Albert Einstein is an iconic figure. In recent years, his likeness has been seen across Smart Energy GB’s Smart Meters campaigns, as the government nonprofit urges the people of the UK to see the benefits of using smart meters in their homes.
Smart Energy GB’s ‘Pep Talk’’ campaign is the latest animation created by the team at Kong Studio, who are leading the way with innovative 2D storytelling and have created animations for the likes of BBC Ideas, Disney, and IMAX.
And it’s the studio’s second collaboration with creative agency Gravity Road, building on the success of September’s Smart Energy GB & Carers UK campaign, which saw them create a 2D animation of a real-life carer, highlighting the benefits of smart meters for carers.
Here, Kong’s animation director Tom Baker and Gravity Road’s creative director Sophie Cullinane and lead creative Tom Reynolds walk LBB through their recent spot with Smart Energy GB, where Albert Einstein appears in pixel animation – a notoriously tricky style of animation.
LBB> This is a really visual campaign highlighting practical actions the smart meter helps with. What was the brief?
Tom Baker> Smart Energy GB already had an active campaign using a photorealistic CGI Einstein model and a real actor which looked great. But the problem was, it cost a lot of money to use. They needed a cheaper, quicker solution so Tom Reynolds came up with the idea of a 8-bit pixel version that could sit on the in-home display.
Tom Reynolds> It was a fun challenge! The task was to inspire smart meter users to check their in-home display units more often, so we immediately jumped on the opportunity to use humour as a way to bring a low-interest topic to the front of mind.
The feeling you get when you know you're managing your energy responsibly is actually more rewarding than you think! It was the client's trust in the way we handled this insight that allowed us to accentuate it to the point that we were able to land our message in a funny and engaging way.
LBB> And how did you plan/storyboard the animation?
Tom Baker> We did a lot of facial expressions, thumbnails, sketches, and provided pretty tight animatic before we started animating. There’s a fair bit of looking in the mirror.
LBB> Albert Einstein is an integral part of Smart Meters’ campaigns. How did you approach this, and put your own stamp on the animation?
Tom Baker> We needed him to not only look like Einstein but to look like the CGI Einstein in the previous ads. Same hair, age, colouring, sense of humour but like he’s been digitised. And with 2D animation, you can push it a little further, with wider eyes, bigger hair, broader expressions. Of course, we needed the sign-off from the Einstein estate too, so he needed to be a flattering portrayal. Wise with a sense of fun. And 8-bit pixel art.
LBB> How did you land on the style of animation?
Tom Baker> The style was a bit of an evolution. We needed to have something we could animate fairly quickly, but it also needed to be 8-bit pixelated. It was only his head that was going to appear which kept it a bit simpler, but pixel animation is anything but straightforward. You notice straight away when a pixel is out of place. We then needed to have it beam out of the in-home display so people wouldn’t think their smart meter really came with a talking Einstein.
LBB> You’ve worked with Smart Energy GB before - how was this project different?
Sophie Cullianane> This project was different in that it allowed us to launch a behaviour change campaign that utilised a more creative combination of inspiring video content, cheeky banner nudges, and educational infographics to have an effect.
LBB> In your previous work with Smart Meters, you said the aim was to be ‘authentic and relatable’ - why was that important, and was this a similar aim for this project?
Tom Baker> Previously we were animating a real person who happened to be a carer. That’s pretty authentic and relatable. For this, or for the client at least, the goal was to create an Einstein asset that was more versatile to use than the CGI version. Fortunately, Einstein is pretty authentic and relatable.
LBB> And when working with the same client, how do you keep the work fresh?
Tom Baker> Well this is only the second project so still in the honeymoon stage for me at least so it’s all new and fresh. That said, the Kong approach is to try something different for each brief that totally fits in with Gravity Road. We like working with new talent, trying new techniques, and different aesthetics which helps keep things fresh and moving forward.
LBB> This isn’t the first time Kong and Gravity Road have joined forces, what was it like this time around?
Tom Baker> Great! They are creating so much amazing work at the moment so it’s a real thrill to be involved. They really push to get the best out of everything we’ve worked with them on and to try new things. It is exactly the type of work any animation studio would want to be involved with.
Tom Reynolds> Kong went above and beyond to ensure that we were happy with the 8-bit Einstein design. I've noticed that the pandemic has slowed post-production processes down but Emma Burch, their executive producer worked wonders to keep things moving in a way that meant we didn't have to compromise creatively. This is a really visual campaign highlighting practical actions the smart meter helps with.
LBB> What was the highlight of working on this campaign for you?
Tom Baker> As I’m a 2D animation guy, I am really pleased with how the pixel version of Einstein came out. Animator Cako Facioli, having worked at Skype and on the Santander campaigns with Ant and Dec, was something of a pixel expert - he completely had a handle on the artwork. The tricky bit is how time-consuming the clean-up can be. Without going into too much detail, we worked out an ingenious system that meant we could bypass a few steps to save time and still keep that premium pixel aesthetic. Even Cako was impressed!