Here’s what it’s like to work on a John Lewis Christmas advert

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Two creatives share the story of making the John Lewis adverts in the past (Picture: John Lewis)

Two creatives share the story of making the John Lewis adverts in the past (Picture: John Lewis/Youtube)

John Lewis has produced some of the most iconic Christmas adverts of all time, but what is it like to actually get to work on one? We spoke to two people who have, to find out just that. 

This year’s offering from the retailer was titled Unexpected Guest and starred Raffiella Chapman and Jordan Nash as two teenagers who become part of the most adorable love story from across the universe. 

The annual advert often marks the start of Christmas for a lot of Brits, most of whom are thrilled to see it make an appearance on screen for the first time.

But what goes into the making of these very special couple of minutes of television? We spoke to a few creatives who were involved in past projects to find out.

Early planning and Disney inspiration for The Bear and the Hare (2013)

John Lee, who worked as a production designer and model maker on The Bear and The Hare in 2013 gave some insight into just how early the top-secret process gets started.

‘I signed all the NDAs – this was February of that year – so months before it was ever going to be shown,’ he began.

Here?s what it?s like to work on a John Lewis Christmas advert - from Disney Inspo to NDAs in February picture: John Lee

John worked on overseeing the model builds on the 2013 ad (Picture: Youtube)

The advert, which has been dubbed the most effective John Lewis Christmas ad ever, featured a hibernating bear whose wish to see Christmas finally comes tree with the help of his friend, the hare.

In terms of the inspiration behind the adorable project, John explained: ‘[John Lewis] wanted it to look a little bit like the Disney films of the 50s and 60s, things like Bambi, Pinocchio, the classic golden age of Disney, so I thought this is interesting, this is really, really nice!

‘What they wanted to do in the advert was combined, drawn animation, so traditional 2D drawn animation in a three-dimensional model set. 

‘They wanted the animation to feel like it was in the model set, but they weren’t quite sure how to do it and I told them, I knew how we could do it,’ John shared.

But it wasn’t a quick-fire decision from the creative, who even made a list of pros and cons before taking up the offer. Well, he tried to, as he revealed: ‘I couldn’t really put anything in the ‘not to do it’ column, which was really weird.

Here?s what it?s like to work on a John Lewis Christmas advert - from Disney Inspo to NDAs in February picture: John Lee

The set combined a 3D structure with 2D illustrations and models (Picture: Youtube)

‘I said to myself, if I don’t do this advert, somebody else will and they might make a better job than me! I didn’t want to sit there in November and watch it and it be better – I just thought, I’ve just got to step up to this.’

The whole shoot animation process took around six weeks, which John said is ‘about the right time’ for a stop-frame animation, which takes much longer to create.

‘I think as we worked on it, we knew that it was going to be good – I’m being really honest – we knew it’s going to be good, we knew it was different to all the other previous John Lewis adverts.

‘It’s completely different to anything since, so I like that. They should bring back the Bear and the Hare I think because it’s I think I think it’s the best one!’

John and his team worked hard to bring the epic story to life during a four-week design, 12-week set build and six-week animation process. 

Of course, the song choice is a particularly vital part of the ad, with a new track being recorded each year specifically for the occasion.

The team originally worked with a piece of classical music before Lily Allen’s version of Somewhere Only We Know was added in.

‘The final picture cut was pretty tight with the classical music,’ John said.

‘I suspect there would have been a few minor changes just on some of the musical beats but we were all quite surprised how close it was.

‘If you listen to the words of the Lily Allen track, they actually they fit the pictures of the advert,’ he told us.

How to make a bedroom monster look realistic for Moz The Monster (2017)

Moz The Monster advert

Moz The Monster makes a new friend in the advert (Picture: John Lewis)

Elsewhere, concept designer Chris Goodman worked on the 2017 Moz The Monster ad, which tells the adorable story of a child who befriends a monster who lives under his bed. 

Chris said the ad’s director, Michel Gondry, had a very distinct vision’ for what the character of Moz was going to look like.

‘He didn’t want it to look like a man in a suit,’ Chris told Metro.co.uk.

‘That phrase, man in a suit, is like when you create a character or a monster and [an audience] can clearly say, yeah, it’s a person wearing a suit.’

After some back-and-forth with the design, they landed on Moz, with the costume featuring not one – but two – performers with a CGI face to complete the character.

‘It’s very hot in those suits, you can’t wear them for very long – performers have to come out of them really, really regularly because they get really hot.

‘You have to be a very skilled performer regulating your temperature and how much effort you’re putting in so you don’t get overcome and stuff but although really as far as suits go, these ones were the Moz one was quite a comfortable one to wear!’

On what would audiences be surprised to hear about the making of the piece, Chris said: ‘The fact that [the child’s] bedroom was completely a set, I think that’s one thing that maybe people don’t realise that when you have a big creature suit like this, you can’t just walk into a normal house to build a set all around him.

The child's bedroom was actually part of a studio set (Picture: John Lewis)

The child’s bedroom was actually part of a studio set (Picture: John Lewis)

‘It’s so big and so cumbersome, you can’t really get through doors!’

‘So, a lot of the things I suppose one weren’t real,’ he added – but obviously feel free to ignore that if you don’t want to ruin any of the magic of TV.

‘I think two people being in the suit, that was the thing that was the most noticeably odd and unusual element about it,’ Chris added.

‘Some people look at that and they wonder just how was it made? There are a few options and this is one of those kinds of cases where it was a mixture. There was a real mixture of practical elements that are on set.

‘Basically, when you’ve got like a kid in the in the show, you kind of need to have something for the kid to respond to, rather than a green screen thing. He has to be hugging it and stuff.’

The designer also couldn’t resist a spin in the huge costume himself, adding: ‘I’m pretty sure even I got into at one point, I was playing around with being one of the two people in the suit.’

He’s even got a Moz The Monster toy as a souvenir from his time working on the huge project, how cute!

John Lee runs the Model Making For Animation programme at The National Film and Television School.

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