Tim Horton’s Coffee Art

This Tim Horton’s ad takes powder animation into the commercial sector. This is a good example of how the precision of 2D hand-drawn animation can be transferred to fluid frame animation via rotoscoping. As you will see in the Behind the Scenes video below, much of the animation was initially drawn by hand. Within the commercial world, this is particularly important because clients often want to see work in progress and have an idea of what the entire spot will look like. Showing a pencil test version is a way to offer the opportunity for changes before the heavy hours under the camera have been put in. No one wants to be told to go back and reanimate that scene that took 3 days (although sometimes you just have to!) The cost of rental equipment, studio time, and crew for the shoot is also mitigated by having everything planned out ahead of time.

Once finalized, the drawn animation was recreated in different grinds of coffee over 10 intensive days of shooting. Stopmotion animator, Dale Hayward from See Creature, was kind enough to answer a few questions via email. Below is a mini-interview on the production of Tim Horton’s Coffee Art.

Corrie Francis Parks: What’s your background as an animator? Had you done any work with sand or other powders before this project?

Dale Hayward: I went to college for traditional 2d animation and drawing, but quickly after graduating I fell into stop-motion by accident (which most of us do) at an animation studio in Toronto called Cuppa Coffee. We made TV series with traditional stop-motion puppets. During that time, I worked on a bunch of commercials with HeadGear and that’s where I had my first venture in animating small objects tabletop. It was a rock music video with rocks:
Then a cereal commercial:
Shortly afterwards, I moved to Montreal to participate in the National Film Board of Canada’s apprentice program called Hothouse. In 3 months I made a film called Roy G Biv and it was shot tabletop with wet watercolour. I would shoot the drying process, then interpret what I saw out of the splat of paint and draw it.

Roy G Biv by Dale Hayward, National Film Board of Canada

Years later, Alan Poon called me up for the Tim’s gig and I jumped at the opportunity, I’m always looking for a new challenge in animation. At See Creature  we live by the motto that “anything can be animated”

CFP: From the Making Of video, it looks like all the animation was drawn on paper ahead of time. I assume this was to streamline the process of shooting and circumvent any revisions or changes by the client before you got under the camera and there was no turning back. Were you projecting the drawings onto the light table or using an onion skin layer on a monitor while shooting? Were there any moments of spontaneity with the materials within the tight guidelines of the drawn reference?

DH: We referenced the storyboards and rotoscoped some 2d animation that I made. It was mainly to reassure the client because there wasn’t any time to go back and reshoot, plus it always helps to have a guide. It was all shown through the onion skin in Dragonframe. Even with the reference there was still a lot of spontaneity and I needed to accept what the coffee would give me. It was really fun and rewarding to see what coffee would give, it’s actually a really great medium to work with, it’s very forgiving.
CFP: Were there any specific challenges to working this way? Any interesting production stories you can share?

DH: As you know the time frame was really tight, 10 days to shoot about 45 secs, so in order to get it all done on time I was shooting for about 12-14 hrs straight everyday. Then I got to the point of shooting the “coffee master’s” face inside the spoon. Well, when I was about 15 frames before the reveal we found out that the agency had only just casted the actor and was going to shoot the scene that day. We had to halt my shot until we had the footage, so I took a much needed break. A few hours later we got the still image and I animated the scene. Months later, I found out that they cut that part of the piece for the main 30 second edit because one of the agency people didn’t like his glasses. Ahhh, the ad world.

I tried multiple tools in the attempt to “draw” with the coffee; sculpting tools, brushes, toothpicks, but what turned out to be the best tool was a feather! It allowed me to sprinkle the grounds on, swipe them away, pat them down and push each grain gently. I even had my favorite pink feather that lasted me the whole shoot.

Once I started shooting, we quickly realized that I wasn’t going to be able to get it all done in time. For some parts, like the bird flying, each frame was taking over an hour to create. So we needed to create a second shoot setup quickly for Evan to shoot on. I knew my dad wasn’t busy that weekend, so I gave him a call and in less than two days he had made another light table that was even better than the one I was using! In animation we use all the assets at our disposal!

CFP:  Did smelling all that coffee for days keep you guys wide awake? (As a tea drinker, I think it would have given me a headache!)

DH: Yea, my hands were stained brown & smelled like coffee for days, no matter how much I washed them. Luckily, I think coffee smells like the best thing in the world, if only it tasted as good as it smells 😉


The Behind the Scenes video reveals a bit of the vision and the process behind this well-executed piece.