All in a Day’s Work is an animation series revealing the ups and downs of entrepreneurial life
We head behind the scenes of the latest series to launch on Mailchimp Presents, created by It’s Nice That, Buck and Sounds Like These.
Your mind goes blank as you hover on the edge of a group conversation, trying to find a way in as business cards go clammy in your palms. You don’t have to be an entrepreneur to identify with the anxiety induced by networking events. Nor do you need to be a business owner to understand the shame that comes with creative block, or the irritation of being bored with your craft, or the utter humiliation of getting a less-than-perfect rating. This is the brilliance of Mailchimp’s latest series All in a Day’s Work, which – like any good piece of creativity – taps into emotional experiences far more universal than the stories themselves.
Launching today with 12 short animated episodes on the Mailchimp Presents platform, All in a Day’s Work was created and devised by the team here at It’s Nice That, with the mission of presenting the ups, downs and sometimes-painful truths of entrepreneurial life, warts and all. But to bring the idea to life, with humour, energy and emotion, we worked with Buck, a multidisciplinary creative studio headquartered in New York, who crafted six of the episodes. (The other six episodes were created by the LA-based stop-motion animation director Siqi Song; we’ll be writing about those in another feature.)
The ideas for the scripts started off with fewer details and more broad themes. Buck were provided with roughly described characters and situations that many small-business owners will find familiar, from setting up a company from the kitchen table to a shy entrepreneur at a networking event. “That on paper doesn’t make for great cartoons,” says Thomas Schmid, creative director at Buck. The task was to find charm and moments of humour in these potentially dry scenarios.
Another challenge was that It’s Nice That and Mailchimp were keen for none of the episodes to use dialogue, to make the series globally accessible and universal, and to lean into a more intuitive form of comedy. Buck developed the ideas, therefore, around classic comedy routines. “It felt almost like a puppet show. You’re relying on performance, gag and visual storytelling,” says Thomas. For example, in ‘Kitchen Table Entrepreneur’, the founder of a dog-toy start-up ends up flat on her back after she trips on her own pup. Meanwhile, in ‘Lost in the Crowd’ a nervous entrepreneur endures a handshake so hard his arm turns to spaghetti.
Once the scripts and storyboards were laid out – the creative “maps” for the project, as Thomas calls them – it was time to dive into the character development. With a big cast of characters to design across the six episodes, Buck took an approach that made it possible to create a variety of movements at scale. Look closely and you’ll see that the characters’ bodies are basically made from templates, with three key body types and simple, geometric arms and legs.
“It felt almost like a puppet show, you're relying on performance, gag and visual storytelling”Thomas Schmid, Creative director at Buck
“We took a lot of inspiration from shapes in pottery and objects that would translate to 3D nicely,” says Arvid Volz, Senior CG Lead at Buck. “While this originally came from budget and production concerns, it really helped in shaping the style.”
Then, when it came to developing the cast’s various personalities, Buck needed to create characters that were both recognisable and easy to understand. “You want people to be able to get a really quick read on that character’s temperament and eccentricity,” Thomas explains. “That adds to the humour when a person starts to act in the way that you imagine them to.”
The challenge, however, lies in creating recognisable personalities that don’t rely on obvious stereotypes. Buck avoided this by spending a generous amount of time looking for interesting references. For example, in ‘Door to Door’ the glamorous fashionista Laverne and her “purse first” performance was based on characters from Ru Paul’s Drag Race.
1 of 3
All in a Day’s Work: Buck Studio – Character Development
“We took a lot of inspiration from shapes in pottery and objects that would translate to 3D nicely”Arvid Volz, Senior CG Lead at Buck
Sound, perhaps surprisingly, played a huge part in both the characterisation and the humour. Even though they were only able to make grunts, mumbles and sighs, the character’s voices and expressions were also key for establishing their personas. Sounds Like These, the London-based audio studio, was brought on board to tackle the sound design. The team often use their own voices when developing a character, before bringing in professional VO artists. This helps them get a feel for the best direction, and can also help break the ice when they bring people into the recording booth.
When Buck heard the first version of Becky in ‘Tricky Customer’, they said she sounded too Monty Python, like a man doing an impression of a woman. “We said, ‘Oh God, that’s because it is’,” says Sam Heath, co-founder, sound designer and composer at Sounds Like These. “I was being deliberately over the top because she’s supposed to be sassy and obnoxious. We got a female VO artist to do the same impression, but it ended up not being as funny. So we mixed the two together to get the right balance between something that’s believable and something that carries the humour.”
For this project, the team’s upskilling as VO artists was also born from necessity. Lockdown hit towards the end of the recording process and so as well as getting behind the mic themselves, they ended up roping in friends and family. Joseph Connor, another member of the company’s four-man team, got his girlfriend to play one character, directing her at home from under a makeshift duvet recording booth. Meanwhile, Laverne from ‘Door to Door’ was played by Sam’s mum. “She’s quite dramatic, so she had to be the fashionista,” says Sam.
As with the character development, when it came to the set design, Buck needed to quickly establish a sense of place, but without leaning on hackneyed cultural clichés. Each episode in the series is set in a different global location, from ‘Falling in Love Again’ in Dubai to ‘Door to Door’ in Tokyo. Jon Gorman, creative director at Buck, avoided appropriating cultures by creating a diverse library of references. He used the images to develop a unique colour palette for each city, so that each set felt authentic to the location but part of the same visual family.
The sound design also played a role in making each environment feel authentic. The team looked for less obvious sound references, so in ‘Door to Door’, for example, they based the music on the more unusual reference of 70s and 80s Japanese pop music.
With characters and sets ready to go, next came the performance, which, with no dialogue to express the characters’ emotional inner worlds, had to work extra hard. “We were trying to establish a dry sense of humour and be economical with the performances, so keeping them dialled-in and reserved,” says Chad Colby, animation director at Buck. “We then contrasted that with broad movements at emotional points to help create the ups and downs throughout the day.”
Buck again used contrast to add to the drama by varying the framerate in scenes. During moments of a more reserved and minimal performance, they’d drop the framerate, with even holds of one full second in some places. Then for more energetic performances, they’d dial it up. “Chad and I described it as ‘variable framerate animation’”, says Buck’s Jon Gorman. “So some moments would be very stilted and low framerate and some very fluid. It was not a decision we made to start with, but became a thematic device.”
It was always clear that sound design and music would be another crucial tool for building and managing the audience’s emotions. The Buck team wanted to treat sound as the “emotional scoring” of the stories, in the way Italian composer Ennio Morricone used music to enhance the emotional impact of old Western movies. “That was the direction we talked about with Sounds Like These,” says Thomas. “And you can really sense it in the final result. The sound itself tells you how to feel.”
Sounds Like These were experimental in their approach, recording a variety of Foley sounds themselves using materials in their prop box, from wooden blocks and papers to a toy Xylophone and even a bag of chickpeas. They also experimented with layering sounds and discovered that this could create as strong an impact as a piece of music. For example, in ‘Falling in Love Again’ the crescendo of the protagonist’s frustration (he’s a very stressed chef) is expressed by a build-up of environmental noise. “We increased the intensity of all the sound layers, making them louder to reflect how he was feeling,” says Oli Slack, co-founder, sound designer and composer at Sounds Like These.
“We realised that cutting the music out was just as effective”Sam Heath, Co-founder of Sounds Like These
They even ended up ditching a piece of music they’d composed. In ‘Leap of Faith’, the main character quits her job to come up with ideas for her own business only to find she has… nothing. “We realised that cutting the music out was just as effective,” says Sam from Sounds Like These. “It says ‘nothing has happened’ and that’s her disappointment. The sound of the rain and thunder on the window does the job.”
The whole project involved a lot of iteration, both among the individual teams and between It’s Nice That and Sounds Like These in London, and Buck and Mailchimp in the US (New York and Atlanta respectively). While It’s Nice That and Buck provided Sounds Like These with direction and feedback, Buck would also respond by making facial expressions bigger or by adding extra frames to help bring out the sound. “It was really nice to have that constant dialogue,” says Oli.
In fact, the back and forth across the Atlantic was a vital part of the process throughout the creation of All in a Day’s Work, enabling multiple teams of talented creatives to combine their ideas and sparks of inspiration. The result is a series that taps right into the heart of the emotional rollercoaster that is life as an entrepreneur, with all its ups and downs, moments of pain and joyous celebrations. And that’s all just in one day’s work.