Regulars / Nicer Tuesdays

Johnny Kelly chats through the particularities of making puppets into believable characters

Despite admitting that he was “slightly queasy” about being stood in front of the Nicer Tuesdays audience last month, Johnny Kelly went on to give a blinder of a talk, detailing the process behind his recent series of ads for Cheerios.

The director, who is represented by Nexus Studios and mainly works with animation, puppetry, CGI and stop motion, began by describing himself as someone with “a tendency to over-complicate things” but mostly as someone who still likes to make “silly little loops.”

The bulk of Johnny’s talk, however, honed in on Right on Tracks – the project for Cheerios – giving a “glimpse behind the smelly curtains of directing puppetry.” The original brief that Johnny was given by 72andSunny read: “Through music, Cheerios is hoping to help parents spark conversation with their children on timely topics” and the result is four ads, with original music, featuring a host of adorable puppets. “It was a lovely brief,” he affirmed.

Johnny then gave us an insight into his process when he gets a brief, describing it as “a bit like that montage moment in Homeland where she posts loads stuff and string on the wall, with free jazz playing expect in a sketchbook, it’s much less glamorous.” No matter what the project, he told us, sketchbooks are where his ideas take shape, relying on them as a “brain dump” and a “safe space” to write down all of his stupid ideas.

Having heard the music, Johnny revealed he knew the work needed to be completed using puppets. And he went on to show how the ideas in his sketchbook became a rough storyboard and then an animatic. “We all felt it had to stand out, to feel a little bit different,” he explained of the resulting decision to bring illustration collective Nous Vous and puppet studio Andy Ghent on board. This, he said, is one of his favourite part of the job; bringing a team together and getting to a be a “match-maker”.

Finally, Johnny showed the audience a series of making-of clips, outlining the particularities of making puppets believable characters. He showed us how you get them to blink when you only have a few days to shoot, and how details such as paintings on walls (which can’t even be seen in focus in the final film) make all the difference. It also transpired that awkwardfamilyphotos.com inspired many of the odd groupings of characters, and one of the biggest challenges was getting a puppet to kick down a bathroom door.

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