Cannes Lions scooped by Dumb Ways to Die

An animated public service message for Metro Trains in Melbourne won five grand prix awards at Cannes Lions, the most ever by a single campaign. The TV and online spot from McCann Melbourne and animated by Julian Frost won the film, radio, PR, direct and integrated categories. fxguide spoke to Frost about the incredibly popular ad which has now raked up more than 50 million views on YouTube.

fxg: Dumb Ways to Die seems at first to be so simple, but the message is so well communicated. How did you and others first envisage the piece from the song?

Frost: Oh, thanks. I started with an early draft of the lyrics. Because they’re so deliciously violent all I had to do was supply the other half of the timeless comedic combination – moronic innocence. The client and agency weren’t specific about style, they just wanted whatever would be funniest.

fxg: How was the piece boarded and fleshed out?

Frost: Badly. I boarded most of the verses roughly, ran out of ideas, told the agency “characters will probably dance in the chorus somehow” and then started animating. I tend to think as I go but that requires a lot of trust from the client, which luckily we had. Some bits I had no idea about till right at the end. Like the glue guy. How do you animate someone who ate glue? Oh yeah you don’t.

Early storyboard.
Early storyboard.

fxg: How was Flash used on this project? What was your workflow in terms of roughing out animation and then refining it? How did you reference the dance moves?

Frost: The video is a whole bunch of small scenes so I just went through and animated them in Flash one by one, in order from most fun to least fun. I finished each as I went because it’s only with the final timing that I can tell if something’s funny or not. With the dance, I ripped a couple of moves from that inexplicably popular Evolution of Dance youtube clip. The rest I personally honed over years of self-conscious semi-ironic flailing at weddings and school discos.

fxg: Was the graphic style always the style contemplated? It seems to fit so well but were other styles considered?

Frost: Thought process: “How can I draw characters simple enough that I can be really violent to them and not seem mean-spirited? And what style can I actually get finished in time?” That’s pretty much it. Lucky it worked out.

Original sketches.
Original sketches.

fxg: Did you ever have to hold back in some of the gory and graphic elements?

Frost: Yeah the whole flaying with potato peeler verse got cut, trust me it was hilarious. Actually the client requested several parts be more gory. Because funny, but also because train accidents really are terrible and they didn’t want to pretend otherwise. An impressively honest attitude I think. I wasn’t sure if the video would come across as sadistic or disturbing for kids. It’s a relief that it seems not to have. I think the cheery music saves it.

fxg: The YouTube video now has more 50m views – congratulations – what was your reaction as it started to become more popular late last year?

Frost: It was slightly overwhelming so I got a cold.

fxg: What have you been working on since? Where can people see some of your other work?

Frost: Well, my friend Sam and I made the DWTD iphone game for Metro recently. I made a few new emoticons for Skype. You can look up my site if you want to see more things I’ve done but they aren’t really like DWTD so I wouldn’t get excited.

Film Craft winners

Meanwhile, in the Film Craft section, ‘Meet the Superhumans’ – a Channel 4 promo for the Paralympics – won the Grand Prix. It features visual effects from MPC. The PETA spot ‘98% Human’ with VFX by The Mill won a Gold Lion for visual effects. Silver winners were Schweppes spot ‘Tumble’ with effects by Fin Design, and the Evian ‘Baby and Me’ with work by Mikros Image. ‘Instinct of Color’ for O.P.I. Nail Polish took out the Bronze. Check out these spots below.