In the magical hush of a suburban garden, it’s the night before Christmas – an ordinary family tucked up in bed – when an urban fox emerges from snowy undergrowth. Hesitantly, he climbs onto a trampoline, assembled hours before by an exasperated dad as a gift for his little girl. The fox is joined by a charming cast of CG animals who perform virtuoso leaps and jumps together to Vaults’ cover of Randy Crawford’s 1980 track ‘One Day I’ll Fly Away’, in a two-minute spot that truly sets the bar for CG creature work.
Directed by Blink’s Dougal Wilson and conceived by adam&eveDDB, the film is an extraordinary animation feat that sends a heartfelt message about the shared joy of play. Our VFX team spent over four months skillfully bringing the cast of animals to life for John Lewis, whose seasonal epic requires an exceptional level of craft. With six characters to create, this unprecedented animation challenge is the holy grail of CG.
VFX Supervisor (CG) Diarmid Harrison-Murray comments ‘These are the sort of jobs we wait for. When Dougal and adam&eveDDB approached us, I felt a healthy dose of trepidation as it was clear this was an enormous job. Technically and creatively it pushed us further than we have ever been before. For me, photo realistic animals and creatures are one of CG’s ultimate challenges. We had to create six of them, and then put them all on a trampoline, which was challenging enough itself. The attention to every detail of animation, fur, lighting and fx was immense. The slightest slip-up in our work would break the illusion of reality and the magic of the film. This was an extremely challenging project for a high-profile brand – I’m really proud of our contribution to this beautiful piece of work.’
In addition to the animated film, our in-house content production studio MPC Creative developed a groundbreaking interactive VR experience. Click here to see the work.
Working closely with Dougal, the team built a ‘bible’ of images and footage before honing a cast of enchanting – and completely believable – suburban animals.
Our challenge was to create playful interaction between the cast based on what real animals do – key to Dougal’s vision. Emotively nuanced facial expressions, which crucially do not stray into the realms of human characteristics, deliver that pull-at-the-heartstrings warmth we expect from the John Lewis Christmas spot.
Buster the Boxer, the ad’s digital-double hero, posed the biggest challenge for the team, who had to master his muscle, skin, fat and fur with pinpoint accuracy. Tim Van Hussen, MPC’s Animation Supervisor, explains: ‘We see dogs all the time, so people are able to spot when the characterisation doesn’t look right. To develop Buster, we shot lots of reference footage of the real dog from every angle before crafting the texture, from the wrinkles to the hair direction, of the real animal.’
With six animals to animate and plenty of extreme close-ups and slow-mos, the creative and technical scale of this film is unparalleled; animation tests started before the shoot even begun. We built our most advanced rigs yet – five in total – and developed bespoke software to perfect the animals’ skin sliding so that every jump, twist and bounce is rendered completely authentic.
Alongside this, the biggest technical challenge in the spot was building the CG trampoline, described as the ‘seventh character’: ‘A trampoline surface is very fluid, it moves around and completely changes shape and height depending on the weight of each animal’, says Van Hussen, whose team had to accurately portray the complex interaction of the animals on an imagined trampoline, which was simulated based on the animation.
This hotly anticipated film is graded by MPC’s Global Creative Director of Colour, Jean-Clément Soret. He emphasises: ‘This film is the perfect example of where technology and artistic vision meet’.
Rick Brim & Ben Tollett
Joost Van Gelder
Rick Russell @ Final Cut
Tom Harding & Tito Fernandes
Tim van Hussen
Grant White, David Filipe, Andreas Feix, Alex Snookes, Venkatesh Rajagopal, Ginesh Gandhi, Jonathan Box, Amresh Kumar, Padma Priya, Prasanth Palaparthi, Rajesh Kumar, Shalwin Shaiju, Yasasvini. V, R Vignesh, S. Samson Samuel & Shalwin Shaiju
Chloe Dawe, Anthony Bloor, Ben Thomas, Graham Cristie, Jessie Amadio, Julien Labussiere, Luca Maccarelli, Matthew Gifford, Radu Ciubotariu, Tito Fernandes, Tushar Kewlani, Vincent Ullman, Will Laban, Hanna Binswanger, Max Mallmann, Jessica Groom, Ankit Dheraj Toppo, Earnest Victor, Ganesh Kumar S., Bibin Balan P, Gayatri Patel, Jyoti Prakash Panda, Manjunath Ramakrishnaiah, Inigo Vimal Roy, Ria Banerjee & Gayatri Patel
David Bryan, Boris Cailly, India Barnardo, Martyn Smith, Lou Thomas & Cynthia Collins
Anthony Moore @ Factory