LBB | How The Mill brought the McDonald’s x Cactus Plant Flea Market collab to life

Jimmy Bullard, Creative Director at The Mill, tells LBB how the team used 360-degree shots and even AI to help produce the spot with an old-school ‘90s vibe
Press November 3, 2022

Cactus Plant Flea Market is an apparel brand, founded by designer Cynthia Lu in 2015. With its line of clothes, shoes and accessories – famous for its combination of asymmetrical typography with puff-print graphics – it has quickly become one of the most sought-after brands. In October, the brand participated in a first-of-its-kind collaboration with McDonald’s – giving hype beasts and collectors the opportunity to purchase Maccie D merchandise, inspired by the fast food giant’s nostalgic products, and in Cactus Plant Flea Market’s signature ‘double vision’ style.

Also part of this collaboration is a twist on the McDonald’s ‘Happy Meal’ – introducing: the ‘Cactus Plant Flea Market Box’. As well as your burger and fries, the boxes contain one of four collectable figurines made just for this collab – including returning faces like McDonald’s mascots Grimace, the Hamburglar, and Birdie as well as the icon of Cactus Plant Flea Market, Cactus Buddy.

To promote this fashionable, fast-food campaign, The Mill worked with Stink Films director Dan Streit, to create an almost entirely CG spot that indulges in the wacky, vibrant stylings of ‘90s McDonald’s ads and the artistry of Cactus Plant Flea Market’s designs. Speaking to LBB, Jimmy Bullard, creative director at The Mill, discusses how the team used AI to assist with concepting, realising the director’s specific vision and incorporating the designs of one of the hottest apparel companies around right now.

What was your initial reaction to the brief for this spot? What ideas and creative techniques immediately sprang to mind?

Dan [Streit, director] had such great references for what he envisioned this spot being, references he has either directed or made himself. His experience in post meant he had a great grasp on some really interesting techniques we could utilise on both the production and post end to make such a unique film. When we got the brief the whole team’s reaction was surprise at how adventurous the script was. Once the initial excitement calmed down a little, it was knuckling down to pull references and put together concepts and do everything we could to win the spot. It’s such a unique script and execution and we wanted to be a part of it.

Do you have any previous works or favourite concepts that you revisited or that have influenced your work on this project?

The initial concepts for this campaign were well laid out by Cactus Plant Flea Market, Dan and Wieden+Kennedy. When we were collecting references, the starting point was to embrace an older established brand style and convert it into something new and wacky. I grew up in the ‘90s, so old-school McDonald’s ads are seared into my memory – which was great since there was a strong aspect of balancing throwback McDonald’s references with a new exciting vibe.

We actually used AI a bit for the early concept stages. Both Dan and I are big into AI-generated imagery, so we used a couple of platforms to help generate some ideas that steered the conversations. It’s a great tool to use as a concept foundation; you can quickly generate images and thus help steer a conversation that we can then use as a reference for building proper concept artwork. It’s become a key part of my toolkit, especially at the pitching and concepting stage.

How many effects shots/sequences were there on this project and how long did the process take in total?

Every shot in the commercial is almost entirely CG, the exceptions are the characters and the McDonald’s building at the end of the spot. The characters were people in suits that were filmed on a greenscreen stage, while the McDonald’s building is a miniature, designed and filmed by Dan.

There was as much work put into concepting and look development as there was into execution on this project. The look of everything is so specific and nuanced, we really put a lot of time into little details that may not seem obvious when you watch the spot, but were integral to developing what the final film would look like.

For example, should the grass look like grass or miniature flocking? What shape should the buildings be, and should they distort in all directions or just some? What should the skies look like (these went through a bunch of iterations), and what should the car look like? The concepts for the car got a little crazy at one point, and there was some really funky stuff floating around. I worked on the project for about three months. Asset build was around six to eight weeks and the VFX process, from edit lock, was around a month.

What are your favourite effects shots from the spot and why? How did you achieve them?

I love the shot of the car coming to a stop – it makes me laugh every time. This was shot with actors on a greenscreen stage that were then placed in our CG world. Cactus Buddy was placed in the CG car, which was animated in such a hilarious way. The 360 shots are also a personal favourite. Dan had a really specific vision for these which he collaborated closely on achieving, so they look really fun.

What was the most ambitious shot – or the one that provided the greatest creative challenge for you?

Jimmy> Definitely the 360 shots. These are always a challenge, there is a whole process to go through to get the plates stitched together, especially with a moving camera that has seam lines crossing characters that are moving around and performing. The stitch must be perfect before you can really get into the creative parts of the shot. Once these were all set up technically, then came the fun part: the shot. Dan has quite a bit of experience shooting 360 footage and doing this particular effect where we spin our POV around and focus on different things throughout the shot. It was great working closely with him; we were sharing setups back and forth so we could do tweaks and make sure the effect was right.

How did you use colour in your effects to create certain impacts and feelings? What choices did you make and why?

Jimmy> The colour palette was a huge part of this project: it’s so key to the feel of the spot. Paul Yacono, our head of colour in LA, took on the task of grading this already out-there piece. He really helped bring the VFX to life and pushed it to another level.

What were your personal favourite elements to this work? Anything else you want to share about this project?

Jimmy> It’s always nice when you get to have fun in your line of work – not only working with good people but also on a fun project that is entertaining and different. This was a good one and everyone is happy with the way it turned out. My next task is to collect all four figurines. If anyone has spares, send them my way.

Read the original story via LBB.

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