Behind the scenes of our film “The Smarter Workplace” with Jen and Colin from Oddfellows

I recently sat down with Jen Szeto and Colin Trenter of the animation studio Oddfellows to talk about the production of “The Smarter Workplace” — an animated short we produced together for Envoy.

W: Hi Jen and Colin! Tell us a little about yourselves. Why did you start Oddfellows?

C+J: Hi Wells! We created Oddfellows out of a desire to deliver smart, creative solutions to companies that we respect and admire. We’re focused on creating content that combines unique visuals and emotional storytelling to drive an impact for brands. It’s also been important for us to create a culture that celebrates both companies and artists alike, since we believe mutual admiration is at the core of successful partnerships.

W: When starting a project like this, where do you like to start? Can you walk us through the high-level process?

C+J: We try to spend as much time up front with our clients as possible. We have conversations, ask questions, and begin to piece together an understanding of the company’s core values and challenges. We use this as our anchor to craft a memorable story and visual identity that communicates the desired goal.

We fundamentally believe that the details matter, but only if the overarching concept is solid.

We then move into production where we begin to bring everything together — pacing, storytelling, performance, and music all working in harmony. We fundamentally believe that the details matter, but only if the overarching concept is solid. So our process very much involves starting broad, working closely with our clients to perfect the messaging and only then dialing in the minutiae.

W: How did you develop this story? What about Envoy’s vision of the future stood out to you?

C+J: We were tasked to create a video that communicated Envoy’s vision for a smarter workplace. In our discovery process with your team, we uncovered a core value: in an age increasingly moving towards automation, your team still believes that people are at the heart of every great workplace (we couldn’t agree more). With this in mind, we felt it was imperative to show technology enabling people to do deeper and more meaningful work.

This insight also helped inform our storyline, which we crafted to be relatable to a large audience. We follow Katherine, our heroine, on her first day of work. We tag along as she forges new relationships, gains proficiency with the futuristic tools there, and successfully delivers her first big project.

W: You’ve created videos for a lot of well-known brands. How did you create this story/look/feel/sound to uniquely capture the spirit of Envoy?

C+J: Our initial discussions with clients almost always reveal a unique path to start down. In the case of Envoy, we were quite excited with your team’s willingness to depart from current trends in favor of a more distinct approach. Trusting us to tell this story without voiceover and purely through the performance of our characters was humbling.

When approaching visual identity, we try to draw inspiration from a spectrum of human experience: arts, culture, fashion, architecture etc. — as well as things both past and present.

Here’s a small sample of our mood board showing some of our initial inspiration.

When approaching visual identity, we try to draw inspiration from a spectrum of human experience: arts, culture, fashion, architecture etc. — as well as things both past and present.

W: Was this all digitally animated? How did you achieve the hand-drawn feel?

C+J: Our approach for this project was a mix of traditional cel animation, digital animation, and 3D. The character animation has a hand-drawn feel because it was! It’s our favored approach for anything character-based and despite being quite laborious, always leads to amazing results in the hands of someone skilled.

W: What role does color play in telling this story?

C+J: For this piece, color is key in establishing mood and showcasing the passing of time. We used cool pastel colors juxtaposed by warmer tones to impart a futuristic vibe that still felt inviting and not overly sleek. We also created a color script for the morning, afternoon and night which you can see below. We did this to help convey time and speak to Katherine’s growing experience at the company.

W: Who worked on this project? (What kinds of people/roles?)

C+J: Every project we take on is a team effort and expressed beautifully through the collaboration of our multidisciplinary team.

The credits from Oddfellows are as follows:

Creative Direction: Colin Trenter
Executive Producer: Erica Kelly
Art Direction: Khylin Woodrow
Producer: Jen Szeto
Design: Khylin Woodrow, Tom Goyon, Joyce Liu
Animation: Tyler Morgan, Ben Ommundson, Chris Anderson, Khylin Woodrow, Colin Trenter, Freya Hotson, Melisa Farina
Script: Matthew Atkatz, Colin Trenter, Khylin Woodrow
Music & Sound: John Poon

W: What does your personal “future of work” look like? What do you think will be the biggest change in the next 10 years?

C+J: One thing for certain is that technology will continue to streamline the way we work. We hope that means easier collaboration with our clients and fewer roadblocks with the tools we use. Trial and error is such a huge part of making anything new or great — our hope is that better tools allow us more time to dream big and explore new territory in the early phases of a project. Having a smart office looking after our well-being also sounds pretty good!

Thanks for reading! There are more sketches and process images here.

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