Sainsbury’s Christmas Ad Making Of

The new Sainsbury’s ad is a charming animated film, telling the story of Dave, an everyday guy struggling to manage the demands of work and family at Christmastime. His tale is told through a song specially composed for the ad by Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords fame, and performed by James Corden, and the stunning animation and song come together to create a feel-good piece of work, that emphasises the importance of family at Christmas.

To create it, production company Passion Pictures worked with ad agency AMV BBDO for seven months, spending four months on prep, two months’ shooting and one month in post. It was an epic production, involving the use of new animation techniques such as the use of rapid prototyping to create the faces of the puppets, as well as traditional stop motion techniques. The attention to detail in the spot is astounding, from the intricacy of the characters’ clothes to the painstaking care in the shoot, with some shots taking as long as 40 hours to achieve. All in all, it is clearly a labour of love.

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The characters are created as traditional stop frame puppets, using steel armatures, silicon bodies and handmade costumes. To create their expressions, however, Fell and the team used CG to draw the different faces and then used 3D printing to render them. In total, over 1,500 faces were created.

“Andy and Rich were fans of the colour printed faces we used on ParaNorman and I wanted to deliver that,” says Fell. “It was probably a bit of a crazy decision given that it was such a completely untested technique over here. Through sheer hard work and determination, the CG team at Passion in London, the puppet makers at McKinnons in Manchester, and the rapid prototype guys at 3D Print Bureau in Stoke on Trent pulled the whole thing together. They went from R&D right through to creating 1,500 full colour perfectly registered faces on 26 characters in a matter of three months. Respect!”

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While this process might sounds challenging in itself, Fell cites the shoot in many ways as being harder than making a movie. “In some ways this was harder than making a movie like ParaNorman,” he says. “We had to conjure up a whole stop frame pipeline from freelancers, shops and bought and hired kit. At Laika [the studio behind ParaNorman] there was already a studio in place that had just made Coraline so we were building on a proven pipeline.

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“On this project we had to create 26 characters and 15 locations and develop from scratch a 3D rapid prototype facial animation and printing system. That amount of sets and characters would pretty much cover half of a movie but in a movie you get months of shooting out of a few characters in a location. In this we were constantly setting up beautiful, meticulously dressed sets and characters then shooting five seconds, throwing them away and moving onto the next set up. It was exhausting!”

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Credits for the ad:
Agency: AMV BBDO
Creative directors: Toby Allen, Jim Hilson
Creatives: Richard McGrann, Andy Clough
Production company: Passion Pictures
Director: Sam Fell
Puppet makers: Mackinnon & Saunders
Production designer: Andy Farago, Clockwork Frog

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