Most of us don't put a whole lot of thought into TV bumps, those short spots that air to advertise a TV show. We see them dozens of times every day: the shot of the ominously broken lock, the suspenseful music, the graphics telling you when to tune in. Then, before you know it, it's over.
Bumps or bumpers aren't commercials. Rather, they're quick, five-second packages built to keep you hooked on the network itself. Unless you're watching the trippy stuff on Adult Swim, bumps usually slip unnoticed into the channel branding abyss.
For one very unique, small studio out of Buenos Aires called Lumbre, however, thinking about bumps is the daily bread and butter. The team of animators and designers has created award-winning bumps for all three seasons of The Walking Dead—as well as bumps for American Horror Story, and channels Nat Geo, FX, and Investigation Discovery. Their challenge: build a five-second blip that makes flesh-eating zombies appeal to every country outside of the US.
With The Walking Dead resurrecting on AMC in the US this Sunday, we spoke with Lumbre’s creative director Sergio Saleh and account manager Jeff Keisel about their undead bumpers, which you can see all over the world from Argentina to Bulgaria. They also told us about their personal projects, like the hyperreal, trippy short film Taste The Future—which might hold the almighty answer to dieting.
The Creators Project: Is Walking Dead popular in Argentina?
Jeff: It’s very popular here. Even the comic book has gained traction. All of the newsstands have the comic books in Spanish.
Sergio: It's the Number 1 show in Latin America.
Where do your bumps air? I noticed a lot of them are written in English.
Sergio: They air in Latin America, and every country outside of the US. A lot of our bumps are originally written in English, because Fox International can translate it from there. They translate into everything. Japanese, Bulgarian…
What sort of directives do you get for the Walking Dead bumps?
Sergio: It's hard. They didn't want to show any zombies, and we couldn't show anything from the episodes. So we had to think about how to make a bump about zombies without it being scary, without using gore, or using anything from the shows. For the second season we had to do the same thing, and this season was difficult because they only wanted us to use the poster from their ad campaigns.
Sergio: The thing with Fox International is that they deliver the same stuff to dozens of countries, so they have to be very, very inoffensive and generic in the content. They have to adapt it to many different languages, so we have to make everything very open. Different languages need different amounts of space to say the same thing, for example.
Is the show itself censored?
Jeff: We don't know about every country, but here in Argentina, the only difference on the actual show is the added subtitles.
Sergio: They didn't want to market a show about zombies [on the bumps]. They wanted it to be more about the characters and the relationships.
Jeff: Moral decisions.
And you guys also worked on an American Horror Story bump as well?
Sergio: Yes, we basically just do lots of things with Fox International. We are not related to the shows as much as the channels, like Fox International, Nat Geo, FX, Investigation Discovery… we have to adjust to their very precise briefs when we make their bumps. We use their color palettes, their layouts and their animation directives. So yes, we did American Horror Story, but we also did general branding for a Fox International Hong Kong channel called Star Chinese Movie Legends. So, the channel branding is the most important, and these bumps are a relatively small job within that.
Can you give me the scope of your studio—is it a big studio, how many employees do you have, etc.?
Sergio: We are seven going on nine. We are moving to a bigger space next week and expanding. But we work with a lot of friends in Argentina. It’s a big family of designers and animators here, so we are more like 15 or 20 people working on different projects. Though, we don't need that many to make bumps.
Jeff: We need something like five people for that.
How many people work on a broadcast project?
Sergio: The number of people involved depends of the size of each project. For global allocations like Walking Dead or American Horror Story, the team is actually quite small: The Creative Director, which is me, an Executive Producer, which is Pablo Encabo, an art director, two designers and two animators. For a TV channel branding, the team can double or triple in size and be composed of two art directors, 4-5 designers, and 5-6 animators.
What is the division of work? Does one person sketch out the idea and another create the textures? Or does one person do the whole thing from start to finish?
Very briefly, the process usually begins with a detailed brief from the client—at least, you always hope that it's detailed and that clients know what they want. You could imagine the Mission Impossible theme playing at this step. Disappointingly, though, the brief does not then self-destruct.
Once we've got the team together, I usually lead a brainstorming session where we plan out an attack and divide up responsibilities. The design package and animations are then worked on in parallel. This type of project should be seen as a package. It is almost impossible to understand it or edit it as separate pieces.
Once the package is conceptualized and designed, it's sent to the client for feedback. We try to include animation tests to better illustrate what the final result will be like—and cue the Jeopardy music.
Once the client gives us their feedback—hopefully not sending us back to square one—the LUMBRE machine goes to work putting all the pieces to together and filling everything in. This can take between 20 days and two months depending on the project. This is the point when we include scores from musicians—who usually start working with us on the project at the initial proposal.
When the package is completed, it's sent to the client for approval and if everything is OK, the final assembly is to transform it into editable toolkits that can be distributed internally by the channel to be used in various countries and languages.
Regarding your less commercial work…can you tell me about your video Taste the Future that was featured at Pause Fest?
Jeff: Sure. Basically, the Pause Fest theme was 'the future,' and Pause Fest is a design festival and it’s basically an anything goes, no holds barred sort of creative project. The idea of the Lumbre video comes from the magic berry. Have you tried those?
The magic what?
Jeff: The magic berry. The African berry, synsepalum dulcificum. They’re these berries that change the way you taste. So, after you eat one, everything you taste after that will taste sweet. It all tastes like it’s covered in sugar.
Jeff: Anything. You can buy them on the internet and have a party with your friends and eat weird things.
Jeff: Well, it’ll taste sweet but it won’t go down very sweet! So, people are really working on this, because obviously it would be really good for dieting and stuff, because you can have this sweet experience without eating sugar. We took that a little bit further and thought 'hey, maybe one day you’ll be able to mix everything!' You can mix the texture, the flavors and the nutrition so you can have exactly the texture you want, the taste you want, and you’ll be getting the nutrition of a nice healthy meal.
That’s crazy. And terrifying.
Sergio: And you will able to combine food with what you’re wearing. If you want a violet chicken because you're wearing a violet dress, you can have that. Or, you can serve a cake made of salmon at a birthday party that looks like a nice cake. And it can match what you're wearing.
Sounds like an awesome way to trick children.
Jeff: Yes! I think it's safe to say that my parents tricking me into doing things that were good for me was an important part of my development.
What specific things did you do in Taste the Future that you don't do in everyday projects? Working with models? 3D models?
Sergio: Besides working with beautiful models? Well, the design nerds in us got complete total freedom, which is a fun change of pace as most of our projects are constrained by existing content or branding. For example, when we make promo toolkits for Walking Dead it needs to look like Walking Dead but with Taste the Future our only constraint was that it should be related to the future, which is incredibly open-ended. We wanted to push ourselves as much as we could. We threw heavier renders than was possible for us in architecture sequences and we experimented with new render engines that we hadn't had the opportunity to use before. We played with tons of different frame rates and lenses on the Red Camera. Another thing that was unique was the use of color. Broadcast design has technical limitations on color characteristics like depth and vibrancy. But this project isn't meant to be aired on TV, so we were able to force full color contrasts. We wanted everything really vibrant and super saturated. This piece isn't meant to be seen on a conventional TV. We designed it for the internet, laptop screens, tablets, phones and the big screen for its premiere at Pause Fest.
You guys also made an origin video about Lumbre. Can you tell me about it?
Sergio: Yes, we made the movie We Are On Fire for our first year. We wanted to show that "lumbre" in Spanish means light, and the heat of the fire. Lumbre is all about fire, and we wanted to show Lumbre on fire!
Head to Lumbre.tv for more Lumbre projects.