Aardman has been producing the DFS campaign since 2016. Styled by our amazing Creative Director Steve Harding-Hill, it has a unique handmade look with puppets beautifully crafted out of fabric, and I was over the moon when asked to direct it.
We wanted ‘Welcome in Spring’ (my second commercial for the brand) to feel like a musical, with the entire country bursting into life as the new season arrives. The choreographed action is triggered by a dust sheet being whipped off a DFS Spring Collection sofa that sits in the middle of a newly decorated home.
In time with the music, the action spreads down the entire country as windows are flung open and spring is welcomed in…
I usually start by collecting lots of visual references. I create mood boards for character design, set design, lighting, props, etc., upon which the team uses as inspiration.
Below is the process of designing one of the characters, Dicky the Bird – designed by Kristina Litten – from rough sketches exploring different proportions and characteristics, to our favourite colourful ones:
For the human characters we reused existing puppets but changed their clothing and hair. Here’s a selection of wardrobe options, also designed by Kristina:
Once approved, the designs go into the hands of our puppet-makers, Nancy Jones and Chris Entwhistle. Nancy scouts fabric shops and charity shops for the perfect textiles, while Chris works on the armature and body shape. After a couple of weeks, it all comes together to form the final result, ready for the animator to work with:
Next, we created concept art for the exteriors and interiors. These are discussed in great detail. The interiors have to meet our client’s specific directions, and we design each detail carefully according to the style guide that goes with each sofa.
Then it was time to bring on the spring spirit: flowers, flowers, flowers – everywhere! To keep within the style of the whole DFS campaign, we made the flowers out of fabric, which meant researching different textiles and design techniques so they could be animatable.
Once the design work is approved, the fun on sets begins. The first shot was a challenge, but a very important one for me as it’s a key moment in capturing the audience’s attention, setting the mood, location, characters, style, season and time. I wanted it to look cinematic, epic, magical and inviting, so lots to fit in to those few first seconds!
The opening shot consists of several animation passes. We had a few flower animation passes, light pass (we animated the light manually on set), bird animation pass and the background. All the passes on this shot and the others are then brought together by our brilliant comping team: Bram Ttwheam, Jon Biggins and Fernando Lechuga.
Here’s a visual breakdown of how we did it:
interior scene #1
Moving on to the first interior scene. In this shot, music builds to reveal the first spring/daffodil like sofa. As the sheets are whipped off, in comes an avalanche of colourful happiness; a dynamic spring montage, rhythmically choreographed and cut to the music.
The lighting and framing helps set the mood, season and time of day. We also have to make sure the sofas are lit beautifully so the viewer can appreciate every detail. Here’s Director of Photography, Simon Jacobs at work:
terraced house scene
In this shot, windows along a terraced street fly open to welcome spring as the characters wave to a DFS van passing by. My intention for this shot was to have a street that shouts spring through the colours, lighting, and animation.
watering flowers scene
The close up watering scene was shot in several passes: water pass, drops of water pass, and daffodils, daisies and pansies pass. This was to achieve the effect of water falling between the different flowers. It was also less time consuming to add the water drops pass in the compositing stage rather than for the animator to animate one by one on the set. The strips of water were made out of resin twisted tubes.
Watch the full DFS spot here.
Magdalena is an award-winning Director working across stop motion, CGI, 2D and live action commercials, and most recently the short "I Am Your Mother" for Star Wars Visions: Volume 2.
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