• 11.30.09

    Tristan Eaton Feels the Funk for the Soul Train Awards

    2009 has been a busy year for Tristan Eaton, founder of Thunderdog Studios. He's traveled around the world for Dell Design Studio, launched the B-Bot iPhone application, been featured in Art for Obama, released Thundermutt 3.0, and created murals for the Ace Hotel. We caught up with Tristan again to discuss his latest project, the rebranding of the 2009 Soul Train Awards for Viacom's new network, Centric. The comprehensive campaign includes logo design, a new train design, print and outdoor art, subway station takeovers, animation sequences, on-air graphics, and the Soul Train award itself. Interspectacular wrote, directed, and animated the pivotal opening sequence (shown above) and all transitional elements. Bernstein & Andriulli produced the entire show package.

    With a television show as heavily embedded in America's cultural history as Soul Train, all eyes were on Tristan and Thunderdog Studios to see where they would take the updated identity. Never one to shy away from high expectations, Tristan was honored to be chosen for the task. Working closely with other Viacom networks VH1 and BET, he sought to keep the funk and spirit of the original show while making it look sharp and modern for today.

    Have you ever watched Soul Train before? Were you familiar with the history?
    Of course! I remember watching it in the 80's when I was a kid. I used to love it. That part of American culture became a big part of my work, so I'd often go back to look at Soul Train for style references and to look at dance moves.

    What was your initial reaction when you were presented with this project?
    Well, we heard a rumor that we were being put up for it. Of course we were excited, but you never want to get your hopes up too high. Sometimes amazing jobs evaporate into thin air, so we were patient! I got excited once we started getting approvals on art I liked! It was a great feeling to work on such a classic brand.

    What were your inspirations? What did you take into consideration when you were coming up with the visuals for the campaign?
    Of course the original Soul Train art from the 70's and 80's was a big inspiration, but also classic rock and soul album covers of the 70's played a big role too. The long gone age of air brush album art also seemed like a good style to throwback to with the logo and text design. Ultimately, with a project like this you have 3 areas of concern and criticism to take into consideration: the client, the public and your own personal standards.

    Who else did you collaborate with for this project? What was it like working with them?
    In house at Thunderdog I was able to rely on Paul Bereseneiwicz, for illustration support and general assistance, but when it came to the animated open, we worked with Interspectacular. It was great to work with them. They're our frequent collaborators on toys and animated projects so it was a natural fit. The award was produced by our good pals at Society Awards here in New York.

    What are you hoping that people will take away from the show and the visuals that you did?
    Well, I hope it does the brand justice. There's nothing worse than a favorite brand of your past being ruined by a modern refresh. Ultimately, I wanted the refresh of the graphics to make people feel that the brand was still ALIVE. So far I've been happy to see the project put a smile on people's faces. Hopefully the original fans will feel proud of the brand in it's new form. That's how we'll know it was successful.

    Soul Train is from another generation, who do you think was really into this year's awards?
    I think it will be the same demographic as always - young kids who love music and want to dance and their entire families! I've heard a lot of stories about Soul Train lines in people's living rooms with even grandma getting busy. I hope the tradition continues!

    I hope so too! Thanks for your time Tristan.

    -Helen Shih


    Thunderdog studio created the character design and artwork and Interspectacular wrote, directed, and animated the opening animation and transitional sequences. The viewer was taken on a journey through the Soul Train funk universe, from the 70s up until the 90s, with the grand finale in a complex city.

    Says Interspectacular, "The Soul Train open has a long history so it was cool to be a part of re-imagining the animation. We've done several projects with Tristan and it's always great collaboration."

    The 8" tall and 11" long award was produced in resin with coatings in gold and silver.

    In honor of the Soul Train Awards being held in Atlanta, Georgia, VH1 bought out the entire Atlantic Avenue station in Brooklyn, NY. Serving both the MTA and LIRR transit systems, millions of people pass through Atlantic Avenue junction on a daily basis.

    A MARTA Train gets wrapped in Soul Train artwork as well. The train is exclusive to the Atlanta, Georgia area, where the awards were filmed on November 3rd. Artists such as Beyonce, Alicia Keys, India.Arie, John Legend, Jill Scott, and Common performed.

    This post amended 12/07/09: Thunderdog studio created the character design and artwork and Interspectacular wrote, directed, and animated the opening animation and transitional sequences.

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