There is a tone that only certain creative minds can manifest. From the classic Coen Brothers film Raising Arizona to the cult TV hit My name is Earl, the blend of quirky comedy with crime can be incredibly appealing when sculpted by experts. Sprung is a streaming series created by Gregory Thomas Garcia (creator of My Name is Earl) who has an instantly definable voice as a storyteller. One of the most pleasing aspects of his style is its proclivity for the unexpected. That reaches an apex in one of the season’s most visually and emotionally fulfilling moments that involves a young boy and a cereal fantasy. Xiaobo Daniel Ma was enthusiastic about his contributions to the show (as part of NYC/LA Based LOGAN) as it literally portrayed a dream come true moment. Xiaobo has worked as a 3D animator on projects that range from music videos to feature film but asserts that working on scenes such as this for Sprung, which display moments of pure emotional psychedelia, brings the positive effects crossover into one’s everyday life. While Sprung includes notable cast members such as Garret Dillahunt (SAG Award Nominee for triple Academy Award–Winning film 12 Years a Slave), Martha Plimptonas (Primetime Emmy Award–winning actress), and Shakira Barrera (“Yo-Yo” on Netflix's Emmy-nominated Glow), the real focal point is the moments of tangential fantasy which occur in this series.
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Written out on the page, the plot of Sprung sounds pessimistic. It’s the story of a man named Jack who has been released early from prison due to the pandemic, essentially going from one doomed existence into another. The tone of the show however is the humorous discovery of hope and optimism even when the deck seems stacked against you. One of the most magical moments in the series is loosely connected to the general storyline but still encapsulates the humor and sentiment of Sprung. The scene involves a boy being pushed around in a cart by his mother while shopping for breakfast cereal. The imaginative youth desires colorful and exciting cereal boxes with fun designs. In his mind, he envisions a fantasy world where the cereals come to life, dancing around him to lively music. This whimsical adventure includes him jumping on cereal loops, sliding on milk/water slides, and floating on marshmallows. This vibrant, oversaturated setting reflects a child's perspective. Xiaobo and his team were responsible for the character animation, encompassing movements, facial expressions, and reactions to the imaginary setting in this scene. This animation takes us inside the boy’s imaginary world without any boundaries that might pull us out of his psychedelic vision. The immersion is unquestionable as we accompany him from shopping cart to imaginary cereal water park and being catapulted into a vividly colored geometric cereal ballet with multiple versions of himself. Xiaobo describes how this approach supported the episode’s theme stating, “By embracing childishness and employing vivid visuals, the sequence captures attention and achieves a lighthearted and impactful tone that contrasts with the more serious style of the series. The objective here is twofold: to create visual allure, and convey a childlike dynamic. Traditional cinematography takes a backseat as we opt for a playful cinematic approach that employs dynamic camera movements akin to a child's whimsy. This technique imparts a sense of adventure, as if a spirited companion is accompanying the child on a journey through a milk-based water park.” That spirited companion is the audience who is commandeered in a playful manner. Like a 70’s cartoon brought to life, this sequence in the show is indicative of the turn of the century but relatable to anyone who recalls childhood fascination.
One unobvious aspect of this scene is the fact that all of the animation work was done during the lockdown. Impressively, there is no indication in the final product that any of what was created for this scene was out of normal conditions. Xiaobo proudly remarks, “The most rewarding aspect of this project for me was the fact that I was able to collaborate with colleagues during the pandemic period. Amidst remote work, which poses its own set of challenges due to communication hurdles, the chance to work on a shared cloud-based sequence was truly fulfilling. The absence of daily commutes to an office allowed us to focus on shared objectives, maintaining constant communication, and optimizing efficiency. Working remotely has proven dynamic and successful, further reinforced by the realization that it has spawned a piece that showcases our creativity and humor. This sequence, built collaboratively through platforms like Slack and email exchanges, is a testament to our ability to innovate even in remote settings. When we reflect on these moments – crafting something fun and impactful in the cloud during the pandemic – it becomes clear that this experience and the resulting work on Amazon are treasures that will stay with us for a lifetime.”