Our pick this week brings to life our continued fascination with a world made of candy, this time with a new twist. “When the project was shared with us from the agency,” said directors, Max Porter & Ru Kuwahata–AKA Tiny Inventions, “the basic concept was there—a man, sad that his garden won’t grow, puts a Caramello bar in a hose to create a field of chocolate flowers.” This before and after look at a world before candy coating (sad garden) and after (happy, sprouting candy garden) gave way to a broader concept for the team.

“We expanded the idea by proposing that it extend into the greater community and designed a rooftop garden as the primary setting,” Tiny Inventions told us. “From there, we went through numerous rounds of character designs, concept arts, and animatics to find the right ingredients for the spots.” The result is a bright and cheery street-scene with a whistling tune in the background and chocolate/caramel flowers that pop up everywhere. An instant improvement!

“After the preproduction stage,” the team continued, “we fabricated prototype puppets, texture swatches, sample props, rough blueprints, and shipped them to our stop-motion production team at Mighty Oak. Our process with the team was very much a pure collaboration; they did a fantastic job building off of the samples, solving impossible challenges, and bringing the characters to life. Since we directed the spot virtually, we spent the majority of the day with them on Slack going back-and-forth on every detail of the production and had daily Zoom check-ins with the crew.

“Along the way, we ran tests with our VFX team at MELT to figure out how to integrate CG liquid simulations (24fps) with the stop-motion animation (shot at 12fps). After we wrapped the shoot, MELT added liquid simulation (water and caramel) as well as the million chocolate flowers that bloomed. They were also responsible for all compositing, keying, and camera tracking.”

The materials Tiny Inventions used for the spot were clay, aged balsa wood, and hand-painted fabric. “The agency creatives responded to the look and feel of our previous short film, ‘Negative Space,’” they said. “So we tried to use materials to give a similar texture, while creating a color palette and design specific to the spot. Because of the challenges associated with making precise beard replacements for the Gardener puppet, we ended up 3D-printing those shapes.”

We haven’t had too many reports of how it has been going for teams who have to direct remotely, and it sounds like of the two major challenges on the production, that was certainly one of them: “Our executive producer at Noble 600, Mark Medernach, is in LA; Mighty Oak is located in Brooklyn; MELT VFX is scattered all over Europe and Russia; we worked with a concept artist in Japan; our colorist is in France. Managing multiple iterations of every detail across continents and time-zones was a big task and we were conscious of putting extra effort into gathering references, making drawings, and spreadsheet sorcery.

“The stop-motion production was particularly challenging because we could only comment on what was shown in pictures and our screens; we might ask the DP to move a light a few feet back and he would explain that they couldn’t do that because something was in the way. The team ended up spending a lot of time preparing photos, so that we could see how all the elements were working in context.”

But that was not the only hurdle they faced. “The second challenge was doing all of this while raising a 1-year-old baby. As ad work is demanding and often requires long hours, we were nervous at the beginning how to navigate the day-to-day. We were fortunate to work with people who were supportive of this situation. When we had to take off for parental duties (breast feeding, feeding food, bathing, putting to sleep, etc) somebody would step in if a decision needed to be made, or files needed to be sent to our client.

“The juggling of ad work and parenthood was definitely not smooth, but they say it takes a village to raise a kid and the same could be said of animation as well.” The couple was quick to note that their baby was also extremely cooperative by sleeping through the nights, completing the picture for us that everyone on the team performed their role to a tee.

Coming up, the duo is currently developing a feature film with Miyu Production in France and will be spending the summer creating a 3-minute teaser. “We’ve been developing and writing this project for the past 3 years and are excited to finally see a portion come to life.” We look forward to hearing about how it comes together, hoping for some more good stories of distance directing and toddler rearing too!

For more on the production, check out the behind the scenes video below: