Design Studio Spotlight | Designer Brian O’Donnell shares an inside look at his irresistibly sweet short film ‘Chocolate’

Our global team of designers, artists, and animators turn measured insights into big ideas. They are experimental in their approach and push the boundaries of animation and motion design to tell captivating stories and deliver creative impact. We chatted with Designer Brian O'Donnell of our New York studio about bringing his delectable designs to life.
Community May 17, 2022

What is your role within The Mill Design Studio?

I work as a Designer. Character Design, Motion, and Storytelling all fall under my umbrella. Whether the task is to produce a cel animation of a blue bird, or to animate a clean nutrition brand logo, it always boils down to one thing: Make it breathe.

What is your background in design?  

My formal training is in traditional pencil-on-paper cel animation. I studied the old world masters of character animation: Early Disney, Richard Williams, and Windsor Mccay. Couple this with a weekly ritual of visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art to study masters in painting, sculpture, and illustration, my foundation as a designer has deep roots in tradition and craft.

Talk us through your short film ‘Chocolate’. What inspired you to create this piece?

‘Chocolate’ at its core is a proof of concept. An exploration that dove deep into Cinema 4D to investigate the potential of 3D character animation. The narrative for the project was inspired by our very own Mill Logo. I can recall seeing the 6 vertical bars and thinking, “That looks like a kit-kat.”

Once I knew that someone would have to take a very, very large bite out of a chocolate bar to achieve the silhouette of our logo, the rest of the story almost wrote itself.

‘Audrey’ and ‘Lydia’ were pulled out of personalities that I know and love from my personal life. Combining Audrey, the conscientious bookworm, and Lydia, the extroverted and unconcerned free-spirit,  provided the perfect setting for a humorous BITE between strangers.

With some help from The Mill Design Studio, we ended up developing an entire branding language for an imaginary chocolate brand (Designed by Amy Staropoli) called, ‘Coco Loco.’ The company’s slogan (developed by Fionna Lanning) echoes the main theme of ‘Chocolate’: Embrace Weird.

What was your creative process like for this particular project?

The creative process on this project started as most of my creative projects do: with some rough storyboards and digital painting.

I knew the answer to, “What?” But I had to figure out, “How?” I focused on C4D’s character rigging system for a few months with the help of Thomas Heckel, David Rowley, Dom Han, Akshay Tiwari, and hours of YouTube tutorials.

Once I crossed the mountain peak of trials and errors of the technical 3D character process, I was able to return to my traditional approach to really carve out the look and feel of the project. Each character expression was ‘hand’ sculpted.

The clothing was virtually ‘hand sewn’ in the program, Marvellous Designer, and the character rigs were animated with keyframes.

The set was modelled simply with a hand painted sky.

Add in a few weeks of headaches, rendering, and never ending support from our Head of Design, Mike Schaeffer, and you got yourself a short film.

How would you describe your design style?

I would describe my design style as Virtual Tangible. Everything I do is an attempt to make a digital screen soft and inviting. I want to create films that echo the familiarity of classic stop motion movies like Jack Frost (1979) and James and the Giant Peach (1996), yet are accessible to the 9×16 smartphone landscape.

Do you have any projects in the works?

I am working with Jeffrey Wang from our Experience team on bringing my characters into Augmented Reality. It is a brave new step into the AR/VR realm with new opportunities and challenges.

I am also working on a few shorts for Pride Month. Including THE WORLD’S VERY FIRST 3D DRAG QUEEN. I anticipate she’ll be ready to party.

What is inspiring you lately?

Moments between Moments. I am obsessed with the little things that make people so unique, and entertaining. A young woman on the phone desperate to complain about work- but she can’t get a word in…  A bored couple in the window of a restaurant….. two strangers having an awkward interaction at the park…. The subtle and unintentional moments that end up being the most relatable. My 5-year-old cousin Constance is also a creative genius, anything she draws is limitlessly inspiring. We talk a lot about fairies.

Brian O’Donnell, Desiger

Explore more from Brian on his Instagram page: @brian.odnl

Interested in joining The Mill Design Studio? Explore career opportunities here. You can also get in touch with our Design Team about your upcoming projects via our contact page.