Last year, General Mills debuted a new commercial introducing the Cereal Squad.
Pint-size versions of beloved cereal brand mascots made up the squad. Its members include the Trix Rabbit, Lucky the Lucky Charms’ Leprechaun, Chip the Wolf from Cookie Crisp, Cinnamoji with Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Honey Nut Cheerios’ BuzzBee, and Cocoa Puffs’ Sonny the Cuckoo Bird. The six characters spent their time in a clubhouse together. Here they eat their favorite meal — bowls full of cereal — and collect free toys made with their likeness inside each cereal box.
Hang on… did you say these characters hang out in a clubhouse? They sure do!
Brand mascots are somewhat nomadic in nature. Characters like the Green Giant, for example, exist within the vague Valley. Vehicles associated with characters, like the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, tend to be perpetually on the road. For the most part, it’s largely assumed that brand mascots are present in essential spaces, like the kitchen or breakfast nook, or figure out how to get where they are needed on their own. (See also: The Kool-Aid Man making his arrival by bursting into houses.)
Only a few brand mascots have ever received a formal home address. You can probably guess who has the most famous residence — that would be the Keebler Elves’ Hollow Tree. So, it’s pretty exciting to get a rare glimpse inside a newly created space where some of cereal’s biggest icons get to chill out together.
Los Angeles-based design and animation agency Roger is credited with designing the clubhouse and overall project for General Mills. Join us on a tour of the clubhouse and learn how the unique space was made with Dane Macbeth, Partner and Creative Director at Roger.
Finding a Cereal Squad Residence
Since childhood, the Roger team has been big fans of the Big G Cereals and their respective brand mascots. They decided to build a CG 3D world where its characters could reside in 2D hand drawn animation.
Building a space the characters could call home relied upon the Roger team using all the Trix in their toolbox. Prior to landing on the clubhouse, Macbeth recalls a series of different directions that were pitched for the Cereal Squad. One of these directions featured three child explorers traversing through a cereal-inspired landscape in search of collecting all six figures. Exploding cereal boxes in slow motion would showcase the entire Squad along the journey.
However, the direction that Roger and the client agreed upon included a headquarters. This was a space the gang could call home.
“Our original conceit was a bit more of a superhero headquarters,” Macbeth says. “Through collaboration with General Mills, we settled into a more kid-inviting, clubhouse-style theme.”
Putting a Spin on Iconic Mascots
As design work began on the clubhouse, makeovers were in order for the Cereal Squad icons. Roger got the chance to put their own spin on the characters with a unique look for each character featured in the campaign.
Macbeth notes that the initial ask was not to create pint-size versions of the mascots.
“Our goal was to bridge the gap between the current iteration of character design and the Funko-inspired toy designs,” Macbeth says.
The Roger creatives officially had permission to play. They started by reviewing the latest cereal box design characters and photographs of the free toys inside boxes. Then, they began playing with the idea of what it could look like to create characters that had larger heads and smaller bodies. Even the idea of clothes and accessories was explored for the Squad.
The final designs kept large heads and eyes. It also aged the brand mascots down so they could be a bit more youthful. This helps kids get excited for the squad while allowing the characters to remain memorable for all audiences.
“We knew we had to keep the characters instantly recognizable, so we never strayed too far from what makes them so loveable,” says Macbeth.
Animating During COVID-19
The approach of combining 2D and 3D animation into one campaign was a hit with General Mills. However, the world was experiencing unprecedented global changes.
The Cereal Squad campaign debuted in late 2020. In January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the coronavirus outbreak was a global health emergency. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the campaign’s 2D and 3D pipeline needed to be navigated by Roger creatives as they worked from home.
Pulling this off required the team to be technically sound. Macbeth says that the animation process actually began entirely in 3D to work out camera moves and character placements. Lower detailed 3D characters were created for the squad alongside the clubhouse. This was used in the pre-vis stage before going into 2D animation.
Once the Roger team had the pre-vis signed off, the 2D animation team would animate the characters. Classic animation techniques were used, like squash and stretch and smearing, before bringing back into 3D for the final render.
Macbeth is proud of how well everyone on the team was able to work from home on the animation together. While there were a few challenging moments, such as 2D characters interacting with 3D elements, extensive planning allowed the team to avoid any major hiccups.
Welcome to the Clubhouse!
Roger had a blast creating the interior furnishings of the clubhouse. The centerpiece of the space is a giant table that resembles a cereal bowl. A see-through aquarium style floor, stained glass cereal windows, custom carpet, and a massive cereal inspired chandelier all tie the room together.
Every nook and cranny of the Cereal Squad’s clubhouse celebrates cereal and its residents. The Cereal Squad receives equal representation. This means each character has their own custom chairs, cereal bowls and spoons, and entry way designs. Each character also gets a quick moment and line that acts as a riff on their catchphrases. (Unfortunately, since Cinnamoji can’t speak he’s the only character without a catchphrase.)
The Cereal Squad’s Easter Eggs
The designers at Roger are a big fan of Easter eggs and the clubhouse has more than a few within it. Keep your eyes peeled for the different cereal pieces floating underneath the floor and take a peek at the custom oil painting-style portraits for each character on the walls. The latter is a Roger favorite!
One of the cleverest Easter eggs, however, can be spotted in its commercial. The next time you watch it, look closely at BuzzBee. The character’s flying nature allowed the animation team to lean into classical animation techniques. In one frame, Buzz has three eyes. See if you can spot it!