The Amul Butter girl gets a 3D makeover

Sep 22, 2013, 05:39 IST | Rinky Kumar

From a black-and-white avatar to a coloured, slimmer form, from the god-fearing tiny tot to the mischievous moppet making witty repartees, the Amul girl has transformed with the times. With a new television commercial, she has become the first mascot in India to go three-dimensional. Rinky Kumar examines the evolution of this moppet

She is the iconic girl in a red polka-dotted dress with a wide-eyed look and an impish smile. She is mostly seen looking down at us from billboards, but now she has got a novel avatar. In a new television commercial (TVC) that went on air earlier this month, the Amul girl is seen frolicking around on a boat and a tree house in a fantasy land with kids urging them to team up butter with pasta, noodles and corn. What makes this ad unique, however, is that this is the first time the moppet has transformed from 2D (two-dimensional) to 3D (three-dimensional). One can view the ad without the traditional 3D glasses. Interestingly, in a first-of-its-kind, the TVC featuring the 3D mascot will be aired in cinema halls in the coming months.

Amul butter baby

Kailash Surendranath, founder of Kailash Picture Company Pvt Ltd, who directed the commercial says, “We got a two-fold brief from the company. First, to show that kids are adding Amul butter to their food and secondly, to present the mascot in 3D animation and progress from the 2D illustrated character that we all know. We needed to do this without losing her original character, which was the tricky part.”

Since the background was supposed to be animated, the film was shot with children against a green screen set with real props and food. Later, Surendranath and his team listed the differences between the original hoarding design and the 3D computer graphics and sent it to Toonz Animation that did the background and compositing of the moppet.

The new television commercial shows the Amul mascot in a 3D avatar with kids in a fantasy land, urging them to team up butter with pasta, noodles and corn

Surendranath says, “The three-dimensional look is more realistic and contemporary. If you notice closely, in the ad the girl looks more rounded. It is essentially a computer-generated 3D model that has a 360-degree view and looks like a real-life figure as compared to a 2D figure that is one-dimensional. Also when you work on a 3D model, you have to work on it and the background separately. So I shot with the children against a plain green background while Toonz Animation worked on the background and the mascot.”

According to Hari Verma, chief creative officer, Toonz Animation, the initial challenge was to transfer the mascot from 2D artwork into 3D space without losing the cuteness of the art. “We did a lot of research in this aspect. We did various versions with perfect features. In the process, we realised that the girl didn’t have an evident nose in the 2D art as the upper lip was curved in such a way that it looked like her nose. Though the ad is on air right now, we had been working on it for nearly a year. We used the scenes shot with the green screen as our layout for animation and compositing. With plans to screen the TVC in cinema halls, we now need to do the stereo conversion and get the whole ad rendered in high resolution 3D.”

Former head of Board of Control for Cricket in India, Jagmohan Dalmiya, threatened to sue Amul after this campaign in 1998-99

Rahul da Cunha, managing director and creative head, DaCunha Communications, the agency behind the butter brand’s ads, says that the TVC is in sync with the brand’s strategy of constantly evolving with the times. From a black-to-white fuller avatar to a coloured, slimmer form, from the god-fearing tiny tot to the mischievous moppet making witty repartees, the mascot has been undergoing a transformation consistently. “After 50 years, we thought of introducing her to the 3D format and transfer her to another medium -- the small screen. Our biggest concern was how would she look in the commercial. Also in the hoardings, she comments on daily events in a tongue-in-cheek manner. Over there, the focus is not on the product but on what she is saying. In the TVC, the emphasis is on the food and the kids. We can’t adopt her hoarding avatar in the TVC as the events that she comments on are time-bound. What’s hot today might be dead tomorrow.”

Turning back time
The Amul mascot was created in 1966 by cartoonist Eustace DeSouza and Sylvester da Cunha, founder-chairman of DaCunha Communications. The brief given to them was to appeal to children. Since that time the media wasn’t as vast as it is today, the ads were limited to hoardings and were mostly product-related. That’s when da Cunha senior thought of the line, ‘Utterly butterly delicious’. The first hoarding that da Cunha senior and Fernandes created said, ‘Give us this day our daily bread with Amul Butter.’ The mascot was first used for Amul butter. But in recent years, in a second wave of ad campaign for other products, she has also been used for other products like ghee and milk.

The first hoarding developed by Sylvester da Cunha, founder-chairman of DaCunha communications, and cartoonist Eustace DeSouza in 1966

In 1970s, the need to widen the mascot’s horizons prompted da Cunha senior to introduce current events on the hoardings. At that time, the mascot sported a fuller figure. Now she sports a slightly slimmer avatar to appeal to the kids. Things changed when Rahul da Cunha started working on the campaign in 1993. The mascot started commenting on current affairs in a more tongue-in-cheek manner and the billboards became more edgy. Explaining the reason, da Cunha says, “From the ’90s, politics became personality-oriented. Political leaders, such as Laloo Prasad Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani emerged as interesting characters in people’s minds. Likewise, film stars and television became larger-than-life for the common man. Earlier, actors were only relegated to film magazines. But gradually the media started focusing on cinema and television. These events became significant for the Amul girl to comment on. Also today the Indian society has become very glamour- oriented. Case in point is our fascination with the new Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuraman Rajan.”

The famous hoarding on then Chief Minister of Bihar, Laloo Prasad Yadav, after the fodder scam in 1996

From 1960s to ’90s, da Cunha’s ad agency worked on one hoarding every month. The number increased to one hoarding per week since 1993. But of late, they have been working on five to six hoardings every week. Da Cunha attributes it to Amul’s presence on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. In fact, the Facebook page, which was set up last year, now has 1.5 million followers. Every day, the page gets as many as 4,000-7,000 likes. “Our presence on social networking sites has increased our readership and viewership. Online our target audience is in the age group from 18 to 25. As their attention span is shorter now and they are very active on Twitter and Facebook, we get constant feedback from them. Also, over the past two years, there are too many things happening on a daily basis. In fact, the smallest of things is reported widely. For instance, reams of newsprint and on-air coverage are dedicated to Shah Rukh Khan slapping Shirish Kunder. Such an incident becomes a topic to comment on for the mascot.”

All about team work
The brains behind the witty one-liners comprise da Cunha, writer Manish Jhaveri and illustrator Jayant Rane. The trio has been working successfully as a team since the last two decades. Apart from discussing each morning about the events that can serve as good topics, on Monday mornings, Jhaveri and da Cunha take stock of probable events that can be highlights of the week. Da Cunha explains, “Last week both of us discussed about how Narendra Modi being announced as Bharatiya Janata Party’s Prime Minister candidate, Shreesanth facing a probable life ban due to the spot fixing scam, Anant Chaturdashi and the juvenile getting only three year imprisonment sentence in the Nirbhaya rape case were significant events. Then we took a call on which topic would appeal in which part of the country. Ganpati visarjan is a huge draw in Maharashtra, Modi is a hot topic in Gujarat and cricket scam is significant in Jaipur.” 

In 2011 when the Amul billboard ridiculed Satyam’s then chairman Ramalinga Raju after the Rs 7000 crore scam, Satyam board demanded a written apology from Amul

However, there are also several issues such as international politics and Hollywood news, which serve as relevant topics only for social networking sites. Case in point being the recent campaign featuring US President Barack Obama’s response to the Syria crisis, which got a favourable response on Facebook but didn’t make it to hoardings across the country.

Apart from the clever puns, what strikes home is the strong cross referencing that is a hallmark in every hoarding. Jhaveri juxtaposes two seemingly different ideas in one line, thanks to his vast knowledge of popular culture including Bollywood films, epics such as Ramayana and the Mahabharata and Hinglish. Likewise, Rane’s illustration of personalities caught in a fix drives home the point of the one-liners effectively. Till a couple of years ago, the illustration work on the hoardings was a pain-staking job. After Rane painted the image on an 8x8 inch paper, the artwork would be sent to the contractor whose labourers would climb on scaffolding and replicate Rane’s painting on mammoth hoardings. Though Rane continues to draw it manually, thanks to digital technology, the image is scanned on computers and later turned into prints that finally take form on billboards.

The Amul hoarding making a tongue-in-cheek comment on Trinamool Congress Chief Mamata Banerjee getting offended after a Jadavpur University professor circulated a picture spoofing her.

Controversies galore
Though largely personalities highlighted in the hoardings take the campaign in the right spirit, the Amul campaign has had its fair share of controversies. In 2010, after then sports minister Suresh Kalmadi was arrested for his alleged involvement in the Commonwealth Games scam, the campaign ran a hoarding that showed Kalmadi saying Maine kya khaya? Angry supporters of the minister pulled down the hoarding in Pune and demanded that Amul render an apology. Likewise, in 2011, when the Amul billboard ridiculed Satyam’s then chairman Ramalinga Raju after the Rs 7000 crore scam with a notorious ‘Satyam, sharam, scandalam!’, Satyam board demanded a written apology from Amul failing which all their employees would stop using Amul products. Despite the veiled threats, none of the campaigns have ever been withdrawn. Da Cunha says, “We don’t sit on the fence, we echo what the common man feels.”

A recent billboard on the escalating price of onions that is burning a hole in the common man’s pockets

According to social commentator and Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Futurebrands India Ltd, Santosh Desai, the Amul mascot holds a significant place in Indian society. “Apart from being the most endearing mascot we have ever seen in the country, what works in her favour is the fact that she can make serious comments in a completely disarming way. She enjoys a pivotal place in the Indian landscape because the nature of her comments makes news. The new TVC is a step toward being in sync with the contemporary world. The mascot has been constantly evolving rather than being stuck in a time warp and looking dated.” The chubby girl with the half ponytail frolicking in a red polka dotted dress truly epitomises the saying change is the only constant.  

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