The 15-second TV ad starts with a hand, scribbling shapes onto a generic piece of white paper. The artist places two fingers over one of the rectangles and yanks gently, tugging from the sheet what looks like a three-dimensional paper building, only a few inches tall. Then he yanks, and yanks again. In an instant, a full miniature cityscape of downtown Houston starts to emerge, with a rushing bayou, freeways dotted with speeding cars, and a plane swooping past the skyline. It’s quick and cartoonish, but also wildly accurate and evocative—and if you're just seeing the recently released commercial for the first time, you'll probably do a double-take.
“When people see it, the first instinct is to rewind and watch it again,” says Holly Clapham-Rosenow, the chief marketing officer for the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. “How many commercials do you rewind and watch again?”
The stop-motion spot is the work of Houston-based animator Brandon Ray, who runs Paper Brain Productions, an “animation micro-boutique.” Clapham commissioned it for My Houston, a 10-year old tourism campaign. “Instead of adhering to a tag line and selling something,” she says, “we really try to open people’s eyes, and to commit to fresh ideas and fresh talent that come out of Houston.”
It took just two meetings to conceive the idea, after which Ray spent the better part of a month cutting paper to resemble local landmarks such as the Dutch Gothic-gabled Bank of America Center and the Mayan pyramid-crowned Heritage Plaza. Clapham appreciates his “fluid choppiness,” comparing it to a particularly clever animated GIF. The spot is running at George Bush Intercontinental, as pre-roll on YouTube and Hulu videos, and as part of other city promotional materials. And the bureau is planning to enlist Ray’s services again in the future.
“We love things that stand out,” Clapham says, “and this is in a class all on its own.”