Tooned is an animated series created by Framestore in partnership with McLaren, starring the brand’s two British F1 drivers Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton as themselves, alongside comedian Alexander Armstrong as Professor M. The joint venture focused on creating high-end, CGI-led content as part a new content-driven marketing strategy for McLaren, and later, Mobil1.
In the beginning
The first series of Tooned launched on Sky Sports’ F1 channel on 8 July 2012, broadcasting before the British Grand Prix in advertising space during Sky’s pre-race show. Twelve three-minute episodes were shown, one before each Grand Prix for the rest of the season. Each episode of Tooned used Button and Hamilton’s celebrated camaraderie and urge to race as fertile territory on which to grow comical adventures that test the patience of ‘Professor M’ (a reinvention of Bond’s ‘Q’, as voiced by TV comedian Alexander Armstrong). The show’s great popularity translated into a successful line of merchandise for McLaren – the dedicated Tooned section of the online shop doesn’t just sell the DVD, but clothing, posters and stickers too.
By approaching Framestore directly and circumventing the traditional creative agency route, McLaren’s marketing team improved ROI by centralising the roles of creative agency, production company and VFX house. This meant the content could be created on an extremely efficient budget and schedule under just one roof.
McLaren gave Framestore an open brief to create content based on Button and Hamilton. The only stipulations were that the end result must comical, must allow for space for additional branding from McLaren’s sponsor-partners, must be adaptable for worldwide territories and must have potential to run on a long-term basis.
Framestore’s own directors Chris Waitt and Henry Trotter (A Complete History of My Sexual Failures, Fur TV and J-Factory) wrote the stories and directed the series, while Joel Morris and Jason Hazeley (Ten O’Clock Live, That Mitchell and Webb Look, The Armstrong and Miller Show) contributed to the stories and scripts.
Once the basic characters had been mapped out, dialogue was laid down through voice recording sessions, with the directors encouraging Armstrong and the drivers to improvise and play off against each other.
McLaren and Framestore marked the F1 giant's 50th anniversary in 2013 with the return of the award-winning Tooned. The eight-part celebratory special retells the history of McLaren's cars and the champions who drove them, along with tales of wild excess, intense competition, young prodigious talent and glorious victory. Drawing on the brand's rich heritage, the series gave McLaren's historic line-up of drivers, including Emerson Fittipaldi, James Hunt, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Mika Häkkinen, theTooned treatment.
All eight of the three-minute episodes were cut together as a single long episode, now available on DVD. The second series introduced a new character – a mysterious veteran mechanic, voiced by Bourne Identity actor, Brian Cox – and features guest appearances from F1 legends such as Murray Walker, alongside Tooned's original cast of Jenson Button, Sergio Perez and Alexander Armstrong as the Professor.
As with Series 1, Framestore wrote, directed and animated the show, drawing on cult TV comedy talent in our writing/directing team of Chris Waitt and Henry Trotter, who were joined in the process by writers Ed Dyson & Tim Bain.
Framestore's Executive Producer, Simon Whalley, said of the format: 'Using a high-end CG route meant we could tap into McLaren's impressive heritage whilst recreating its legends in a contemporary way that engages youth audiences. This quality approach also meant that the content feels more like watching a credible TV comedy series, so the marketing messages get baked-in in an engaging but unobtrusive way'.
'Much of Tooned's success lies in the nature of our 50/50 partnership with McLaren, which gives us an intrinsic understanding of the brand and meant we were able to proactively identify content-led marketing opportunities, rather than waiting for briefs. This is how Tooned 50 came into being, and we're immensely proud to see it succeed'.
More for Mobil1
We didn't stop there. Tooned also lent its look, characters and humour to two mini-series for Mobil1. Entitled 'The Story of Oil' and 'Oil: An Odyssey', the short and snappy pieces of content helped Mobil1 to bring some of the science behind the speed to the fore.