'Cartoon Al' helps tell story of closest Indy 500 finish 25 years ago

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INDIANAPOLIS – The 25th anniversary of the closest finish in Indianapolis 500 history is remembered in a unique video “‘The Closest Finish’ in Indy 500 History.” It tells the story through Al Unser Jr.’s voice from an interview combined with animated footage and audio from the IMS Radio Network broadcast of the 1992 race.

Unser defeated Scott Goodyear by 0.043 of a second. The story of that day is told by Unser, who becomes “Cartoon Al” in much of the video.

“I thought Cartoon Al was awesome,” said Unser, serving as a driver coach for Gabby Chaves and Harding Racing in this weekend's 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. “I loved it. I loved the whole animation aspect of it that it just wasn’t a stock TV interview. And to have my dad in the animation was great.

“The first time I saw it, I absolutely loved it. It was really well done. I loved the whole thing from beginning to end and having my dad in there. It was super cool.”

The video was commissioned by Unser’s sponsor that year, Valvoline. The video was created by motion designer Ali Clark and digital art director Blake Hicks of Big – an agency based in Birmingham, Alabama.

“The team came back with a couple of different options and they really liked this idea of the animated approach to bring life to Al’s story,” said Jamal Muashsher, Valvoline vice president of marketing. “When they presented this idea to us, we loved the idea because it is a really unique story and an important part of Indy 500 history but also Valvoline’s history. That car sits in our lobby and every single employee walks by it in our offices. We really wanted to tell that story about how important it is to us.

“We sent the video to him after he had seen the storyboard and shared that first version to get his feedback and his reaction was extremely positive. He was excited about it as we all were.”

Clark believed the combination of “Real Al” and “Cartoon Al” in the video was a unique way to tell the story.

“This is such a great story and the way Al tells the story is so captivating,” Clark said. “We wanted to flex our creative abilities, try something different and bring it to life. We were excited to tell this story through animation.

“We knew we wanted to do the story in animation. We could have just recorded audio only and then make the animation over that, but we were not quite sure if we wanted to cut to the interview or be entirely animation. So, we shot the interview so that we would have that footage and then we found we like being able to cut back to the live footage and see the real Al Jr. and make that connection with him. So, we ended up doing the mix where it is part animation and still including the live footage from the interview.”

Hicks and his animation team then went to work creating the animation that makes the video stand out as a unique tribute to one of the most memorable days in Indy 500 history.

“To bring the things he was saying to life, you are talking about something that happened 25 years ago. We don’t have an abundance of high-quality footage to use for some of these things, so it was nice to be able to use our imaginations just listening to what he was saying,” Hicks said. “We went back to make sure everything was historically accurate and cognizant of that. We took a little bit of artistic license along with the things he was recounting that would not have been filmed, like what he was feeling that morning, how cold it was, the things he was thinking as he was hauling around the track.

“It was a really great experience for us to use our imaginations to jump into the story.”

The entire project took more than two months to complete. Watch the result below.

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