Best of Stash 2023: Characters!

2023 was another stellar year for character-driven design and animation projects with an extraordinary range of styles and production techniques all focused on a singular goal: ensuring the narrative engages and resonates.

The projects span from the manic CG intensity of 3DAR’s trailer for their self-developed mixed reality game, thru the stop-motion magic of films from Nexus and Blinkink, to Giant Ant’s utterly unique 2D treatment for Rover.

All films were published in The Stash Permanent Collection during 2022 and are listed here in chronological order by the issue of publication.

Nexus director Johnny Kelly melds stop-motion, 2D facial animation, and the talents of UK puppetmaster Andy Gent into a message advocating conscious consumption for renewed devices marketplace Back Market.

Johnny Kelly: “The script was already very funny so my job was to not mess it up. The first challenge was the monster itself, and the creatives at Back Market were open to ideas about how it could look. Advertising is chockablock with furry monsters so we wanted to create something that stood apart. Given that our monster is the embodiment of tech over-consumption, it made sense to make him out of tech itself.”


Lightening up cancer-related projects is always a tricky balance to strike but director Kristian Andrews and the Studio AKA animation team nail it for the Scottish DCE program with this gaggle of eccentric yet empathetic avians.

Kristian Andrews: “Technically, the job posed fun challenges not least was how to display cancer symptoms in a charming way. We always relish a tight turnaround, and with a 12-week schedule it meant the team exploited clever alternatives to face-rigs for lip sync and displacement maps instead of simulation for plumage.”


UK 3D illustrator and animator AJ Jefferies, whose brilliant takes on silly animals you can watch horse and goose, veers into the realm of very happy vegetables for his latest short film PEAS!.

Jefferies, who says the project was “Another idea that got stuck in my brain, so I had to make it”, has been working with advertising, gaming, and entertainment clients since 2001 and is one half of the two-man CGI studio, MDI Digital in Norwich.


Federico Heller, director and partner at 3DAR in Santa Monica, CA: “We created this piece to tease our mixed reality game Eggscape, a game all about being afraid and our continuous sense of insignificance. I wrote three stories that highlight the game’s three main features: Facing formidable enemies, developing combat skills, and customizing your characters.

“There are other promotional pieces where we describe the features in a more classical way, we wanted this film to be a testimony of the core vibe. Consumers have so many options that pitching you a product feels somewhat invasive. So our approach was more like: Before asking anything from you, please taste our world.”


Jay Grandin, CD at Giant Ant in Vancouver, BC: “How do we get anxious pet owners to leave their pets with a stranger? Give pet owners the confidence to leave their fur babies with Rover sitters by seeing the world through the eyes of their pets. The animation style needed to reflect the simplistic, rudimentary world as if it is coming from the mind of the pet.

“But in simplifying, we didn’t want to lose the ability to convey the pet/human emotion and the bond between pet and pet parent. The biggest creative challenge was to do less. We’re so conditioned to add complexity that it took some rewiring to pull way back and make fewer, more thoughtful gestures. It was also harder than we expected to maintain a consistent looseness across multiple animators.”


Sam Gainsborough, director at Blinkink in London: “The client wanted a film that would open up the conversation about screen-time with a relatable character, which was visually interesting and ‘unexpected’. It was a really lovely brief as they were open to new ideas and approaches and were really collaborative throughout the process. They were also open to it being a little dark and unusual (which is always a great sign!)

“The first creative challenge was how to create the boy with Square-Eyes. This was challenging from the early stages of development because if you sketch a character with square eyes, they immediately look brainwashed, hypnotized, and quite unsettling.”


Le Cube partner/CD Santiago Oddis captures the “intricate dance that unfolds between souls” in this lyrical character work which serves as the hero film for an exhibition featuring 13 graphic artists at Final Frontier’s Silk Gallery in Madrid.

Santiago Oddis: “I lost myself thinking about all my past relationships and how often they have had their own structure: good, bad, loving, boring, passive, aggressive, energetic, and so on. Still, I found all of them have this common thread, a balancing of emotions. I was not trying to send a specific message about love or balance but rather looking for people to get their own meaning from it, just like a good song would do.”
Watch all the Best of Stash 2023 Collections.

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