Cuppa Coffee: thesis plus

antithesis equals synthesis...

antithesis equals synthesis

Toronto-based Cuppa Coffee Animation and Design is mixed up.

Oops, that didn’t come out right.

How about this: Cuppa Coffee knows how to mix it up. Its reel shows just that – a mix of different styles (cel animation, stop motion, claymation, cut-out) as well as how the art of mixing mediums can create something new and fresh. And proving, yes, Hegel was right, thesis coupled with antithesis equals synthesis.

It is in Cuppa Coffee executive producer/owner Adam Shaheen’s early freelance illustrations that one can see the beginnings of the Cuppa Coffee aesthetic, this combination of form, element and genre (photography, illustration, painting and graphic design).

Enter MuchMusic’s Michael Heydon, who gave Shaheen the opportunity to take his work one step further – to make it move.

Founded four years ago by Shaheen and then-partner/animator Bruce Alcock, Cuppa Coffee first broke onto the scene producing station ids – fast-paced, funky, quick hits – for MuchMusic. ‘When we started out, we got pegged as the MuchMusic guys. That’s the only stuff people could see using us for,’ says Shaheen, now sole owner of the Toronto animation/design house.

But Cuppa Coffee has proved there is a market for its wares, with a client roster that includes Alliance Communications, Chubb, Insight Productions, Imax Ridefilm, Nike Canada, BMG Music Club and Planters.

The movement away from the five-second rock ‘n’ roll id thing has been slow, but steady. Not one to bite the hand that feeds them, Shaheen and company still produce ids – most recently completing a project for the cbs pilot Shock Treatment.

Clearly, Cuppa Coffee’s relationship with MuchMusic has served it well, winning the company an award for an intro segment for Much’s Word Up and garnering Shaheen and Heydon an sro crowd on their seminar on animation technique at the Broadcast Designers Association Awards in Washington, d.c. last month.

The transition into longer format, specifically commercial work, has been twofold: first, featured within spots (Choclairs, Nescafe Instant specialty coffees); and second, producing entire commercials, most recently a 30-second national spot for Panasonic Shockwave. The move marks an attempt to be seen as a resource that does more than just animation, and can include all facets of the creative and production process, including writing and soundtracks.

Cuppa Coffee’s directorial roster currently lists animation directors with quite different artistic backgrounds – Julian Grey (graphic design/fine arts/illustration), Steve Hillman (self-taught animator), Steven Angel (editorial illustration/art direction) and animator Paloma Boiles (theater design) – and is looking to sign two or three live-action directors to include on its reel.

The diversity of its staff is Cuppa Coffee’s strength, says Shaheen, who graduated from the u.k.’s London School of Printing with a degree in photography, but has no formal animation training. It allows the company to pull from many different influences and resources creatively.

‘We’re not just high on our own little thing. There’s other fantastic stuff out there and we want take some of that and use it and expose it,’ says Shaheen. ‘We’re keen to work and apply our skills and talents – like taking the Cuppa Coffee aesthetic and applying it to something like ReBoot, taking that computer-generated character and putting it into the physical world. We’d like to make it not so formulaic, and mix things it up.’

And of course, play.

Take, for example, the Claritin claymation spots. ‘They’re extremely well done, but there is a sort of sterility and properness and cleanness to them – an ultimate respect for the clay. The rose looks just like a rose, in which case why not use a rose. Enjoy the clay, enjoy the material – that’s what we do,’ he says.

As well as expanding its repertoire into longer formats (Cuppa Coffee’s next step is to produce shorts and it is currently developing ideas for Nickelodeon and ytv), the company is actively looking into the u.s. market.

Provisionally repped in New York by Tim Case and Associates, Amy Frith in Boston and looking for representation on the West Coast, Shaheen eventually would like to open a u.s. office, perhaps in San Francisco. ‘In the u.s. the budgets are three or four times what they are here and the boards are a lot more exciting, unfortunately,’ he says.

Within the next year, Shaheen also plans to get into the computer-generated animation game. ‘I think we can use the computer environment in a way other people aren’t using it. We’d like to use it to do what we do in a computer environment, mix it up texturally. But it has to be appropriate for the job. You have to look at the boards first and see what the agenda is.’

For Shaheen, it is important to be constantly evolving and trying new things. The latest: idea company Sargeant York, named after the two Dicks who played Darrin on Bewitched, that Shaheen, writer/director Richard Quinlan of Q and Co. and writer Jeff Rockburn have created.

Enlisting the talents of a pool of writers, directors, artists, animators, and claymation and multimedia artists, the company’s agenda is to create an environment for, as Shaheen deftly puts it, ‘cool creative.’

Operating, for the time being, out of Cuppa Coffee’s hq, Sargeant York represents an opportunity for the trio to have more creative control outside of what they might be doing now. Says Rockburn: ‘I think we’re all forced to think in boxes by people we work for. This is an attempt to get outside of ours and perhaps get others outside of theirs.’

Taking a proactive stance and actively marketing ideas to targeted companies and broadcasters, the new company will run the gamut of industry genres and modes of communication, from tv series to features to ads to motivational and educational videos.

As well, Sargeant York will put more emphasis on the idea rather than market research. Risky move? Maybe not. ‘Everyone has been really safe for the last five years and are just coming out of it now,’ says Quinlan.

Meantime, the folks at Cuppa Coffee have got their work cut out for them. Says Shaheen: ‘I would get bored if I was just waiting for the board to get in and then just animate it.’