said. “When you’re then asked to do something, you’ve got in the back of your mind all the other amazing stuff that has been done, so it naturally ups your game as well.”