Even established and well-respected companies are turning to more viral means of promotion. In an increasingly competitive environment, where effects budgets are being squeezed more than ever before, visual effects house Cinesite decided it needed a way to showcase its artists’ work in a more engaging way than the usual showreel of impressive but rather meaningless shots from Hollywood films.
Even though it was established in 1993 and has worked on more than 150 films, Cinesite has never actually produced its own animated film from scratch. Thus from May to October of last year, between projects, the company worked on Beans, a 42-second mock commercial for “Haynes Beans” involving men on the moon, aliens and a thoroughly tongue-in-cheek ending. It’s short, snappy, very silly and superbly demonstrates the company’s skills. Beans launched on YouTube in early December 2013; two months later it had racked up 8.1 million views and been mentioned as a “must see” on websites, in newspapers and blogs both inside and outside the VFX industry.
The film was written and directed by animator Alvise Avati and produced by Cinesite’s animation director Eamonn Butler. “We’re delighted that so many people loved the movie,” says Butler. “It’s too early to say if it will bring in paying work, but we are getting a lot of interest from clients who wouldn’t normally consider us for animation work. It’s also been generating a lot of very supportive and positive word of mouth within the VFX community.”
As this was a first for Cinesite, Butler says that the last thing the team wanted to do was take the focus away from the company’s paid-for client work. “We made sure that everyone knew that the real shows were our priority and that Beans was a free-time project,” he explains.
As a result, and because of the way the VFX pipeline works in a linear fashion, it took far longer to create than a “real” job would have. “But I’m glad we did it this way,” Butler continues. “Taking longer to make the film allowed us the time to make mistakes and learn from them, adapt our process and still keep a high quality bar.”
Beans is clearly a labour of love, but perhaps more importantly, it provided Cinesite with a platform to express itself without the pressure of client restrictions. As Butler says, it allowed the company to show a lighter side to what is often considered a very serious and intense industry. “I think if you are passionate about an idea and work hard to realise it, it will show in the work,” he adds. “But passion isn’t enough for an audience. They want to be entertained.”
Now the plan is to produce at least one new creative project in the style of Beans each year, no matter how busy the studio is. So what advice does Butler have for other creative considering embarking on a collaborative self-promo project?
“Don’t over-reach creatively or you may not finish it,” he says. “Play to your strengths and reduce the risk of not getting it done. Don’t be afraid to ask for stuff for free. You will be turned down a lot, but you will also be surprised and delighted when someone says yes. And always ask a busy artist to help – their wheels are turning already. It’s harder to get an artist to do stuff during their free time when they are not actually that busy.”