Behind the Scenes of Our Holiday Creative

How the Brand Creative Team set out to imagine togetherness and connection with our Betterment family

BTS Holiday

Like most of 2020, our holidays might look a bit different. We spent much of this year finding creative ways to spend time with our loved ones and colleagues. This surfaced the idea of togetherness, despite us physically being apart. So, as creatives are wont to do, we thought about how we could bring this idea to life. Get a behind-the-scenes look into the design process of our new holiday illustration with Brand Designers Kim Pham and Matt Calabrese.

1. Start with a sketch

Kim Pham: I began by illustrating rough concepts that Matt, our 3D modeler extraordinaire, would implement using Betterment’s visual style.

For these illustrations, all I needed was my iPad, Apple Pencil, and Procreate app. A couple of add-ons that help me with drawing is this Artisul stand and this paper-like screen protector. Working in Procreate allows for endless iterations—a value we’re into here at Betterment—and includes an animation feature that can help with storyboarding ideas.

I couldn't help but start with throwing a string of lights around our speedometer because, well, what’s more festive?

Left image is a time lapse of drawing out a speedometer surrounded by a string of lights. Right image is a rough animation with the moving string lights.


Matt and I then talked about creating a sense of place and connecting that to the theme of togetherness. Since we have three office locations (Denver, Philly, and NYC) I thought it would be fun to illustrate a landmark of each within a snowglobe. But we realized there was something fundamentally missing from this scene: our customers. We wanted to create something that would represent the whole Betterment family.

Sketch of three landmarks inside a snowglobe: Union Station, Love Park, and the Flatiron building.


I started to think about the concept of home, and how we’ve all experienced home in a new way this past year, whether because we moved, were displaced, or we simply spent more time indoors. We agreed that a home, whatever that may look like to different people, represents more to us than in years past. Creating a little window into different worlds allowed us to feel a bit more connected.

Sketch of various windows looking out into different scenery.


From there, we thought of ways we could simplify the visual and ended up merging a couple of the ideas. We used the snow globe as a foundation because, hello, festive, and the idea of a bubble resonates this year. To top it off we used one of our existing goal illustrations to really set this cozy winter scene.

Left image is a timelapse of the sketches. Right image is a house in a snow globe.


On the Brand Creative Team, there's no shortage of sharing. We love to share ideas early and often and to ask for feedback in our twice-weekly Creative Studio meetings for some face-to-face time. We also make great use of our team Slack channel to get thoughts on ideas. And that's where we got this gem from Senior Designer Michele:

Screenshot of a Slack message that reads: I’m picturing subtle animation where the snow lightly falls and the lights on the house twinkle.


Our Floridian colleagues confirmed: Lightly falling snow can make even our warm-weather friends feel holiday delight.

2. Time to 3D

Matt Calabrese: Thanks to Kim’s lovely sketches, I had a pretty clear vision for how this snow globe idea could come to life in 3D. I fired up Cinema 4D and got straight to work. What’s nice about the snow globe visual is that it’s composed of basic primitive forms, so it fits nicely within our design language for 3D illustrations. The snow globe itself is simply a cone, a cylinder, and a sphere stacked on top of each other. Then I removed the bottom part of the sphere to make it flat, and gave it some thickness since it would become the glass part of our snow globe.

Image shows the process of building a snow globe figure in Cinema 4D.


Then it was time to fill in the snow globe with our little winter scene. I had already created a 3D house, so I placed it in the center and started to build some more elements around it. Kim had some trees and a snowman in her sketch, so I felt it was important to add those in to create a sense of environment. And, of course, we can’t forget those twinkling lights!

A house and winter scene are added into the snow globe.


3. Bring it to life

Matt Calabrese: Once I finished composing the scene, it was time to bring our snowglobe to life. Of course our primary animation was going to be the snowflakes falling, so I didn’t want too much additional animation in the scene itself. Some smoke puffing out from the chimney and some light flickering in the window was enough to imply that not only is this little house occupied, but its inhabitants are nice and toasty.

To animate the snowflakes, I used a dynamic simulation in Cinema 4D. Basically, the software does its best to simulate gravity, and to reflect how objects would bounce off of each other in the physical world. This kind of calculation can be pretty demanding on my computer’s processor. Luckily, all I had to do was place the snowflakes on the ground and give the snow globe a good shake—just like in real life!

Adding a snowflake animation to the snow globe in Cinema 4D.


Last but not least, it was time to light, texture, and render our animation. This is probably my favorite part of the process because it really determines the look and feel of the final product. I lit the scene using a very basic studio light setup. Then, I applied our different brand materials to each of the objects to give them some color and texture. After trying out a few different looks, I was ready to smash that “render” button, and composite the animation for final delivery.

Adding lighting, color, and texture to the snow globe scene.


Here’s a final look at the holiday animation—ain't it cozy? You can find it on our social media. Wishing you and yours joy, peace, and a renewed sense of togetherness this season.

The final holiday animation, a snow globe with a cozy house, snowman and winter scene.