USAID – Food Security
We had the honor of partnering with Weber Shandwick in Washington, DC on this project. Their client, USAID (The United States Agency for International Development) wanted to show how they help farming communities in impoverished countries by providing the tools and knowledge they need to create healthier, more diverse crops and bring them to market.
The resulting animated video would serve as an anthem for USAID and set the standard for communicating how they deal with the food crisis in the developing world.
In all honesty, we were pretty excited about the opportunity. An all-illustration project? Yes! An all-illustration animation project for a good cause? Yes! Yes! We have creative freedom on how to bring this to life? Pretty please!
This project needed to work on two levels—acting as the show opener for a high-profile USAID event as well as a food security showpiece for potential donors and customers around the world.
Weber Shandwick had already developed a storyline and script around an archetype farmer in rural Africa. They looked to us to visualize and communicate this idea using our unique style of animated video production.
We understood what the client was looking for—a strong visual narrative for their story—so we rolled up our sleeves and went to work. We developed a distinctive style for the video while maintaining our focus on delivering the message and ensuring the audience stayed engaged.
Since the narrative revolves around an African farmer, we did a lot of research into the visual culture of that part of the world—everything from the dwelling style, clothing, textures, and patterns to the farming landscapes unique to this region.
We wanted to avoid the trappings of the stereotypical portrayals of rural Africa—Instead, we wanted to focus on bold lines, colorful patterns, and strong angles. We chose to visualize this narrative in a more stylized, graphic treatment.
Our inspiration came from many places, but mainly by looking at tons of 5th century BC terracotta figures to get a feel for their bold, smooth lines. We pored over other styles of African art and mixed that aesthetic with sort of a graphic minimalism.
We started the process with character design. We felt it was the most important aspect of this story—how the main character looks would inform us of how the rest of the video would feel. Working with illustrator Alicia Herber, we came up with a few different treatments for the characters. Some were more hand-drawn, sketchy, and cute.
Ultimately, the strongest one was the most graphic, minimal treatment. We used straight lines mixed with exaggerated curves to stylize the features.
The Wrap Up
After nailing down the look of the characters, we started working on the environments. Using the same approach, we reduced all organic elements down to geometric shapes. This was our way of creating something unique and visually appealing. All of the final elements were created in Adobe Illustrator and Cinema 4D, giving us the flexibility to move our stylized world however we liked.
We ran into some technical challenges near the end of the production phase, which is pretty typical for this type of project.
USAID wanted to open the video with the front view of the main character transitioning to the profile view, so we had to create the character in 3D, then have her turn and match the 2D character. This was not easy, but after much trial and error, we got it to match perfectly. We like solving technical challenges and get obsessed with making art blend seamlessly with technology.
This project was a perfect match for bien. We enjoyed the process and are proud of the end result. Most of all, we’re happy we could play a small part in helping people lead healthier, more satisfying lives. It’s important to us that our work means something.
Give us a shout if you have similar projects we can help out with.
Company: USAID – Feed The Future
Agency: Weber Shandwick
Agency Director: Amil Husain
Production Co.: bien
Art Director: Hung Le
Storyboard: Hung Le
Illustrations: Alicia Herber, Hung Le
3D: Dustin Scott
Animators & compositors: Hung Le, Dustin Scott, Sianey Montes de Oca, Yuval Hoshen
Sound design: AudioBob