Product Placement from Matti Niinimäki on Vimeo.

It’s like Creature Comforts for the ad industry. But look out, traditional animators – still images can come to live almost magically through the interactive powers of Animata, an open source animation tool.

In a brilliant series of animated interviews, Product Placement populates its scenes with classic ad mascots, from Heinz’s Tom Tomato to anti-polluter PSA character Woodsy Owl. The audio comes from interviews with people connected to the ad industry being surprisingly frank and even cynical about the role of advertising in society. The audio for those interviews is an interesting project in itself – the Anti Advertising Agency had the novel idea of installing DIY motion-activated playback units to insert the conversations in public space, commenting on outdoor advertising.

But add motion, and the interviews take on a different meaning. Woodsy begs advertisers to tweak his mind with their ad techniques, as the Chicken of the Sea Tuna mermaid worries about greenwashing and her body image. (Fret not: you look just fine exactly the way you are, Chicken of the Sea mermaid.)

The work is the product of the gifted mind of Matti Niinimäki, whom we saw recently turning blenders and handheld mixers into DJ controllers. Matti, you’re amazing – can we just make these sites about you? (The Finnish “one-man collective” has his own site, alas, at original hamsters.)

Technically speaking, this demonstrates how animation could be mixed and remixed as easily as sound, thanks to new software. Animata is ideal for the task of bringing 2D images to life, thanks to tools for applying kinematics to still images and assigning them easily to respond to sound and puppet-style controls. That also reveals just how much animation could enter the public sphere, too, because the workload becomes possible for one person, whereas stop animation as used in shows like Creature Comforts requires countless weeks just to produce small amounts of footage. Some of the subtleties are lost here as a result – the effect is at times mechanical – but as a place to begin, it ain’t bad. And it opens new possibilities: Creative Commons-licensed Flickr photos find themselves melding seamlessly with the other images.

Of course, it’s really about the ads. I’m of a mixed mind here – publishing as a medium is threatened partly because we the publishers have lost the ability to convince advertisers of the incredible powers they themselves invented. In the age of the Internet, people assume direct marketing-style, quantifiable numbers. We measure advertising in the simplest terms: did someone click? Did they then buy something? But the whole danger of advertising is in its ability to influence decisions without your knowledge, by planting subliminal suggestions and training your brain cells to think something is familiar.

Just how powerful is that? Why, powerful enough to fool top ad men to create an “original” campaign from material you planted in their heads, as on the UK TV program Mind Control with Derren Brown:

Advertising Agency [; other parts of the world may need another link – let me know]

Then again, those kinds of powers of suggestion are now open to everyone, as media – sorry, Tom Tomato – now belongs to everyone. That’s food for thought.

For more on Animata:

3D Animation, Made Real-Time: Open-Source Animata for Mac, Windows

Demos and Tutorials: Live Control of Open Source Animation in Animata, even with a ViewMaster