Some strange artifacts still reside in Jim Regan's purple
A pristine, flattened bag of Baked Lays potato chips peeks
out from under folders. A Simplicity pattern for a swingy
summer dress is tucked away to the right of his flat panel
display. On another machine, he can still pull up a QuickTime
movie of Raleigh dance instructor Kirsten Tice twirling in her
And tossed haphazardly to the side, a promotional photo
depicting the dancing red dress getting down with a soda cup
from the fast-food sandwich shop Subway.
After his six weeks of work on a nameless, invisible dress
model and her silky, flowing frock, the handiwork of Regan and
his colleagues at Raleigh animation studio Serious Robots
Animation is airing on television in markets across the
country -- just not in the Triangle.
It's a disappointment for the 36-year-old animator who
would like to see the dancing dress in his living room,
despite the hours spent staring at it at work. "It's fun to
see your work on television," he says.
But a video tape at the office offers up the commercial in
30-second and 15-second versions. A sexy, red dress and a pair
of pumps to match -- with no body -- shimmy across the screen.
They dance first with a puffy bag of Baked Lays chips and then
a fun-loving soda cup. The voice over, a woman, talks about
looking good, feeling good and the virtues of Subway's low-fat
It was a lively project for 10-year old Serious Robots. The
eight-employee animation studio has also done work for Nortel,
GlaxoSmithKline and UNC-TV. Their handiwork can be seen on
"Sesame Street" (in a short to teach kids about the terms
"open" and "closed") and promotional spots for The Cartoon
Nancy Rich, creative director at Serious Robots, describes
the genesis of the dress idea, which came to them from
Subway's ad agency, Canadian American Advertising in Flint,
Mich. At first they wanted to do dancing pants. More
specifically, they wanted to do the dancing pants of Subway's
weight-loss poster boy, Jared Fogel.
But the theme for a Subway sweepstakes, the ad's impetus,
is "Get the Skinny," which, the great advertising minds
decided, appeals more to women than men. Thus the dancing
pants become a dancing dress, Serious Robots was given the
$50,000 contract and Regan went to work.
"I had to learn about dress-making, really," Regan says,
brandishing the dress pattern and showing how he fit the 3-D
model on the screen of his 3-year-old Silicon Graphics
workstation with a three-panel dress.
Regan used the popular 3-D animation software program,
Alias Wavefront's Maya, which automates many visual effects
including cloth rendering. While the software uses the laws of
physics as they are applied to different types of cloth to
make it visually convincing, it was up to Regan to tailor the
dress and make the virtual fabric fit -- a week of mouse
clicks taking it in where it pooched and letting out where it
Meanwhile, Serious Robots recruited Tice, who founded the
North Carolina Dance Institute, to choreograph a dance for the
dress and gave her a tape of a spliced version of Ricky
Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca." The final version of the
commercial features a similar tune. Regan and Tice then spent
two hours in the dancer's studio working out the exact moves,
Regan standing in for the cup and the chips bag.
Then he went back to the computer.
There are 30 frames in every second of video. Every frame
requires the software to calculate the movement of the model
and the reaction of the dress. It was a slow process to move
the model into every position in Tice's dance, but the
computer kept up, swirling the red fabric. Eventually it all
ran to the beat.
Meanwhile, animator Scott Donley took on the task of
getting a bag of chips and a soda cup to dance. By the first
of June, they put it all together and shipped it off to the
agency. Ten days later it showed up on national television in
markets where local franchises participated in the sweepstakes
-- sadly, not the Triangle.
Last week, Serious Robots hosted a happy hour to celebrate
finishing the project. On the menu: Subway sandwiches.