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Stop-Motion At Christmas - Making Festive Animation

Jim Yuill Jul 07, 2021 Scroll to read in 6 minutes

For the six weeks in the run-up to Christmas, we see brands launch their (often highly anticipated) seasonal adverts. The adverts set out to capture the festivities, emotions, charm and above all, the magic of the holidays. And there is nothing that captures all these wonderful festive feelings like stop-motion.

For stop-motion animators, Christmas starts in the summer. Not a very festive time of year we know, but nevertheless when it takes 25 frames to capture one second of film, making time is the greatest gift to a stop-frame animator. Here at our production studio, our stages are transformed into a winter wonderland most summers. While others are sunning themselves throughout July and August, our animators are hanging up fairy lights and building tiny snowmen.

Here are a few of our Christmas creations we have worked on from those long summer nights:

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For Harrods Christmas commercial, we created the store’s first Christmas fairytale to launch their festive season. This narrative lead film required us to pull together a huge team of model-makers and animators to help with costume fabrication, prop-making and puppet creation. Because fur is notoriously hard to work with in stop-motion, a process called flocking was used to create rigid fur on each of the mice that would not move and change as the animators worked with the puppets. Everything was then brought together with the fantastic narration by Jane Horrocks, which gave the final animation a real storybook feel.

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A Life in Print

This film was made for the British Newspaper society to remind people to support local newspapers. We pitched the idea of creating an animation with a strong paper design, with all the sets and puppets being covered with papier-mâché. Every element of A Life in Print was created out of papier-mâché, with larger sets being made of foam and wood with papier-mâché applied to them after. For the puppets in the film, the same papier-mâché technique was used, with paper being pasted over a wire armature wrapped in foam. This meant that the puppet would be as light as possible and easier to animate.

Two different nativity scenes had to be shot for the film, one when the main character Ray is performing as a child, and the second when he is watching his grandson perform in the same auditorium. These two scenes perfectly capture the feeling of Christmas that runs through the whole of the film.

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TK Maxx/Homesense

As part of our annual campaign producing idents for Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch, we create a series of Christmas-themed idents. Each of the products used throughout was Christmas-themed. Each knife, mug and bowl had to be rigged with stands in order to make them able to float and stay in position when animated. Once the animation was completed, it became the job of our post-production team to remove any wires and unwanted shadows from the shot to get it to look like the finished animation you see on your screens.

Chivas Regal

The whole animation for Chivas Regal’s Christmas campaign was hand-carved from wood. All of Chivas’ whiskey is matured in oak barrels so we pitched the idea of creating the film solely using wood. Completed as a one-shot, we used a manual track to perform the descending camera move, meaning that the camera was physically wound along a track manually an equal amount each frame to create the camera move. On top of keeping track of the camera, the animator also had to rotate the set slightly each frame, as well as animate each character individually.

Each model and prop for the film was carved from balsa, Lime and Pine wood and stained with various colours to order to create varieties and textures between pieces.

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Shepherd Neame

Shepherd Neame is Britain’s oldest brewery and the only one to have an active archive. Inspired by the archive ledgers and record books, we used these as the inspiration for the film. Creating the world for this stop-frame required a lot of books for the model-making team! Every prop and character within the film was created using pages from old books destined for pulping. Because of this, we had to use replacement animation to create the movements within the ad. This meant that each animation had to be planned out beforehand, and every frame created using this paper style. Each model was then swapped in and out of every frame to create the movement.

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Costa Coffee

Costa Coffee’s 2020 Christmas campaign required our team to design three crafts for the audience to reuse their coffee cups. Every character and prop in the ad was constructed out of parts that could be gathered from Costa’s cups and product range. Our model-making team designed the finished products and worked backward designing each stage so that it was both aesthetically pleasing, as well as easy to follow when people wanted to look at them from home.

Our team then built and styled a set for the action to take place in. When animating, each of the three animations was completed as one shot each, which helped to add to the easy-to-follow instructions of the ads by adding to the natural flow of the animation. The films were repurposed for a variety of different social channels and translated for different territories.

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For this series of Waitrose films, the aim was to create mini tableaus of scenes that would be released on social channels and Waitrose TV in the lead up to Christmas. This ranged from advent calendars to presents wrapping themselves! One of the trickiest parts to animate for our stop-motion animators were the ribbons and string. These each needed to be rigged with wire in order for them to stay in a fixed position between shots, creating the illusion of each ribbon and string tying themselves.

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Park Christmas

Every piece of animation for this ad was completed in our studio’s actual attic! We worked with a carpenter and loft specialist to convert our loft into a residential attic. This meant that space was tricky for the shoot and careful planning had to be done to coordinate where the camera would be placed and what actions would happen in the shot.

The rig for the string of Christmas lights seen in the film was one of the most elaborate we have worked with here at the studio. The lights were suspended from 5 pieces of fishing wire attached to individual fishing reels. The lights were then animated almost like a marionette puppet, with the reels being loosened and tightened depending on what needed to be moved up or down. This delicate system combined with some very long shots made for a few long days of animation.

Working on Christmas animations here at the studio always brings a real sense of festive cheer, no matter what time of year we are working on them. If you want to see some of the Christmas animation films that have inspired us in our work as a studio, check out this blog going over a few of our favourites.