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Inside View: DUCK Studios

Mark Medernach

Executive producer • DUCK Studios, Los Angeles • www.duckstudios.com

Mark Medernach

by Christine Bunish

Markee: DUCK opened 41 years ago as the animation studio Duck Soup. It rebranded as DUCK Studios, an animation/design studio creating commercials, music videos, short films and web content, about eight years ago. To what do you attribute DUCK’s longevity?

Mr. Medernach: “Luck! Seriously, we believe in building relationships – developing new ones and maintaining the connections we’ve had in the past. Having a talented roster of animators helps as well. But relationships are at the core of our success: People know they can depend on us and our production process.”

Markee: This year DUCK has added two new directors. Is the company still growing?

Mr. Medernach: “We’re always changing and evolving and looking for people who are doing something relevant and current – that next wave. Animator/director Ned Wenlock and the director known as Knife Party are two good examples of our expanding talent roster. Ned does such simple, graphic character animation and Knife Party does interesting mixed media and other work.”

Markee: Among the projects you’ve done this year is a fun, 12-spot animated campaign for the U.S. Olympic Committee from Y&R. Each commercial starts with a live-action clip of an Olympian followed by an animation about the person who inspired the athlete. You’ve used just about every style of animation from the graphic line work of SMOG for archer Brady Ellison and gymnast John Orozco to fanciful animation by delicatessen for road cyclist Evelyn Stevens and rotoscoping by Kang Seong for track and field athlete LoLo Jones.

Mr. Medernach: “We were screening our work at Y&R when they asked us about the Olympic project. We had a variety of work on our reel, and they needed 12 spots each with an individual look and personality to match the athlete. It sounded really exciting, so I said count us in and we started approaching different artists here.

“Each spot starts with the athlete talking about who’s been most meaningful in their career. The live-action vignette is very touching and clever in its own way. Nothing was storyboarded. They gave us the voiceovers, and we came up with the style and boards. We let the individual directors have their own say, and they came up with spots with very distinctive styles and aesthetics.”

Markee: Were you surprised by how the spots turned out?

Mr. Medernach: “It was a real mix and match of animator and athlete. Hsin Ping Pan was the last artist I expected to want to do the spot about freestyle wrestler Henry Cejudo and his mom because she has such a cute animation style. But when you listened to Henry’s voiceover it was a really charming story. At one point in Hsin Ping Pan’s animation, Henry’s mom turns into a tree to shelter all of her seven children. So the spot was just right for her.

“The campaign was a labor of love for our artists and for us as a studio. It gave us a chance to spread our wings and show who we are as a group. Working with the limited budget was a challenge, as was managing the process: The artists created between one and two-and-a-half minutes of animation for each spot, so that’s a lot of animation. The artists donated a lot of their time.”

Markee: What projects have you done since?

Mr. Medernach: “We did the Champion 2D-animated campaign for McDonald’s from Leo Burnett/Chicago, which was a lot of fun; a series of branding spots for Cox Communications from Doner/Detroit featuring their CG Digeez character; and a series of six Safety Smart films for Disney and Underwriters Laboratories aimed at kindergartners and first-graders.”

Markee: Do you see any trends in animation today?

Mr. Medernach: “Hand-crafted animation seems to be thriving; a lot of people want that handmade feel. And stop motion has made a huge comeback – our director Jamie Caliri has developed DragonFrame software for stop motion that’s become the industry standard.

“There’s always a pendulum with animation. It swings to slick CG then suddenly people want to go back to the funky and handmade. Our big hope is that no matter the style, animation will just keep going strong.”