Yo! New York is representing at the 2017 Annie Awards with two stalwarts of the east-coast community, J. J. Sedelmaier and Bill Plympton – united for a viral commercial, The Importance Of Paying Attention: Teeth. It is one in a series of three animated spots for the Ford Motor Company, each a gag-themed short about driving safety. For thirty-odd years J. J. and Bill have independently survived the peaks and dips of industry tumult, garnering their share of recognition and awards, but never actually working together until this project. So here are four essential things you need to know about it before the Annies.
1) Tip a hat to automobile advertising.
GTB, the ad agency in Detroit, already had the Ford Motors account when they contacted J. J. a year ago. “They wanted to do a distracted-driver campaign of spots, and they wanted to work with people that weren’t only talented but also well-known,” says J. J., who was brought on as director/art director. He suggested several independent artists, including National Lampoon cartoonist M. K. Brown, and MAD Magazine legend Al Jaffee, but “Bill came to mind immediately,” he says. Even though he directed the Brown & Jaffee spots, J. J.’s job on Bill’s project was, as he says, “to act as conduit with the agency – and to keep them away from Bill so they didn’t get in his way. Bill doesn’t need a co-director. But in the end that wasn’t even necessary, because everyone at the agency was a big fan of all the cartoonists, especially of Bill.”
2) If you’re Bill Plympton, you can make a hit commercial in record time.
J. J. submitted three ideas of Bill’s to the agency, pitching them in Bill’s storyboard form. The agency selected the one about drilling your own teeth while behind the wheel (a nixed idea involved vehicular brain surgery). “The storyboards took one week, then animation took about two or three weeks, and then coloring took a week,” says Bill. “So overall it was about a month total.” Bill’s staff consisted only of a producer, a head of production, and a digital color artist. Bill has been off cels since 2005, but he still makes the drawings by hand.
3) The spot has 2.6 million hits and counting.
Officially titled, “Pick Your Lane, Not Your Teeth,” YouTube has been hosting the spot, along with that of M. K. Brown and Al Jaffee, since February. “In some of these online spots, they try to hide the fact that it’s an ad,” says J. J. “They want to make these into little films that people will share and repost.” That, J. J. points out, is why Ford puts its logo only at the end.
“I think Ford’s hope is that it would go viral, and I think that that is the future,” says Bill.
“There’s so much promotion and advertising on the internet that the only commercials that stand out are the ones that are actually entertaining.”
4) J. J. Sedelmaier isn’t a jerk.
He played a major role in directing Jaffee and Brown on their two spots. They lacked experience in animation, so J. J. lent his chops to turn their ideas into short films. The name of his studio appears at the end of each of the other spots. Not so with Bill’s. “It would have been an unnecessary distraction from the fact that it was Bill’s thing,” says J. J. “If I were seeing a ‘J. J. Sedelmaier’ studio card at the end, and it weren’t me, I’d think, ‘Man, that guy’s a jerk!’”
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