Solid Design for VH1's I Know My Kid's a Star
Creative Director Thom Blackburn on Finding the Right Zeitgeist
FILM & VIDEO: How did you connect with VH1 for this project?
Thom Blackburn: Some people are sitting back and letting jobs come to them, but we’re actively pursuing things that we feel we’re a perfect option for. This show – Danny Bonaduce, the road to stardom, the stage moms – was one of those pop culture things that just felt right. So we went after it. We’ve worked with VH1 in the past. We did Big in ’05 with them, which was an awards-show package. It was our first big job as Solid opened its doors, and it was a great experience. Jennifer Holstein, our executive producer here, had worked with many of those VH1 executives at [branding agency] Pittard Sullivan years ago.
So what’s the creative process like?
We have brainstorms here whenever projects are coming up. People come in a little bit early, and the entire company – all of our internal people, right down to our receptionist – sits down and we get our heads around these things. Our uniqueness comes from the different walks of life, the different corners of the country that we all come from. We represent a great sampling of today’s culture.
This task was really simple. It’s a competition. There are different parent-and-kid teams ‘ the wannabe child stars and their parents have equal weight. We could not identify them [in the title package], so we had to show them in a generic way. And Danny was the main presence. VH1 wanted to cleverly convey Hollywood glamour, and the target is VH1′s audience. In the show, you’re dealing with tweens, so you can’t be too adult. On the flipside, you’re representing the growing VH1 demographic, so you can’t be too childish. For us, it was the definitive ride to stardom. That’s the best analogy for what these kids are after.
Did the carnival-ride metaphor come from VH1?
They outlined that for us in verbiage, but not as a mandate. For me, it was clearly “all that glitters isn’t gold.” We want to articulate this with an amusement ride ‘ but a very rickety, unsafe one. We wanted that discomfort. When I was a little kid, my mom wouldn’t let me get on that crazy ride that someone set up in 45 minutes. We’re dealing with kids entering a realm they’re not familiar with. You’ve got a guide with you that enters with you as part of a team – but as we all know, with these stage moms that’s not always a good thing. So the sideshow carny ride came out through their descriptions and our brainstorm. It was the first thing we gravitated toward, with all of the characteristics of instability and the unknown. It was to have zany proportions and scale relationships, and a practically made feel, like all the things were built in some woodshop somewhere that supplies the traveling carnival. But there was a yellow-brick road present throughout. That’s our narrative thread.
They let us run with it, so we came up with all of those points. The first thing you’re gong to run into is representation. That’s where the good and evil agents come from – beware of the offers you get. The manner in which those are presented, is almost like taxidermy. It just keeps you on edge. We were pretty abstract in terms of analogies and representations for the different lights and darks throughout the travel. It was taking a familiar topic from popular culture, and handling it gingerly, frankly and honestly. We weren’t trying to rely heavily on drugs or sex ‘ which is the stereotypical response to the road to Hollywood, or at least our publications would have us believe that. And, even as the voice of wisdom Danny is, I don’t know if I’d actually want him steadying the ride for me. But that was the idea ‘ he narrates the actual journey, and he’s present at different times during the ride.
We represented the contestants in a buggy in the foreground, and the mother is pointing ‘ beware of this, watch out for this. They make their choices by pointing, and they live and die by their decisions. We were in a magical realm, so we decided not to limit ourselves to a corridor maze. Once we entered that carnival ride, it was a world of its own. At one point it looks like an underground mine. In another place it looks like an elevator shaft we’re rising through. The vehicles and mechanisms that dictate our paths were all very intentional. We wanted it to feel like you never knew which direction you would be turning next. So we navigated them through the ride and ultimately portrayed them, at the end, as winners, by their own volition and their own choices.
What about the actual images and the collage-art style?
We have our own stage and our own production gear. More and more clients are welcoming our own hand-drawing and painting styles in the work. Clearly, photographic styles have always been a part of this business. We’re employing our skills on that front as well – in order to bring something to life from your own mind, you need to supply your own imagery. We modeled and created that cart buggy in Maxon Cinema 4D and created all the practical objects that you see there. We shot the wood textures with our own camera and created a workshop in our computers. There was a lot of cutting-and-pasting and scanning of textures as well, just to bring that tarnished, antiquated, uncertain feel to the elements.
And what did you use to assemble everything?
Everything was assembled in a combination of Cinema 4D and Adobe After Effects. Not only were 3D elements made and brought in [from Cinema 4D], but we animated all of our camerawork in there to get an actual perspective on the yellow-brick road as you move through. It’s a brilliant workflow – cameras are perfectly pipelined out of Cinema 4D and into After Effects. You can pipe your 3D into After Effects and supplement that with your 2D material, and it all lives in perfect harmony.
The final piece is so densely packed for a 30-second show opener – it looks like a huge amount of work.
Well, when someone puts that perfect prize in front of you – I wanted you to watch it repeatedly and keep discovering new things each time. We were pretty confident from the get-go, and VH1 was right in our corner. Their adjectives put the picture in my mind. Ultimately, it was a dark look at the road to stardom. And we wanted to articulate a ton of things in a short amount of time. But this was one of those projects that had an energy of its own. It garnered the kind of interest from everyone here that made it difficult to pull people off the project. If it looks like we went a little overboard, that was by design.
|Jim Fitzgerald||Creative Director|
|Clair McCabe||Executive Producer|
|3 Ball Entertainment|
|Todd Nelson and Adam Greener||Executive Producers|
|Todd Radnitz||Supervising Producer|
|Thom Blackburn||Creative Director|
|Jennifer Holstein||Executive Producer|