Bill Joyce’s Oscar-winning Moonbot Studios in Shreveport, LA, has another hit following Morris Lessmore: The Scarecrow short/iOS game for Chipotle (they’ve also done a Metropolis-inspired Numberlys app and upcoming book for kids and are hard at work on a Golem game). But The Scarecrow short is both stunning and stirring, bolstered by Fiona Apple’s mournful rendition of “Pure Imagination.”
The “cultivate a better world” campaign in partnership with CAA certainly demonstrates that Moonbot is an indie force to be reckoned with. The Scarecrow reached nearly 6 million views in its first week as a free Apple download, and raised the bar from Chipotle’s first national spot last year, “Back to the Spot,” the stop-motion piece with Willie Nelson singing Cold Play’s “The Scientist.”
Once again, Moonbot blends miniature sets and props with the CG Scarecrow and mechanical crow adversary. And even though it has exec producer Joyce’s DNA all over it — The Wizard of Oz by way of a Steampunk, Rube Goldberg-like maze — the dystopian fable was directed by Brandon Oldenburg (creative partner at Moonbot) and Limbert Fabian (formerly with Reel FX, which was co-founded by Oldenburg).
Joyce originally wanted to riff on Rouben Mamoulian’s inventive Love Me Tonight opening (in which tailor Maurice Chevalier has everyone infectiously singing “Isn’t It Romantic?”), but eventually realized that the Willy Wonka song was a more organic fit. And being organic was the whole point.
“It’s part of the growth of Moonbot and the kinds of projects we want to do that mean something to us,” Joyce emphasizes. “You have it get out in the world in a pure and exquisite state and Chipotle was a match made in heaven. It’s opened a lot of eyes, it’s turned a lot of heads, and proved a lot of theories we had hoped for. It’s part of the Moonbot banner of books, shorts, apps, and games.”
It’s what trans-media is all about. “We developed the narratives of the short and game in tandem,” Fabian adds. “The lightning rod for us was identifying the Scarecrow’s antagonist as the crow. It divorces us from having to invent a human character per se.”
“We wanted to engage the audience in a conversation about the lack of process that goes on behind the scenes at Chipotle,” Oldenburg suggests. “But the problem of food processing is bigger than pointing a finger at one person or institution. It’s just something that happened over time.
“And to show that the modern-day farmer is no longer really farming anymore. What is defined as protecting food has changed. It’s another reason why the symbol of the Scarecrow is so strong.”
And having him prepare the food and being a cook was a fitting way to end the short. But rather than becoming a part of the propaganda within the story they’re trying to separate themselves from, they conclude on a pregnant pause. It’s up to you. And that’s where the game picks up.
“The game is designed to slightly change as you progress through these levels,” Oldenburg continues. “The music starts to sound less out of tune and more symphonic, the sky is less polluted, the world starts to expand and become richer. The logic behind the use of miniatures is to try and separate ourselves from the cold, sterile world of CG, and we intentionally only use [them] where we want things to feel truly natural and real. The barn and his home and his little shop where he’s cooking at the end are the only miniatures. Everything else in this world is pure CG.”
But I’ll let Joyce have the last word: “A lot of old institutional businesses are taking notice and we’ll see if they can join along with our crusade,” he laughs.