Image courtesy of MPC

Monty's Christmas

The penguin who won a Lion at Cannes

Christmas came early for MPC when they were awarded the challenging task of creating a photo-realistic CG penguin by UK department store, John Lewis, for "Monty’s Christmas." Animator for the campaign, Tim Van Hussen, shares how big emphasis on the smallest details let this highly expressive Adelie penguin win both hearts and gold at the Cannes Film Festival this past spring.


 

How big was MPC’s team for "Monty’s Christmas?"


For such a high profile job we had a surprisingly small team of 3D artists. We started building and testing as early as July (2014) with a team of five, which meant that we weren't forced to involve too many people just to make the deadline. Creating realistic creatures will always take time, or as a colleague of mine says, "Nine women can't make a baby in one month." Smaller teams and more time often mean better results in my experience. In total, a team of around 20 people worked on it at MPC, including rotoscopy from our Bangalore studio, color grade in London, and production.


“Some animals already show some sort of emotion by default, or have an inherent wide range of facial expressions. Penguins do not.”



John Lewis' Monty's Christmas



What’s key when creating a facial expression in CG animals?


Facial expressions can be a bit limited in realistic CG animals. Of course, it really depends on what you're working with. Some animals already show some sort of emotion by default or have an inherent wide range of facial expressions. Penguins do not. As realism was absolutely the key, we did not want Monty to have any unusual control of his face that a real Adelie penguin wouldn’t. This meant we had to convey emotion through posture and movement, while keeping him completely plausible and penguin-like, so people could project emotion onto the character.



What would we be surprised to learn about this spot?


The scale of the work. The first time I watched the offline edit, some shots had a rough CG grey placeholder for the penguin, or the boy was acting to a plush toy, or others had a taxidermy size reference in shot. And some shots were just empty. There was no snow, as it was shot in July, there were some crew members in shots that had to be cleaned out, and lots to clean up. As an artist, you tend to look at these things and scan for upcoming challenges like water/snow interaction and body contact. Regardless, my eyes still welled up with tears. That is the power of director Dougal Wilson.


"My tip would be to not stick with that reference religiously...make the base model closer to the actual silhouette of your animal and then the groom isn’t responsible for entirely defining the shape."



What tip or trick did you pick up while working on this?


If you're creating a really furry CG animal, and you're looking up reference images of, ahem, shaved, naked, x-ray versions of said animal, they tend to be really meager looking as their fur is surprisingly thick. My tip would be to not stick with that reference religiously. It’s hard to create a silhouette of thick fur or feathers if your model is nowhere near the same shape. So, make the base model closer to the actual silhouette of your animal and then the groom isn’t responsible for entirely defining the shape.


What is your most memorable Christmas present?


My mother-in-law loved Monty's Christmas, so she decided to work day and night to make me a little knitted penguin. She even made it a little hat so it wouldn't catch a cold!

 



MPC utilized both Autodesk’s Maya and Flame to make Monty the overall Grand Prix winner and the only VFX Gold Lion recipient at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. John Lewis’ Monty’s Christmas was directed by Blink’s Dougal Wilson and conceived by adam&eveDDB.
To watch some behind the scene's footage, hop, waddle and/or scuttle over to MPC.

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