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Travelers ad imitating Katamari: just coincidence

Zack Stern

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We got in touch with Todd Riddle, Group Creative Director at Fallon about the current Travelers commercial that bears a striking resemblance to Katamari Damacy. The spot (high-quality version) in question shows a mass enveloping people, trees, and cars, as it bounces through San Francisco. Riddle said that there's no Katamari relation, but the spot is connected to Peter Jackson's special effects house.

Riddle has been in advertising for 20 years and has won of dozens of accolades including Cannes, Clio, and One Show awards. We asked him a few questions about games and the spot, titled "Snowball," via email.

What inspired the Travelers Snowball spot?

The creative team that created the ad decided to use the metaphor that life is dynamic and can sometimes snowball -- but if you have the proper insurance, you should be just fine. Often in advertising we'll present a detailed storyboard to a client. In this case, because the visual production would be so detailed, and we weren't exactly sure how we would be able to produce it -- so we presented a single "key frame" that was reminiscent of the old cartoons of characters rolling down a hill, snowballing with everything in their path, and told the client that if the bought the concept, we would find the best people in the world to execute it.

How did the production of the ad come together?

True to our promise, we found the best partners. We worked with Weta Digital Ltd., which is Peter Jackson's Academy Award-winning special effects company based in New Zealand, and a well known commercial director, Dante Ariola from MJZ (Los Angeles). The special effects were created by Weta, the same team that did King Kong (Universal Pictures) and the Lord of The Rings trilogy (New Line Cinema). For the in-camera scenes (meaning scenes that do not require computer graphics), we hired a five-person stunt crew and filmed them as they intertwined themselves intro a human ball and rolled themselves down the sidewalk in San Francisco, forming the base for the "snowball." It took over 12 weeks and 87 people to complete the computer graphics (CG) and post-production work.

Do you play games? Is the spot related to Katamari Damacy?

No. In fact it wasn't until recently that we had even heard of the game.

Have games inspired your other work?

Not personally yet, though I do think the gaming world is becoming much more mainstream as technology is more accessible, and I would imagine it will at some point. But I would add our interactive department created a website for Travelers -- which is part of this campaign called the "In-synch Challenge," which recently won the Most Influential Flash Site of The Year for 2006 at the Favourite Website Awards in conjunction with Adobe. It's worth checking out.

[See also: Real life Katamari in Travelers Insurance ad]

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