This Balanced Breakfast

This is a commercial from 1992, part of a campaign for Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, produced at Colossal Pictures in San Francisco.

The campaign started the year prior, designed & directed by Mike Smith, with animation in the first spot done by Russell Brooke. This spot here was directed by Phil Robinson with Mike Smith as the creative director. The storyboard was by Mike & Phil, the layouts by me, and animation was done by Chris Hauge & Dave Feiss (I did some animation too, after finishing the layouts). Art direction & backgrounds were painted by Dave Gordon. Such campaigns were the bread & butter of indy commercials animation studios, and kept the lights on, so that other fun stuff could be tinkered with. (rock videos, title sequences, short films and so on).

This commercial was my first ever encounter with ink & paint all being done digitally. The animation, in-betweens and backgrounds were all drawn on paper at Colossal Pictures, but then we went down to USAnimation‘s facility in LA to finish colouring in their computer. (USAnimation later merged with Toon Boom, and their software eventually became what is now Toon Boom Harmony).

During the production of this cereal campaign, I learned the importance of the phrase heard at the end of every cereal commercial; “a part of this balanced breakfast“. The word ‘part‘ being the crucial legal escape-hatch in this wordplay shell game. When drawing the layout for said breakky (at the very end) I’d omitted the glass of orange juice mentioned in the script. This wasn’t noticed till the very last minute, causing a great wailing & gnashing of teeth in the agency legal department. Because without the juice, the scene did not show a balanced breakfast at all (there’s probably more nutrition in the cardboard cereal box than your typical bowl of American breakky cereal). Advertising is simply the flashiest exaggeration & the biggest lie that can be gotten away with, legally speaking, and I’d left out the vital part..

Thankfully, Dave Gordon was able to paint in the juice at the last minute, sufficient vitamins were thus on screen when the famous phrase was uttered, and false-advertising lawsuits (& legal department aneurisms) were averted. But those nerve-wracked snakeoil salesmen were biting their nails & chugging their Pepto Bismol right down to the wire, just like in the photo finish of the commercial itself.

Speaking of that, one of the fun things about this commercial was the animated flipbook that was drawn by Mike Smith. Just as in bygone days when knick knacks were sometimes included in boxes of cereal, this flipbook was included in marked boxes of Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, allowing interested parties to discover exactly who’d won the race.

16 thoughts on “This Balanced Breakfast”

    • Yeah, wish I’d gotten a copy of that flip book myself. As to USAnimation/ToonBoom, we must have been one of the first clients to use that software, as apparently the company began in 1992.

  1. Man I used to draw all my favorite cereal character designs. CinnaMAN
    Was one of my faves. Sogmaster being my first love.

  2. I always loved the photoshoots of the live-action Legal Breakfast, which, in order to look good on film, were often bizarre concoctions wrought by ever-inventive food stylists. Like using white glue instead of real milk, or spraying toast with vegetable oil to make it look extra-buttery. I once had to laboriously paint every purple Fruit Loop with cel paint to make the purple cereal bits “read” a delicious grapey purple instead of goth black, which is how they looked on the pre-production film test “wedges.”

  3. Memory Lane!!!!! Cheerios for this reminder James!! A great way to hone our craft as youngsters. What a crew of big guns you guys had on this ad!! General Mills were lucky!
    I did so many of these kinds of ads…..initially for Richard Williams in ’87 while everyone else was working on Roger Rabbit…then about 15 of them at Passion Pictures when they just opened…..then years and years of them with my studio Espresso.
    This whole slice of animation history has some gems….I particularly love Dave Feiss’s Cheetos ads…….a whole animation masterclass in every 30 seconds.
    Regarding US Animation…..I had a dreadful experience with them in ’93 and it made me stick with traditional ink and paint and film for another 10 years!!
    Cheers James!!!!

    • Hey Phil! What campaign did you & Lisa come to work on at Colossal? Was it this one? I don’t think we had a bad experience with USAnimation, but on the other hand we never used them again, so maybe there were problems that I wasn’t aware of? I just remember that the digital process required a lot of fiddly shenanigans in clean up.

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