How MPC created Buster the Boxer for the John Lewis Chrismas ad

It’s that time of year again –the highly anticipated John Lewis Christmas ad has been released.

You may have seen Blink’s Monty the Penguin in 2014 or Hornet’s The Bear and The Hare in 2013.

 Following on with the heart-warming animal theme is global VFX house MPC’s creation of Buster the Boxer and a variety of CG urban English animals, for the retailer’s 2016 ad.

 If you haven’t already seen it, check out the video above. MPC worked alongside production company Blink and communications company adam&eveDDB, who conceived the idea.

 The film begins with a family the night before Christmas. The father builds a trampoline for his daughter, and while she’s tucked up in bed, an urban box emerges from the snow and begins jumping on it.

 He’s soon joined by a charming group of six animals, leaping in slow motion, utterly joyous from the new experience. Family dog Buster is left inside watching on with agonisingly forlorn eyes. When Christmas Day arrives, Boxer bounds to the trampoline before anyone else gets a chance.

 MPC creative director Diarmid Harrison-Murray says the animals needed to resonate with the audience whilst still engaging in huge levels of interaction on the CG trampoline. The challenge was to create playful but realistic animal behaviour.

“We were careful not to communicate human characteristics, as the audience will project their own emotions,” he says.

MPC knew the film had to “deliver that pull-at-the-heartstrings warmth we expect from the John Lewis Christmas spot”, but the VFX house says there was little footage of animals on trampolines for them to work with. MPC built a stock of images and footage from the best they could find before creating a cast of realistic, suburban creatures.

 Buster the Boxer proved to be a huge animation challenge for the VFX team, who had to create complex muscle, skin, fat and fur with precision and accuracy.

“We see dogs all the time, so people are able to spot when the characterisation doesn’t look right,” says MPC animation supervisor Tim Van Hussen.

“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, to the real animal.”

 Extreme close-ups and slow-mos of six animals proved difficult, and animation tests started before the shoot even begun.

 MPC built five rigs and developed bespoke software to perfect the animals skin sliding, so every jump, twist and bounce is rendered completely authentic.

The trampoline itself was the biggest technical challenge – the “seventh creature” – because of its sheer fluidity and constantly shifting nature. It was simulated based on the animation.

Diarmid says it was privilege to be a part of the retailer’s famous Christmas advertisement slot - even the “holy grail” of CG.

“These are the sorts of jobs we wait for,” he says. “When Dougal and adam&eveDDB approached us, I felt a healthy dose of trepidation as it really is an enormous job.”

In addition to the film, MPC Creative, the in-house content production studio, developed a virtual reality experience.

MPC have worked on numerous major motion films, including The Martian, Spectre and The Jungle Book to name a few.

Advertising work includes clients Channel 4, Heineken and Ikea.

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