MICHAEL “LIPPY” LIPMAN got the call. For the first time since Google launched its “Doodles” in the late-’90s, the California company wanted the veteran artist to create a special-occasion logo for its home page.
“Next thing I know, Ryan Germick ” — the head of the Google Doodle team — “had offered me this thing for Valentine’s Day,” Lipman tells Comic Riffs of their recent exchange. “He said: ‘We really liked what you did with [the animated] “Happy Tree Friends.” ‘ “
“You know that took me nine to 10 weeks, right?” Lipman asked Germick.
“Yeah. No — you’ve got four weeks,” Germick replied.
Lipman’s response to the job offer: “I’d better stock up on the midnight oil.”
The Bay Area-based animator quickly teamed with Google designer Willie Real to craft today’s Valentine-themed video. “When Google calls and says, ‘Drop everything,’ you heed that,” Lipman tells Comic Riffs.
To Lipman’s relief, Google had done much of the pre-animation legwork. “By the time they called me, they had an animatic done and had timed to it a Tony Bennett track [‘Cold, Cold Heart’],” Lipman tells ‘Riffs. “Tony had been in contact with them — he’s a fine artist and had wanted to do a Doodle for years, so I think he was on [Google’s] radar. When they needed a soundtrack song, they thought of him.”
Lipman — who runs the one-man shop Lippy.com — often works on short, non-narrative animation for clients, so getting to tell a story, even in just more than a minute, was an especially welcome assignment.
“The beauty is, this is [relatively] a long-form piece,” Lipman tells us. ”I like venturing into something new ... and had a real sense of responsibility to make this the best it could be.”
[MORE: VALENTINE’S DAY GOOGLE DOODLE: Today’s charming musical animation makes for one sweet gift]
In the Google Doodle Valentine video, a boy uses Google to search for ways to woo a girl he likes. All the standard gifts — blossoms and chocolates and bright balloons — get him nowhere; only when he shares her activity of jump-roping do their hearts, now in rhythm together, skip a beat.
“I got the animatic that had the story-beats to it,” Lipman says, “and they pretty much let me go at it. [My role was to ensure] it ended up being staged a little more clearly.”
(Lipman offers a “for example”: “The balloon animal pops as the moment reaches its apex. At first it popped as [the boy] walked off screen. ... I knew that wasn’t going to play as well. You’ve already got the emotioanl hit. My take on it was: Let’s go for a bigger move here.”)
Lipman, 52, says the interaction between the two kids (who have no names; in production he called them simply “Boy” and “Girl”) was quite reflective of his own youth.
“That was every girl I met up until college ... ,” the freelance animator tells Riffs, adding that his adolescent pudginess proved a reliable deterrent to love. “I had no confidence till one summer I lost all that weight. Before that, the little girl who couldn’t see the magic within [me] — she had many faces.”
In tweaking the boy’s and girl’s interactions, Lipman says that was where his experience paid off.
“That’s what this whole piece was — resigned sighs and poses of resignation,” he says. “That’s where I really felt blessed to be a character animator. ... [At one point] when he offers her candy, we had the girl sticking her tongue out. But to me, it’s his job to be over the top. It’s her job to be the impenetrable wall.”
Through all the decisions, Lipman says he felt an “immediate rapport” with Google’s Real, who previously designed last year’s Gregor Mendel Doodle. “I told him, ‘I’m happy you’re so talented — that makes a lot of late nights really worthwhile,’ ” the animator says. (Before going to Google, Real studied traditional animation and visual development at San Francisco’s Academy of Art College.)
Lipman, a native of Lancaster, Pa., got hooked on art as a kid, but it was such work as “Fritz the Cat” animation that opened his eyes to the possible. “When I saw ‘Fritz,’ my whole life completely did a ‘180’ and turned me upside-down,” he says of the R. Crumb comic that Ralph Bakshi directed as an X-rated animated film. “I realized that animations don’t have to be Disney-esque. It was like watching an underground comic and realizing it had a real, viable future.”
Lipman kept his eye on the possibilities of computer animation in the ’80s, after studying fine art and animation at UCLA. He was working for such Manhattan firms as Coopers & Lybrand when he had an “a-ha” moment.
“I was watching MTV in some New Jersey bar, and ‘Terminator 2’ was being released,” he recounts. “I was watching a making-of special — with all the amazing liquid metal ... and they were interviewing the head of design for special effects at [George Lucas’s] Industrial Light & Magic” in California.
Turns out, that head of design was Doug Chang, an old friend from UCLA Lipman told Chang of his growing computer skills. Chang’s response: “You really need to get out of New York — you should come out here immediately.”
“That’s why this Google Doodle is so important to me,” Lipman says of the Flash-created video. “It’s just a very rare occurrence when a [short-form] animator gets to tell us a story anymore. It’s a time for Facebook games and incremental animation. The creamy nougat at the center of animation is telling a story.”
Plus, Lipman notes: “Google couldn’t have more accommodating — and they were also great about payment for all my long hours!”