Back to the Stars | Ritz-Carlton, Sanya (China)

April 30th 2019

Back To The Stars, directed by Le Cube, is a classic piece of animated storytelling for Ritz-Carlton, Sanya (China). 

Saatchi& Saatchi and Team One, the company that manages the Ritz-Carlton’s business globally, approached us about producing the latest film in the hotel chain’s “Let Us Stay With You” series. The story is based on the real-life experiences of a guest staying at the Yalong Bay resort in Sanya, a retired and recently widowed former Russian cosmonaut.  The loss of his wife meant he was having trouble enjoying his vacation, despite the idyllic surroundings.  After learning of the man’s story, the hotel staff rallied to create various surprises designed to help ease his suffering.

Le Cube director Ralph Karam explains how the piece came together:

Brief

We were asked to tell the story of the man’s remarkable life as a renowned astronaut, portray his deep bond with his wife, and show how the hotel brought him some comfort amid the sadness of losing her.  We also needed to emphasize the hotel’s values, namely exceptionally attentive staff, kindness and cordiality.

Reference

We received a deck with selected previous films by Le Cube, pieces like Frances and Senna, so it was clear they were looking for a deep, emotional mood.  We also received photos of the hotel and the real protagonist.  Although we ultimately decided not to base the design on his real image to avoid it becoming a caricature, we understood that there needed to be an element of realism to the overall aesthetic.

Design

Our idea was to use bold lighting to create a rich atmosphere and dramatic mood.   For the characters, we aimed for simplicity and elegance in their body forms, but with enough detail to portray the age and ethnicity of the characters.  The clothes needed to place the characters in specific eras and locations, starting in a 1960s Russian winter and finishing in summer in modern day China.

Story Development

The agency gave us a synopsis and a rough storyboard that really helped to visualize what they were looking for.  The structure of this early storyboard was pretty much the same as the final result.

Production Process

The storyboard was developed for the initial pitch and took 1 week.  We spent 1 week exploring the design, followed by 4 weeks to produce all the characters and backgrounds.  The animatic (*“moving storyboard” that gives a feel for timing) took 2 weeks, with 3 rounds of revisions with the agency.  The animation took a further 6 weeks to complete.

Client Working Relationship

In terms of the art and design, the client really trusted our vision and approved almost everything with very few revisions.  They were very concerned about telling the story and highlighting the values of the hotel, so we had some back and forth in the animatic stage.  This is normal as it’s the stage in the process when the client can really get a feel for the storytelling and we can craft the narrative together.

Music

The music was crucial to set the emotive and nostalgic mood of the piece.  From the beginning, I thought about classical instrumental music, and was particularly inspired by Debussy.  We wanted only a minimum of foley and external sound design, using just the instruments to reinforce the different moments and moods of the animation. To help us to place the story in China, once the character arrives at the hotel we integrated some accents of classical Chinese instruments.

Reflections

As always, we placed great emphasis on craft, and it’s so pleasing to work with a client that values that.  Ultimately I think it’s a really touching animated piece.  It’s something that we haven’t seen too much of before in Chinese commercial work, so we’re really happy to have been given the opportunity to bring something new.

Credits

Client: The Ritz-Carlton
Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi and Team One
Production Company: Final Frontier
Animation Studio: Le Cube
Direction: Ralph Karam
EP: Juan Manuel Freire (Le Cube), Chris Colman andGustavo Karam
Music Production Company: Cachorro Loco
Composer: Facundo Capece
Sound design: Lola Richter

Making of: