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Dougal talks about the John Lewis advert

The animated John Lewis advert featuring a houseful of objects moving outdoors was directed by Dougal Wilson. Watch him explain how he made it.
One client I have seemed to have done quite a few projects for is the shop John Lewis. And one of those projects has involved quite a lot of stop frame animation which was one for John Lewis Insurance. So I got sent the script for that by the ad agency that deals with John Lewis. And I’m not going to read the whole script out, but it looked like this– Word document. And it said, “This is a piece of stop frame animation. We see the entire contents of a house come to life and make their way out of the house and assemble on the lawn for a family photo. The way the objects move will represent what they are.
For example, old pieces of furniture will move very slowly. Heavy objects will waddle and drag themselves along. And little things will be full of energy.” So this is based on my treatment. I just did a very basic block out of how the story would begin, middle, and end. So I thought, it starts in the boy’s bedroom. You see a soldier poke out and look around. I think that was in the script actually. In the kitchen, you see a spoon poke and look around. The point being here, start small and then work up to keep the narrative interesting for the audience. Go to a jewellery box, and a necklace looks around like a worm.
And maybe somewhat unwisely I thought, to make it feel real, I might do this on an actual location, which was, in retrospect, a slightly insane decision. Because we had to– we did find a house that had a nice sort of cinematic– sounds a bit of a pompous word– but it had a nice look to it. Instead of what we should have done, which is probably just building that in a studio in pieces, we decided to take this location, move the family out for it was over a month, augment what it looked like with our own dressing and all our rigs, our animation rigs and all our pits and pieces.
And then, because of course the light has to be consistent for stop frame animation, we had to cloud the whole thing in black cloths and place lights between the black cloths and the windows– so the light would be consistent while we animated over, you know, countless hours to make all our spoons and chests of drawers and chairs move through the house frame by frame. So then we get to the story board itself, which starts quite late on in my book. So now I’m drawing literally what happens. So we start in a drawer, spoon looks around. We go to a jewellery box. I think I might have decided it was going to start on a spoon instead of a model soldier.
I though a spoon was a nice humble image. It goes through the whole thing in great detail. And I have drawn every single toy, because I wanted the storyboard to be a brief to my animation director. What I also did was I scanned all this in and put it into a timeline on Final Cut Pro on my computer and timed out how long everything should take. You can’t leave anything to chance. It’s not like live action where you say, oh, we’ll just see how it looks in front of camera on the day, and we’ll adjust the dressing accordingly. When things come down the stairs in this commercial, I had to say precisely how things would come down the stairs.
So I had to say, I want suitcases here, I want larger toys here, I want a toy chest there, I want a lamp there, I want the bedside table here. And all that had to be rigged onto a special bar that we screwed in to the actual stairs in the house. We couldn’t test everything. And some of it was pretty much worked out on location. Yeah, but it was a mammoth project.

In the video, Dougal explains the original brief for the project and some of the decision-making process. He takes us through the detail of his sketchbooks, considering the importance of the drawings, in particular the storyboard and how this led on to the animatic.

Dougal emphasises, as other contributors have done, the difference between live action and animation in terms of precision and leaving nothing to chance. In his case, the large budget from a client whose work will be shown regularly to millions of viewers means there is little room to get anything wrong.

Dougal talks about shooting on location rather than in a studio and some of the logistical challenges that raised and also about each set of objects being given different characteristics.

What difference would it have made to shoot the advert in a studio rather than on location?

How far did you notice the different style for different objects?

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