Art-Directing 3D Animation with a Sense of Humor

Lucien Yang, art director at Nice Shoes, began working with VH1 as a freelancer in 2007 and had done a few smaller projects with the MTV sister channel after landing at the New York-based creative design and post facility. His latest work comprises a refresh of several Best Night Ever-themed show openers that appear around VH1's Best Week Ever Friday night lineup.

The color palette, for starters, was largely left alone. "Best Week Ever has always had a very saturated, candy-color look," says Yang. "The colors have stayed the same over time, but the VH1 team has always opted to update the look every year but also wink at the past. There is a heritage thing going on. But because this was a Friday-night [show], they also wanted the whole thing to be darker, with a black backdrop. We saturated the purple a bit more and made it darker as well."

Additional tweaks, he says, involved putting the graphics into a 3D environment using Maxon Cinema4D, Adobe After Effects and "a little bit of [Autodesk] Maya." The final openers were rendered in both Cinema4D and Maya. "The visual cue we used to subtly tie all of them together, from Best Movie Ever to Best Super Bowl Concert Ever, was putting "Ever" in the same typeface, which is a custom-designed type that comes from VH1's new logo." Yang said Nice Shoes scales up on animator talent when needed and brought in three additional Maya artists to complement the single Cinema4D artist.

The Super Bowl piece was a latecomer to the package. "VH1 had to first get a sign-off from the NFL to make sure we could use the word 'Super Bowl' in the logo," says Yang. "We got the final title approved quite late, and that threw us into a bit of a whirlwind. But we handled it really well, and we ended up with a really great design direction change. In the beginning, they wanted to go with the shiny chrome Super Bowl look, using the trophy as a starting point. We did a very chrome direction and one week later, VH1's branding department, I think, decided this show needed to be closer to the original Best Week Ever. We did a really quick turnaround, showed them boards right away and got approval really quickly. We did the whole package in about two weeks."

Yang says the tone he and his relatively small team at Nice Shoes achieved plays off the satirical bedrock at the core of Best Week Ever programming. "Our reference here was really the show and VH1 itself, which usually injects a sense of humor into everything they do," he says. "For the Super Bowl Concert opener, I wanted to do this hybrid of music and sports. We came up with these hybrid icons, like the foam finger holding the microphone and the speaker-pulsing helmet." Their final submission was also a blend of two different design ideas involving the icons and a pull-back to a concert stage. "They loved both ideas, which both spoke to the VH1 brand, so the final was a mashup of the two."