GEICO Tri-Brand Case Study

GEICO Tri-Brand Case Study


Client:  GEICO / History + A&E + Lifetime

It’s not every project you get to put a man on the moon, elevate feline fashion and get shamed by a talking elephant.

BIG MACHINE met the challenge and delivered 3 incredible GEICO branded spots for History, A&E and Lifetime. 

Director Steve Petersen led the entire BIG MACHINE team to shoot the spots over the course of 3 back-to-back-to-back days at 3 different sound stages.

Shooting all 3 spots consecutively allowed us to maximize production efficiency and deliver these spots on-time with exceptional production value.

Now we're breaking down the 4th wall to give you a look at the process of making these spots a reality.

GEICO / A&E:  The Elephant In The Room

THE ASK:  Bring a talking elephant to life at a swanky cocktail party.

ADVANCED PRODUCTION:  The Elephant is 100% CGI + we designed and built a custom loft with glass windows.

FUN FACT:  A suspended tennis ball served as the elephant eye-line for the actors during the shoot.



VFX BEFORE & AFTER:  Bringing a talking elephant to life is a complex endeavor.  It begins with detailed planning before the shoot and having experienced VFX supervision on set.


GEICO / History:  Moonwalk

THE ASK:  Put a man on the moon, moonwalking.

ADVANCED PRODUCTION:  We suspended the astronaut with a wire harness + The moon environment is 100% CGI.

FUN FACT:  We used real NASA footage, available in the public domain, for several of the shots.  Also, Director Steve Petersen is the voice of the astronaut.



VFX BREAKDOWN:  Putting a man on the moon is no small feat, even when it's done on a soundstage.  (No, we're not really comparing what we do to what NASA does.)  Take a look at how an dancer on a soundstage is transformed into a legit astronaut through many layers of visual effects.


GEICO / Lifetime:  Catwalk

THE ASK:  Have cats showcasing feline fashion march down a real fashion catwalk.

ADVANCED PRODUCTION:  We started working with our animal actors early on to get them acclimated to the flashing lights of the fashion runway.

FUN FACT:  There were multiple animal actors available on the day of the shoot just in case an actor was having a bad day.







Sr. Creative Director:  Tom Kaniewski

Sr. Writer / Producer: Chris Hoehn

Sr. Writer / Producer: Charles Barron

Sr. Writer / Producer: Casey Connor



Director: Steve Petersen

Creative Director / VFX Supervisor:  Ken Carlson

Executive Producer: Sean Owolo

Live Action Producer:  Chad Engel

Post Producer: Crystal Deones

Art Director (Moonwalk) :  KA Batcha

VFX Artists:  Dennis Shen & Ana Lossada

Interns:  Ha Eun Chang & Harut Harutyunyan

Studio Manager: Emma Eckhoff

The Design of a Movement

The Design of a Movement


Last year our Executive Producer, Sean Owolo, spoke with Kareem Taylor from the Promax Daily Brief about the history of branding political and social movements and how a strong visual brand could help the efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement.  The recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia make this a topic worth revisiting in the hopes of getting some participation from the larger design and creative industry.  Excerpts of the interview are reprinted below.

We realize that BLM may be considered by some to be controversial, but we urge those people to consider that the movement does not say “Only Black Lives Matter”, it says African-Americans want a voice at the table, African-Americans want respect and African-Americans want their lives to be valued as highly as everyone else’s.  The only controversy is how injustice can still be so prevalent in 2017.

This is the link to the original article.


DAILY BRIEF:  Can design define a movement? If we consider the “Peace” symbol, or the Obama “Hope” poster, or the HIV/AIDS red ribbon as movements, then the answer is yes. 

This means Sean Owolo has a point. “I would like to create a symbol that captures America’s desire for unity and peace in our streets.” Owolo, an executive producer and partner at LA’s Big Machine, believes it’s time for the entertainment marketing community to use its artistic prowess for some good.

As the Black Lives Matter takes form into an influential movement, it becomes an undeniable topic begging for artistic communities to take part. Temporary moments matched with an iconic image can sometimes spur a resonance deeper than previously imagined. “Something that captures the Zeitgeist” is how Shepard Fairey would put it. Owolo is taking cues from Fairey, and has sparked an initiative at his own agency he believes will produce such a piece. The goal? To create something that captures the message and tone of this time in America.

In an interview with Owolo, we talk the role we as creatives can play in socioeconomic issues, how ideas form and why artists should pick up their pens again.

DAILY BRIEF: When did this idea come to you? The idea that there needs to be a symbol to spotlight the fight for social justice in America.

OWOLO: These last four to five months I’ve been outspoken. Our industry is full of people that market to networks and to millions of people, and we’re the marketing arm for all of TV. Yet, we often get caught up in making promos and spots. That creativity gets lost and never gets used as much as it could be from a social level. I’m wrestling with the fact that as much as I’m friends with Jesse Williams and have done things with Black Lives Matter, I’m still bothered. 

There is criticism you’ll get by virtue of that name. It isn’t inclusive, but it is for progressive-minded people. When my grandmother was marching with Martin Luther King, Jr., there were a bunch of white people marching too.

You look at the “Peace” sign, and how iconic it was. It was a design assignment. 

Our community can help in coming up with a visual solution, logo, saying, an idea for a PSA or a spot. Is there a slogan that’s more inclusive? Is there a design? It falls on marketers who are on the front lines making campaigns. 

DAILY BRIEF:  What’s the thought process that gets us to an image? Is there a philosophical creative direction? Shepard Fairey often says “I don’t get permission. I just do it.” 

OWOLO:  Shepard is a phenomenal artist. His artwork and style is iconic and that helps, but I always thought the word “Hope” was as big a part of that artwork and campaign. The hope it could be a better future, so this country might be at a place where it will elect a Black president. The word is almost more powerful than the image, but it’s the perfect blend. That is 100 percent a process. One of the things we’re doing is asking ‘is there a word that encapsulates where we are right now?” Is it optimistic? Maybe its “enough” or “frustration.” People are flustered and feeling hopeless. We threw up a chalkboard of words that it might be. 


DAILY BRIEF:  The Black Lives Matter movement has existed for a few years, in our community. Why do you think it’s reaching a “tipping point” at the moment where everyone is starting to care?

OWOLO:  Jessie Williams’ speech at the BET awards (video above). He was such a mainstream voice for it. It changed how visible Black Lives Matter became. 

When it comes to design, the most important is that it needs to be inclusive of everyone. Some of the optimism I do feel. Even when I look around my office, theres a very diverse mix of all cultures in our office. Designers from India, Cuba. It’s not a black or white thing. It’s just a human thing. What’s that word? What’s that campaign? Something that speaks to being inclusive for everyone. Obviously, the TV industry has been predominately white. Its okay. It is the America we live in. The reality is that things that are oppressive won’t change until the person that’s not oppressed cares about it. To me, that is as important. Everyone gets involved. 

DAILY BRIEF:  How do you imagine this will impact people in our business?

OWOLO:  Not that it will become the standard bearer for where we’re at. Let’s stop the systematic oppression of people of color. You hope that everyone feels comfortable rallying behind something. From an art standpoint, you always know something is working when everyone’s embracing it. That’s when you know something’s effective. That would be the most ambitious thing you could hope for. Like anything, maybe something gets created. Maybe Big Machine creates it, maybe someone else creates it, and it influences people. If you do a piece of art and it speaks to five million people, great. If it speaks to five people, great. That’s art. 

Los Angeles-based Big Machine is composed of design-driven evolutionary storytellers who help their clients effectively communicate in the world of broadcast and branding. Sean Owolo is partner and executive producer.

Kareem Taylor leads new business development and growth strategy at Substance Global. He is based in the LA office. He is also the author of “Get Your Life!,” the book that teaches creatives how to turn their ideas into a career. He writes popular blogs on marketing, sales and leadership at A graduate of PromaxBDA and Santa Monica College’s Promo Pathway, Kareem counts CNN, Taco Bell, Sony Pictures Television and AT&T as his clients.




And Now For Something Atypical...

And Now For Something Atypical...

August 11, 2017.  By Charlie Pomykal:

I recently got a chance to talk to the BIG MACHINE team behind the main title sequence for the new Netflix show "Atypical."  Here's an edited version of my conversation with my colleagues, Executive Producer Sean Owolo, Creative Director Ken Carlson, Producer Crystal Deones and Lead Designer Ana Lossada.


CHARLIE:  How did you get involved with this project?

SEAN:  Seth Gordon, the director and Academy Award Winning Producer, called us in for a meeting about a new Netflix comedy that he was excited about.  We've worked with him several times before, doing titles for his movie "Identity Thief" and graphics for "Print The Legend", a documentary film that he produced.

KEN:  Yes, we've known Seth for years.  We worked together on a TV pilot for USA back in the early 2000s before he became a well-known director.  He's one of the good guys out here in Hollywood, truly smart, always brainstorming cool ideas and loyal.

CHARLIE:  What was the initial creative direction?

SEAN: It was cool, he drew a picture and slid it over to Ken.

Imaged based on the original sketch by Seth Gordon.

Imaged based on the original sketch by Seth Gordon.

KEN:  I still have the picture in my notepad.  He drew a smiley face, but with a line for a mouth, so it just had this neutral emotional expression.  It was that idea of drawing something in a notebook that really was the catalyst for the entire look of the title sequence.

SEAN: The show is about a teenager that's on the autism spectrum and having to deal with everything teens have to deal with, including a family that's not exactly all together.  So the direction was to give us a look into his mind in an abstract way.

CHARLIE:  How did you develop the look and feel of the spot?

KEN:  Riffing off the idea of seeing the main character Sam's drawings in his notepad, we did all sorts of explorations of different styles of drawing to see what would set the right tone.  It had to be sophisticated enough that you could tell that these were the drawings of someone that really paid attention to detail but had a completely unique set of priorities when it came to what to draw. 

ANA:  Truth be told, the first time I read the synopsis I felt inspired. This show tells a story that hasn't been told in entertainment very often of how people with Autism struggle to adapt to every day "normal" life. For the main title, the viewer gets a chance to see what is in Sam’s [The main character] head and learn about his fascination with penguins and wildlife in Antarctica.  I utilized these character traits as the main keys/ingredients to represent and carry on a story of how he sees the world through his eyes and how he associates things and real events.

Final Render (top) and the page being animated in Cinema 4D (below)

Final Render (top) and the page being animated in Cinema 4D (below)

CHARLIE:  What challenges did you have producing the spot?

ANA:  In the beginning, I struggled with finding the right tone and mood for the sequence.  I was trying to find a good balance between the both by keeping it light and comical but intriguing at the same time. By utilizing 3D light sources I was able to achieve nice shadows on the pencil in addition to giving a strong visual contrast as it touched the paper. My own personal comedic touch was adding a few silly hand-drawing illustrations to Sam’s journal.

On the technical side, I am fairly new to render pipeline we used for the job (Octane Render). In fact I only began using it a couple months ago and there were some significant challenges along the way dealing with the software. There were some scenes that took hundreds of attempts and variations yet could not align to my vision. Ihad to work around it these limitations and try to make it match as close as possible. For some scenes, I had to re-do the whole Cinema 4D project and that way it would work.

Pencil being animated in Cinema 4D.

Pencil being animated in Cinema 4D.

CRYSTAL:  As with many jobs, late breaking changes can occur. We had a few last minute changes to the credit order and how many cards were to be included. The delivery date didn’t change, so this took careful communication and planning with the production company, to see how we could tackle these changes, while still being able to deliver our 4k files on time.

CHARLIE:  What's it like working on a Netflix project?

CRYSTAL:  It was great! Like many of the people who worked on this project, much of my TV viewing is on Netflix, and I love their original shows.  So the excitement of our team and the freelancers who had a chance to work on this title, made my job a lot easier and in the end resulted in creative that we are all really proud of. 

ANA:  I am so stoked! It’s an amazing accomplishment really. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Big Machine and many other people who also worked for this project.  Streaming entertainment is clearly the future of the industry and I am both humbled and grateful to see my work on one of the leaders in streaming entertainment in the world.  I love the whole concept of the show, I love how our sequence turned out and I can't wait to binge watch the entire first season!

KEN:  We've worked on titles for the Netflix movie "Spectral" and the Netflix documentary "Print The Legend" and now "Atypical."  Netflix is a great platform for pushing design and we'd love to work on more Netflix projects!

SEAN: Yes.  Netflix are you listening?  Send us more work!

Title for Netflix Documentary "Print The Legend" about 3D printing.

Title for Netflix Documentary "Print The Legend" about 3D printing.




Design is all about solving problems.  That’s nothing new.  Sometimes the problems are related to making a story fit into 30 seconds.  Other times the problems are rooted in reconciling a client’s notes with your creative vision.

This particular day the problem was unique.  We were all staring at the email, unsure of what the next step would be.

There it was.  In BIG BOLD type:  DID NOT PASS PSE TESTING.

“What’s PSE Testing?”, a designer asked.  It was a great question.

We’ve been stopped in our tracks before by focus groups, but this was different.

PSE stands for “Photosensitive Epilepsy”.  Certain flashes and patterns in video can cause seizures in certain people sensitive to that type of stimuli.

The most infamous seizure events include a 1993 commercial for “Pot Noodles” in the U.K. and a 1997 episode of Pokemon that led to over 650 hospital admissions in Japan.

Here’s a Simpson’s clip poking fun at that event:

In this case the offender was our promo teaser for the new Disney game-centric programming block D|XP.  The edit featured really fast cut flashing graphics glitching on and off in rapid succession.  It was just too fast.  Too furious.

So how does testing work?  Fortunately they don’t stick a bunch of a kids in a room and see how sick they get.  Instead there’s something called the Harding Flash and Pattern Analyzer based on research by Professor Graham Harding of Aston University.

This BBC article quotes an expert as saying, "The analyzer detects changes in luminance and red flashes.  Red is a particularly difficult color, a known trigger for epileptic seizures."

We didn’t have much red in our D|XP graphics package, but we did have a lot of luminance changes.  A lot.

Addressing PSE Testing failures can sometimes take a bit of trial and error to preserve the original creative intent while making the video safe.  Slowing the speed of animation, lowering the contrast and/or darkening parts of the image are often strategies that work.

In our case we worked with D|XP to tweak the graphics and deliver a seriously cool and safe campaign.

Check it out here:

NOTE:  Mandatory PSE testing is usually reserved for spots that fall under Ofcom rules in the UK.