With 2020 about to enter the proverbial rearview mirror--and not soon enough for many of us--it’s time for reflection on varied fronts, including assessing what work was among the year’s most worthwhile creatively.
Determining any year’s “best” is a highly subjective proposition so SHOOT staffers looked to at least narrow the field by first culling through our weekly Top Spots as well as our “The Best Work You May Never See” gallery entries throughout 2020. We then added to the field select pieces of work that might have fallen through the cracks and not earned weekly Top Spot (perhaps beaten out by another piece in a given week) or “Best Work” distinction yet which we had covered extensively in other stories during the course of the calendar year.
We also reviewed the year’s quarterly Top Ten Tracks and VFX/Animation charts, ultimately choosing a Top Five for the music and visual effects/animation disciplines.
But before we get to SHOOT’s selections for the Best Work of 2020 divided into Top Spots, The Best Work You May Never See, and our Top Music/Sound Tracks and Top VFX/Animation entries, we give a shout-out to a couple of ads that took on a significance of their own for what they represented in terms of industry response to the pandemic and racial injustice, respectively.
Top Spots of the Year
2020 may be remembered as the chaotic, challenging year in which brands fully realized they had to take a stand on socially relevant issues in order to meaningfully connect with consumers. Our mix of the year’s best Top Spots features brands adopting important messages or causes--and causes themselves turning to film to advance their agendas.
Heading the Top Spot parade for 2020 is a piece from McCann Health that is both sad and inspiring, showing us the responsibility and good that can come out of adversity--or in this case profound tragedy.
After the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018, Manuel and Patricia Oliver launched Change the Ref in memory of their son Joaquin and his 16 peers that senselessly lost their lives. Change The Ref was formed to empower our future leaders, giving young people the tools they need to be empowered to make changes to critical issues that affect our nation, through education, conversation, and activism.
With the 2020 election looming, Change the Ref launched an initiative to encourage young people to get out the vote. “The Unfinished Vote” leverages AI technology to bring Joaquin back to life digitally to ask people to “finish” the vote he was never able to cast, as this would have marked Joaquin’s first vote in a presidential election. In this launch film for the campaign directed by David Gaddie of The Colony for McCann Health, Manuel and Patricia, alongside their late son, recruit voters to replace the ballots of gun violence victims by heading to The Unfinished Votes website.
Our #2 pick for the year’s best work--Bodyform & Libresse’s “#wombstories” directed by Nisha Ganatra of Chelsea Pictures for AMB BBDO, London, with visual effects by Framestore--pushes back against the single, simplistic narrative girls are taught from a young age: start your period in adolescence, repeat with “a bit” of pain, want a baby, get pregnant, have more periods, stop periods, fade into the menopausal background. The reality is, of course, much messier, but society doesn’t encourage women to talk openly about the highs and lows of their intimate health, especially in times of global uncertainty. A new research study of women and men by Bodyform & Libresse found that two thirds of women who experienced miscarriage, endometriosis, fertility issues and menopause said that being open with family and friends helped them cope.
This tour de force film encourages an open culture where everyone can express what they go through without fearing they won’t be properly heard or believed and without feeling shame that they are somehow less than what they were taught to be. The pleasure, the pain, the love, the hate. It’s never simple but it all needs to be heard. Because keeping it in or leaving it unheard comes at an emotional and physical cost both at an individual and collective level, From the burning down apartment of a peri-menopausal woman, a monster ripping at an endometriosis sufferer’s uterus, a woman’s ‘flood gate’ moment during her period and an unexpected sneeze, to the woman who has chosen not to have children and the often-turbulent journey of trying to conceive. These few womb stories chronicle the sometimes beautiful, sometimes brutal human side of the biology and physiology they experienced every day. And while only a handful of experiences are shown, they represent the billions of complex experiences--from hysterectomies, postpartum trauma, artificial menopause, being a trans-man, the list is long.
Taking third place in our Top Spot countdown is Nike’s “You Can’t Stop Us” from SHOOT’s Agency of the Year, Wieden+Kennedy. Directed by Oscar Hudson of Pulse Films, the ad show that even in the face of the year’s unprecedented challenges, the power of sport endures and inspires, underscoring what’s possible when we come together. Narrated by Megan Rapinoe, U.S. soccer star, two-time World Cup Champion and equality activist, the film shares a dynamic split screen series detailing 36 pairings of athletes and relating the kinetic movement of one sport to another.
The collective of everyday and elite athletes includes Rapinoe, Serena Williams, LeBron James, Colin Kaepernick, Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, Eliud Kipchoge, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Kylian Mbappé
Developed through research of over 4,000 individual pieces of footage, the resulting montage underscores commonalities shared by athletes around the world, highlighting connections and unity we may not always see, and shows the platform that sport provides for athletes from all levels and all walks of life to raise their voice, advocate for change and stand up for our communities.
“Players may be back on the pitch, but we are not going back to an old normal. We need to continue to reimagine this world and make it better,” said Rapinoe. “We have all these people in the streets, using their voices, and those voices are being heard. I ask people to be energized by this moment and not let up. I believe it’s everybody’s responsibility to advocate for change.”
Also furnishing inspiration is our #4 entry, Amazon’s “The Show Must Go On,” directed by Melina Matsoukas of PRETTYBIRD for agency Lucky Generals. This two-minute Xmas film follows a talented young ballet dancer as she prepares for the role of a lifetime in a school production. But when COVID-19 cancels the performance, she is crestfallen. Through her own tenacity and optimism, though, and the support of friends and family, she delivers a spectacular performance for her awestruck neighbors. In the bigger picture, the timely ad sends a message of hope for the arts while capturing the community spirit which is helping to guide the world on a righteous path through this pandemic crisis.
And rounding out our Top Spot fab five is climate organization Fridays For Future’s “Our House Is On Fire” directed by Andrew Bruntel of Ways & Means for FF Los Angeles, with VFX by Method Studios. The spot portrays a family in their morning routine acting as if everything were normal, despite fires burning all around their house. The concept was inspired by the famous quote from Greta Thunberg, teen environmental activist and the founder of Fridays For Future. During her speech at the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos, she said : “I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” At the same event the following year Thunberg repeated her plea: “Our house is still on fire and your inaction is fueling the flames by the hour.”
Joe Hobbs, organizer at Fridays For Future US, explained: “We believe it’s time people realize that climate change isn’t going to happen, but that it’s already happening. You may have become accustomed to it, but it’s a serious problem we face on a daily basis. Unfortunately, we’ve moved past the time where it’s enough just to be worried. We need an immediate collective action. We hope that by watching this video people will realize they need to take action now, instead of putting it off until later.”
“Best Work” gallery
The pandemic and Xmas cheer--two seemingly polar opposite themes--made their mark on our Best of “The Best Work You May never See” gallery for 2020.
Topping the field is a three-minute film for French grocery chain Intermarché that touches upon both the pandemic and best holiday wishes. Directed by Katia Lewkowicz via production house Grand Bazar for Paris agency Romance, the piece follows a nurse at the hospital and a family (a mother and her teen son) hoping and waiting for the father’s recovery. The action centers on the characters’ lives in a to-and-fro of worry, hope, care, tenderness--and ultimately heartfelt gratitude. The story unfolds to the band Terrenoire’s song “Jusqu’à mon dernier souffle” (“Until my last breath”).
The film pays tribute to frontline healthcare workers during the pandemic, reminding us that this time of year is the best to remember their unconditional commitment and to express our deepest thanks.
The #2 slot is filled by "When the Motor Stops," a video from Detroit-headquartered agency Doner. Helmed by Doner’s in-house director Zeke Anders, this PSA sent a message of strength and hope to the people of Detroit during the early stages of the pandemic. Shot in black and white, the piece features typically populated portions of Detroit cleared out. Messages of solidarity appear on downtown marquees, including affirmations such as “We love you, Detroit” and “We will get through this together.” A voiceover acknowledges how unnatural the emptiness of the streets feels, especially for “the city on four wheels.” The entirety of the spot serves as a nod to Detroit’s heritage, with referencing including: “Even Henry [Ford] himself would have put it in park.” The voiceover affirms, “This is not us sitting out the fight. This is us winning it.” The video characterizes collective isolation as a sign of togetherness, closing out with the poignant spoken message that “Here, we don’t stop in the name of fear. Here, we stop in the name of love” before fading to text that reads “Stay safe, Detroit.”
Nestling in third place in our Best Work rundown is a charmingly funny Xmas spot for TK Maxx directed by Matthijs van Heijningen of MJZ for Wieden+Kennedy London, with MPC as VFX house. Airing in the European market, the spot opens with protagonist Lil’ Goat, her farmer owners (Susan and Gary) watching on as she struts across the snowy landscape, decked from head-to-toe in an enviably stylish designer outfit. When Susan questions Gary, “Did you buy the goat a designer outfit?,” Gary, instead of conforming to the stoic farmer stereotype, looks on tenderly with a tear in his eye and replies proudly, “Yes, she’s had such a hard year. She bloomin’ well deserves it if you ask me”.
The ad draws to a close with the jubilant goat sliding freely across the icy terrain, embodying the off-price retailer’s spirited and often humorous nature to deliver an important message--after the year we’ve had, everyone deserves to feel special this Christmas.
Also in the holiday spirit is our #4 entry, the animated film “Made With Love” in which IGA supermarkets teamed with agency Sid Lee in Canada to help raise funds to finance pediatric oncology research for the Fondation Charles-Bruneau in Quebec. In the spot--directed by Chloé Robichaud via the Shed studio-- a woman working in a children’s hospital cancer ward starts bringing cookies and other treats to a patient. The youngster in turn makes origami creations for her which come from and find a special place in the heart. This tale, about the ripple effects of sharing and food’s ability to bring people together, also supports the pediatric cancer fundraiser with animated origami, available in all IGA stores across Quebec.
And taking fifth place is a spot featuring edible cannabis gummy bears as mischievous beings. They’ll catch you off guard and make you do silly things. Well, that’s exactly what they’re doing in this public service film for Drug Free Kids Canada from Toronto ad agency Bleu Blanc Rouge, designed to raise awareness of the fact that a high from cannabis edibles can yield delayed and unpredictable behavior--and that youngsters need to understand the risks.
Directing duo and puppeteering masters Jonny & Will of the Blinkink studio brought the gummy bears to life as we see them cause destruction in a house. A laptop computer is ruined, a shoe is sabotaged, a dress is shredded, lit candles are doused by urine, and an urn containing doggie remains is pushed off a mantle and broken into pieces.
Bodyform & Libresse’s aforementioned “#wombstories” tops our 2020 lineup of VFX/Animation Chart entries.
Taking the second slot is John Lewis and Waitrose’s “Give A Little Love,” a touching Xmas ad in which one act of kindness spawns another and then another in a pay-it-forward scenario from London agency adam&eveDDB. The spot deployed the talents of different animators, illustrators and makers. The different styles of animation were blended and brought together by director Oscar Hudson of Pulse Films in a series of vignettes. The acts of kindness aptly translate into the title “Give A Little Love,” fitting for the yuletide, particularly in a tumultuous year ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.
Animators who brought their talent and artistry to the piece include Sylvain Chomet, Anthony Farquhar-Smith, Chris Hopewell, Anna Mantzaris, Anete Melece, MegaComputeur, and Shotopop.
The commercial starts with a girl helping a boy to get his lost ball out of a tree with her umbrella, and a domino effect is set in motion. The boy comes to the rescue of a melting snowman, who then lends a hand replacing the tire of a broken-down car whose passengers deliver a bag of Waitrose shopping. The recipient connects with his lonely neighbor, a barber, who gives a boy an extra-special heart-shaped haircut. The boy passes a symbolic heart to his little brother while a flock of pigeons watch through a window. Touched by the boy’s act of kindness the pigeons help a hedgehog fly (he just wants to be in their gang!). The heart-shaped trail from the hedgehog plane is spotted by a nurse – who, inspired by the symbol of love, helps a little girl (the one we saw at the start of the film) to fix her glasses.
Earning distinction as the #3 entry is Greenpeace’s “Turtle Journey” directed by Gavin Strange of Bristol, UK-headquartered animation studio Aardman. The PSA tells the heartbreaking story of a turtle family heading home through an ocean that is under increasing pressure from climate change, plastic pollution, oil drilling and overfishing. Without safe sanctuary, the family suffers a devastating loss. Aardman uses its skills in storytelling, humor and creativity to communicate Greenpeace’s urgent message with a mix of CGI and stop-frame animation. Physical puppets were created to portray the turtle family, while the underwater environments are detailed in CGI.
Finishing fourth was FKA twigs’ stunning music video, “Sad Day,” directed by Hiro Murai of Doomsday Entertainment, with VFX by MPC’s studios in Los Angeles and Bangalore. Beginning in a café late at night, the video follows FKA twigs as she encounters an unidentified man and they start to sword-fight, breaking out of the café and into the streets. The visually unique video--for the pensive song “Sad Day” from FKA twigs’ latest album “MAGDALENE”--is based on the sensual movements of Wushu martial arts, which is used to depict the complex relationship between the two characters.
MPC worked in close collaboration with Murai throughout, helping to create the choreographed fight sequence across buildings, epic smashes through shop windows, and a dramatic final scene where FKA twigs is sliced in half with a samurai sword. Digital matte painting was also used throughout to build out and enhance the gritty backdrops. The effects team, led by MPC’s creative director Michael Gregory, VFX supervisor Toya Drechsler and CG supervisor Corinne DeOrsay, helped define the final sequence, including the look of the FKA twigs’ anatomy “post-slice.” Gregory said, “We carried out a test shoot beforehand to determine how the split would work and how to practically shoot it. We then modeled her in 3D and split her in two from her waist up. We re-projected the live action over the split model, creating a hollow shell for the CG to go on top.”
He added, “It was important that the sequence was not bloody or gory; instead it needed to look beautiful and otherworldly. For her new inner body, we concepted in 2D based on some key images from Hiro, and we then moved into 3D look development, with Hiro’s original vision organically morphing into something that we were all happy with.” The end result is an ethereal yet warm and inviting material, incorporating the qualities of blooming flowers and glistening elements.
And rounding out our VFX/Animation Top Five is the aforementioned Fridays For Future PSA, “Our House Is On Fire.”
Click here for our Top Five VFX & Animation Chart of 2020.
Our #1 entry from the quarterly Top Ten Tracks Charts of 2020 is a new version of the Oscar-winning song “Glory” from the Ava DuVernay-directed film Selma. Performed by the Detroit Youth Choir (DYC), the recording represents an effort to support the Black Lives Matter Movement. Directed by Everett Stewart and produced by Imagination, this music video that accompanies the song is just as emotional as the lyrics and features iconic Detroit landmarks, including the Persian School, Michigan Central Station, Monument to Joe Louis (the fist), Power to the People Mural, St. Matthew’s & St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church, Detroit Barber Co. in Corktown and the Spirit of Detroit monument.
The song “Glory” (written by John Legend, Common and Rhymefest for Selma) serves as a powerful anthem and has been updated for its time with new rap lyrics created by former DYC member and rapper IndigoYaj (aka Jayla Smalls). A special edition of the track has been released featuring up-and-coming rapper Kid Jay (aka Jason O’Banner Jr), providing a platform for others to put their own voice behind both the song and the sentiment it conveys. DYC also hopes to collaborate with other rappers so they too can bring their voice of positivity and unity to the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Experiential ad agency/production house Imagination brought together an all-star Detroit-based creative team, including Grammy award-winning mixer and producer Gerard Smerek and Scotty Gatteno from Yessian Music to develop the arrangement with DYC’s White and music director Donnell Mosley. The new version of the song was recorded on June 26, 2020 in The New Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church in Ferndale and music and sound house Yessian’s recording studios in Farmington Hills, Mich.. The recording features over 40 DYC members, who undertook daily health screenings, practiced social distancing during rehearsals and recording, and wore masks when not filming/performing.
The idea to record a DYC version of "Glory" was first conceived and made possible by Imagination which has maintained a partnership with DYC since 2019. Alistair Wilson, managing director of Imagination Detroit, said he was inspired with the idea after seeing his old school friend David Oyelowo, who played Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma share his own personal experience with racism on social media. “My team and I were moved to act by something David said: ‘Black people didn’t create this situation we find ourselves in, therefore, it can’t be on us to change it. It’s going to be down to all of us.’”
Taking the #2 slot in our Top Tracks rundown is the “Give Time” PSA, the first pairing of the American Red Cross and the American Cancer Society in a campaign. Directed by Benjamin Mege of production house Caviar for BBDO New York, the story is told through a series of hundreds of intimate photos. We see a young woman’s life upended as she gets a cancer diagnosis, Just when you think it may be the end, a blood transfusion helps her journey to go on, leading to her experiencing more of the joys in life. There is no dialogue, no spoken words in this PSA. Only music takes us through this woman’s story. The eloquence of this accompanying music--from Q Department, New York--helps to advance and enhance the empathetic tone and feel we as viewers experience as we are allowed into this cancer patient’s life. This music thus plays a lead role in giving potential blood donors a brand new motivation to give.
“Musically the biggest creative challenge for our team was how do we support the story without making it feel overtly prescriptive or manipulative as this could create a distrust by the audience,” said Q Department’s Drazen Bosnjak, creative director on the PSA. “Our music works with the story and builds empathy and truth not unlike scoring a documentary.”
Bosnjak concluded, “Our haunting vocals help the viewer internalize the intimacy of the girl’s story. It’s very relatable. The music needed to help you make a personal connection to the subject matter. You are left wanting to help her story continue. It’s very effective. Donate blood its more important that ever! When you give blood, you give time.”
Garnering third place is a campaign for Uber in which a company that moves people asks them not to move during the coronavirus pandemic. To make this spot, titled “Thank You For Not Driving,” Uber partnered with Wieden+Kennedy and PRETTYBIRD to put a call out to filmmakers from all around the world. The idea was to have those stuck-at-home filmmakers document their new reality, as they find creative ways of living their lives in the current world, entertaining their families, and schooling restless children. Along with the worry and frustration, they’re also experiencing amazing moments of reflection, laughter, and play. These filmmakers, and everyone else who stays at home, makes it easier for those who can’t. Together we know we can make a difference. The spot moves to a track from Beacon Street Studios via an original song, “Promise Me.” Beacon Street’s Andrew Feltenstein, John Nau and Danny Dunlap were the composers, with sound design by Rohan Young of Lime Studios.
Fourth in our tracks countdown is this 100-second film, The Longest Night, to mark watchmaker TAG Heuer’s 160th anniversary. Directed by Daniel Wolfe via Paris-based production company Standard Films for DDB Paris, the film underscores how the TAG Heuer Carrera was born from a passion for motor racing. The story centers on an endurance racing car driver behind the wheel at night, overcoming seemingly impossible challenges with mental strength, resiliency and sheer passion for action.
Barking Owl created music and sound design for The Longest Night via an ensemble headed by composer Atticus Ross, sound designer Morgan Johnson and creative director/partner Kelly Bayett.
Bayett noted that while the timing of the project brought logistical hurdles, it also helped spark a strong esprit de corps, empathy and a simpatico feeling among the collaborators in different corners of the world. She explained, “The biggest challenge on The Longest Night was actually more of a global challenge since the agency was in Paris and we were in Los Angeles. It was awarded just before France went into lockdown. So, we were met with delays and had to learn how to create and produce an international job while working from home in the midst of COVID shutdowns that were happening on different schedules all over the world. It was pretty interesting though, because we could all talk about what we were going through in our countries. We felt so connected in the strangest way because we were going through a global pandemic with people on the other side of the world who were feeling the same things we were feeling.”
And rounding out our Top Five Tracks Chart is “On Silent Ice,” the first episode of Android's animated docuseries Being Human Is for Google Marketing. JR Narrows of Space Lute in Brooklyn served as composer/sound designer/audio director/sound supervisor for “On Silent Ice” which thrusts us into the world of deaf hockey. Oddfellows served as animation studio for the episode; series producer and ad agency was Where the Buffalo Roam, “On Silent Ice” also shows how the Live Transcribe feature on a deaf hockey player’s Android phone allows him to connect in real time with professional scouts who are looking for stellar rink talent.
Click here for our Top 5 Music Tracks Chart of 2020.