Kool-Aid Man CGI Makeover: Updating a Classic

By Phill Powell

America knows and loves Kool-Aid. The sweet, sugary drink has been a part of every kid’s life at some point. Its pitchman is a tubby, oversized glass pitcher. Soon you’ll see him as you never have before. Kool-Aid is giving Kool-Aid Man a Hollywood Visual Effects makeover. Lots of classic animated characters like Kool-Aid Man have been getting CGI updates to their image—like Fred Flintstone and Mickey Mouse. The new Kool-Aid Man is expected to be more lifelike, as well as more tech-savvy and kid friendly.

Kool-Aid Man, trusted and beloved spokes-pitcher, is going CGI. He’s presently getting the final digital touches of “a serious makeover with a brand-new modern look and distinctive voice.” (Image: Kraft)

According to Kraft Foods Group, which now owns the brand, America’s iconic red glass pitcher will become more active and socially responsible—in an effort to make the brand more appealing to the nation’s moms, the product’s biggest supporters.

Cooler Kool-Aid
Kool-Aid Man has become fully plugged-in; he surfs the Web, and even has his own Kool-Aid Man website. Kraft is making Kool-Aid cool again. In one upcoming TV commercial, Kool-Aid Man will be pumping iron at the gym and buying flowers. In another ad, he “interacts with neighbors” instead of breaking through their walls. An improved and expanded vocabulary will keep our beverage buddy from resorting to his trademark “Oh yeah!” when chatting with neighbors.

Kool-Aid Man has been on the job for nearly six decades. (Image: Kraft)

Today Kool-Aid Man’s Facebook page has more than 60,000 likes and the Kool-Aid drink is a childhood staple. But it’s the 1970s and 1980s commercials Kool-Aid produced that made the product and its mascot legendary. The commercials highlight the hulking red glass pitcher smashing through walls (and causing significant property damage). This bad reputation got Kool-Aid Man ranked sixth on Time magazines Top 10 Creepiest Product Mascots. Digitally rendered or not, there’s no doubt that Kool-Aid Man is a pop culture icon with an impressive resume:

  • Comic Book Hero: Marvel Comics gave Kool-Aid Man his own monthly comic (The Adventures of Kool-Aid Man) in 1984-85. It only lasted a few issues with Marvel but then ran on the Archie Comics label from 1988-89.
  • TV Star: Kool-Aid Man has turned up repeatedly on “Family Guy,” making cameo appearances in six episodes.
  • Kool-Aid Mad Man Advertising: General Foods launched Kool-Aid in the 1920s, but the product didn’t really take off until 1954 when Kool-Aid Man was born. Ad agency art director Marvin Plotts was inspired when he saw his son “draw” on a frosty window pane. He changed the window to a pitcher and changed the frost to condensation from the ice-cold Kool-Aid, and an American brand icon was born.
  • What Flavor is Kool-Aid Man? In case you were wondering, Kool-Aid Man’s flavor is cherry. (Given his red color, other possible choices could include fruit punch or strawberry.)
  • Kool-Aid Man Videogames Kool-Aid Man is such a classic icon that he was even used as the hero for two video games back in 1983, for the Atari 2600 and Intellivision game systems.
  • Kool-Aid Man’s CGI Heritage: Pssssst. Want to know a secret? Kool-Aid Man has been a CGI character for nearly 20 years. During the 70s a guy in a big red pitcher suit played Kool-Aid Man. In 1979, the live-action character’s mouth started being computer generated. In 1994, Kool-Aid Man became all CGI.

    In the classic 70s Kool-Aid ads, our big red friend was just a call away. (Image: Kraft)

    Learning How to Master CGI
    Whether it involves reviving an enduring advertising mascot like Kool-Aid Man or making special effects movie magic, jobs involving how to create visual effects make up a large portion of the entertainment industry. This summer, go behind the scenes and discover how they make Hollywood visual effects at a Digital Media Special Effects Academy.

    It’s a big job to make the new Kool-Aid man commercials. It takes a cast and crew of professionals. Once the live action is shot using motion tracking, editors work to composite video and perform color correction. Some of the commercial may be shot using green-screen techniques and then 3D effects are created and added. In the end, we get a rebooted childhood hero that will bring us a pitcher of refreshing Kool-Aid, no matter what obstacle is in his path.