How Final Frontier Brought Airbnb Home for Lunar New Year

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Executive producer Chris Colman tells LBB’s Adam Bennett how the production company brought out the emotion in their heartwarming animation for Airbnb China
How Final Frontier Brought Airbnb Home for Lunar New Year

Each year, the Lunar New Year in China represents the biggest human migration on the planet. For millions of people, it’s a time of homecoming and emotion as they’re reunited with their families.

In their CNY film, Airbnb China is aiming to capture that emotion. To do so, they’ve enlisted the animation experts at Final Frontier, and the result is a disarmingly adorable film that blends tradition and modernity to create a sense of homecoming.

It’s another in a line of films for the online rental marketplace that tug on the heartstrings. It follows last November’s ‘Lost and Found’, an ode to Chinese tradition that highlighted many of the country’s cultural heritage sites.

To find out how the CNY spot was brought to life, LBB’s Adam Bennett spoke to Final Frontier’s executive producer Chris Colman. 


LBB> Congratulations on a great campaign! What can you tell us about how you came to be involved? 

We’d been talking with Airbnb China’s creatives for quite a while about a CNY story they wanted to tell using animation. At that stage we were brainstorming, trying to provide a bit of inspiration and sharing advice and recommendations, both creatively and practically for the production ahead. 

When we received the final brief for the production and thought about directors, Shaofu (Zhang) immediately sprang to mind. I’d been in touch with him and his team since way back, not too long after they’d opened Taiko, and met he and Andrew (Chesworth) and the other leadership in LA while they were in early production of One Small Step. When the short came out and blew everyone away, I thought it’d be brilliant to work together one day. Besides the storytelling sensibility, technical expertise and design skill, he brought a first hand authentic Chinese perspective. It was just such a nice fit. That definitely came across very effectively when it came to the pitch treatment. 


LBB> The clear and colourful animation on style works perfectly - what made you decide to go with that? 

Chris> From the outset, Airbnb were clear about their intention to find a different look for the animation, not just the classic 3D look we’ve seen time and again in the movies. The idea was to find a non-photoreal art style that felt more handmade somehow. Taiko did a great job creating the dry brushed edge feel that retained that graphic, 2D look, despite it actually being all made in 3D. 

Colour is an important aspect to storytelling. There is a clear contrast between the scenes where the family is together, where it’s warm, red and gold shades, versus those scenes when Jia Jia (the protagonist) is alone, and things turn darker and desaturated. 


LBB> What were your aims and ambitions going into the project? 

Chris> Airbnb came to us with a clear objective: to create something they had never done before. Through animation, they wanted to address an emotional topic in a light-hearted way, to tell a story that Chinese millennials could relate to, and feel could have been them or one of their friends. They wanted the film to inspire people to take their reunions in a different direction. 

From our side, above all, we were determined to realise the client’s vision. It was a very bold move to go with animation for a CNY campaign, so respect to them for that. It’s the biggest national event of the year and extremely important for brands. Unlike Christmas, animation is, until now at least, rarely employed for such significant campaigns here in China. We were hugely honoured to be trusted with such a precious project. 

Airbnb’s script and insight was very strong. It was our job to make sure the execution did justice to it the story, engaged viewers and elevated the film above the crowded CNY marketplace. 


LBB> Why is Chinese New Year the right me to tell this story? Do you think it's one that will resonate with a lot of people? 

Chris> Airbnb’s insight was that Spring Festival is the biggest human migration on earth, in which hundreds of millions of people travel home to be with their families.. It’s an emotional time, especially for those that cannot make the trip for whatever reason - which is an increasingly common reality for many. For me, this story really empathises with that plight and hits just the right note. 


LBB> How have you found the reception to the campaign in China? 

Chris> It’s been hugely well received. The comments I’ve seen have noted how strongly the story resonated with them, lots talking about how it moved them to tears. Of course, we and Taiko have been delighted to hear people love the animation, and gratified by the comments noting the details in the design, especially the sequence of Jia Jia growing up. Lots have said it made them nostalgic about growing up during a period of enormous development and change in China. Since Taiko’s designers are the target audience, many sharing a similar experience to Jia Jia, they were able to put in a lot of touches that really fitted that period, including a city being built before your eyes in the background. 


LBB> What were the biggest challenges and how did you overcome them? 

Chris> From a storytelling perspective, Airbnb were clear that they didn’t want a fantasy, but rather a story that Chinese audiences could really relate to. 

For us, the timeline was probably the biggest challenge, as it often is. Three-and-a-half minutes in high end 3D, with a special painterly look, along with all the other supporting deliverables, is a tall order in just under four months.

From a technical standpoint, creating that dry brushed edge feel and retaining the graphic 2D look was a major challenge. Taiko and MNPRX worked together to develop a system that could achieve the style, but because of the time pressure, it was about figuring out how to implement it as the film was being made. 

FF’s 24-hour pipeline was vital in making it work within the timeframe. With our producers here in Shanghai and Buenos Aires, supporting artists in Spain and Brazil, and working with Taiko in LA and Wuhan, the work pretty much never stopped. For us it was an exercise in efficient scheduling and professionalism. 


LBB> Any parting thoughts? 

Chris> Naturally these big character driven narrative pieces are challenging from all perspectives: storytelling-wise, technically and of course, the timeline. Meeting and overcoming these challenges, working with only the best directors and the best producers, is what FF is here to help clients achieve. 

The collaboration between ourselves, Airbnb’s in-house creative and Taiko Studios was really synergistic and a great milestone I feel. And on that note, of course a key reason for the success of the project is the hugely talented Shaofu, so we’re really excited to have signed him and his team to the FF roster. I can’t wait to see what we do together next. 

We hope the legacy from this project is it inspires more brands to go with animation. It is so relatively unexplored here in China, and there is such potential, particularly in terms of the storytelling where you have a huge treasure trove of culture and insights, both modern and historical, to draw upon. 

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Categories: Travel, Booking platforms

Final Frontier, 4 months ago