Holiday Spots: It's that time of year!
Issue: December 1, 2015

Holiday Spots: It's that time of year!

With the holidays in full swing, Post thought we'd call attention to some of the season spots we've been seeing online and on TV. Here's a look at some of this year's finest work.

Aardman completes the interactive Special Delivery

LONDON — Aardman Animations and Google ATAP’s Spotlight Stories recently debuted their first original short on YouTube. The holiday film, called Special Delivery, is viewable on the YouTube app on many Android devices. Google Spotlight Stories is a new form of storytelling made specifically for mobile and VR devices. In these 360-degree, interactive stories, the phone becomes a window to a world all around the viewer. The sensors on the phone allow the story to be interactive and users will encounter as many as 10 subplots, and three potential ways to see the end. Tim Ruffle directed the animated short, which follows the adventures of a humble caretaker, who is disturbed by a mysterious rooftop stranger. Always one step ahead, Santa shows ninja-like moves while leaving behind a trail of gifts.


Blue Zoo creates More Stuff

LONDON — Blue Zoo Animation created a new holiday short that showcases the studio’s production capabilities. The CG More Stuff was rendered using Redshift as its backbone and showcases a collective of mischievous elves who mock public gluttony during the holiday season, as well as the tough working conditions at Santa’s workshop. The piece is animated around a lyric-driven composition that was written and produced by musical comedian Ben Champion. 

More Stuff by Blue Zoo Animation from Blue Zoo on Vimeo.

Blue Zoo had just eight weeks to deliver the two-minute piece, complete with its signing and dancing. “We had just three weeks for lighting and rendering which is a really big challenge,” notes Tom Box, co-founder & producer at Blue Zoo. “To deal with this, we opted to use Redshift, as we knew it could deliver the very high quality visuals we wanted without missing our strict deadline.” Redshift ( is a production-quality, final-frame GPU renderer, and Blue Zoo was an early adopter, putting it in place back in February of 2015. “The first things we made were the characters,” says Box, “the speed at which we could look develop these using Redshift was incredible. It set the team's render benchmark very high from the start, and was the main driving factor of the quality across the project from then on. They say you can't have quality, speed and budget efficiency at the same time – I think Redshift has well and truly broken that rule!”

Watch the making of More Stuff:

Making More Stuff! from Blue Zoo on Vimeo.

Framestore brings Mog to life for Sainsbury's short

Sainsbury’s, the UK-based supermarket chain, recently delivered an emotive spot for the holiday season featuring British author Judith Kerr’s family favorite Mog the cat in a calamitous adventure. The team at Framestore was delighted to work alongside creative agency AMV BBDO and director James Rouse at Outsider on the campaign, preparing Mog for her first-ever animated foray.

As part of the “Christmas is for Sharing” campaign, the full three-minute film (narrated by actress Emma Thompson) premiered across UK television channels in November, holding an important cause at its core. Creator Judith Kerr worked with Sainsbury’s to script the exclusive narrative for Mog in aid of Save The Children, highlighting literacy education and the inherent joy of shared stories and fantastic tales. 

A passion project from the start, Framestore is proud to have worked on such an iconic creature, re-imagining Kerr’s illustrations for the screen in a unique way.

Framestore’s creative journey alongside director James Rouse took Mog from early concept to fully actualized character. “Being able to work with a much-loved character like Mog has been a real joy for us,” says senior producer Heather Kinal. “There’s a lot to consider with a literary character — we form strong attachments to them, particularly when we’re young, so a degree of sensitivity is needed.”

VFX supervisors Ben Cronin and Grant Walker, and CG supervisor Ahmed Gharraph, led a broad team of artists to create Mog, a CG cat whose emotions are built on a careful combination of feline and human references. Kerr’s original illustrations formed the base of the work, with concept drawings further refining the intensity and range of Mog’s expressions.

The team also amassed a huge library of cat pictures and videos on a dedicated reference machine for the job, and paid a visit to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home to gain hands-on experience with real-life Mogs.

In order to achieve the right “weightiness” for Mog’s character, Framestore pushed the typical CG rigging layers of skeleton and muscle to incorporate a “fat layer,” which would animate and deform to give her highly realistic feline movement.

Finer analysis was needed to define Mog’s facial expressions. Rouse and Framestore drafted in actor Jeremy Swift and rigged him with a GoPro to create references, as they sought to add a highly relatable, human edge to the cat’s emotions. Neither cartoon nor entirely photoreal, her readable face and expressive eyes work to highlight the story at the campaign’s heart, and the heart-warming tone of the ad.

“The big Christmas ad has become such an anticipated event, and delivering work which is not only beautiful and charming, but supportive of a great cause like Save The Children, is a real achievement,” says Kinal. ‘We can’t wait to see people fall in love with our Mog, and remember the brilliant books at the heart of this campaign.”

Flavor creates Wonderpack Factory for Target

LOS ANGELES — Creative production studio Flavor ( was recently engaged by Target to promote the brand's playful line of curated, specially-designed Wonderpacks, which are available at The :54 animated brand film is currently appearing across Target’s social media channels and takes viewers inside the magical Wonderpack Factory, where boxes are packed with unexpected experiences for the whole family.

The project was directed by Flavor creative directors Jason Cook and Brian McCauley, who worked directly with Target’s executives from the pitch and concept phase all the way through to completion. "From the very beginning, the clients at Target were uniquely collaborative," McCauley notes. "Directing the project with Jason was an awesome experience. Together we focused on creating an animation that delivers a fun and entertaining experience while also living up to Target's hallmark quality."

"The briefing really called for us to introduce the World of Wonderpacks in fun ways that would convey the experiences they're packaging – and build excitement," Cook explains. "Our clients really pushed us and gave us the freedom to create a fantastical world that could do the impossible."

Cook and McCauley also shared the clients' hopes for seeing the Wonderpack products in different contexts, to communicate the idea of creating experiences. With Willy Wonka and Dr. Seuss as influences, Flavor's teams in LA and Chicago joined forces to bring the factory to life. The video uses a combination of CG scenes and matte paintings. 

"This is a story about regular boxes on a journey to become incredible Wonderpack boxes, so their moment of transformation had to be spectacular," Cook emphasizes.

"We devised a slingshot system that would spray the boxes with magical glittery particles that become the final Wonderpack graphic packaging," Cook adds. "As we went through the process, we came up with more and more fun ideas. There are a lot of little gags happening in the shots that you will surely pick up on with repeated viewings!"

The project's workflow began with storyboards, where the story was initially crafted. That imagery was assembled in an animatic, which served as the blueprint for timing and key storytelling aspects. Since the project is 100 percent CG, every element was made from scratch in Autodesk Maya 2016, with V-Ray 3.1 used for rendering.

"Maya is our go-to tool for these types of heavy CG productions," McCauley notes. "We had a short schedule, so we started to build out the elements we needed right away. This included the modeling and rigging of the conveyor belts, boxes, some key products, environmental elements, and of course, the cats."

As elements were prepared, they were edited into the pre-vis and the look was developed further. "Our lighting TD Josh Kohlmeier started producing really beautiful results right away that were used to help set the look of both the exterior and interior lighting in each shot," Cook adds. "There is nothing more exciting than seeing a shot start out as a drawing, move into layout, and then become fully realized with textures and lighting."

Adding the finishing touches to the project also involved quite a bit of VFX artistry. Aside from snow flurries in each shot, there is considerable particle and smoke work sprinkled throughout. Early in the spot, a magic wand reveals products in a box with a puff of smoke, and later, viewers see a rainfall made of glow sticks. Particle effects also appear at the spot's end, where slingshots decorate the Wonderpacks.

"Our VFX lead John Cherniack was instrumental in helping us create all of these magical effects," says McCauley. "John also created volumetric clouds, plus cloth simulations for the ugly sweater parachute sequence. We were lucky to have Emily Berveiler here in our Chicago office help out with the cloth simulations for the cats’ clothing as well."

"This job really is the perfect kind of project for Flavor," concludes Darren Jaffe, executive producer for Flavor LA. "We were able to use our skills in storytelling, design, CG, and animation to help craft a promo that really captures the spirit of the holidays and the Wonderpacks experience for Target."

Flavor's project credits also included designers Brad Backofen, Andy Bernet, Adam Kohr, Mack Neaton, Danielle Otrakji and Ella Yoon; 3D artists Kevin Ferrara, Billy Maloney, Thuc Ngyuen, Deandre Moore and Josh Studebaker; texture painter Ella Yoon; artists Emily Berveiler and John Cherniack; character animators John Cherniack, Deandre Moore and Sarah Wolfe; matte painter Eric Mattson; and Nuke artists Maciek Sokalski, Chris Kong, Josh Studebaker, Josh Kohlmeier. The project's music and sound design is courtesy of Rumble Music.

The Studio gives back to Children's Health Fund

NEW YORK – Creative design and animation house The Studio ( 
crafted a digital holiday card that pulls viewers into a lush winter wonderland. The Studio, which is led by founder/creative director Mary Nittolo, used a long, continuous animated tracking shot to present the card, which cites the facility’s holiday contribution to the Children's Health Fund, the charity co-founded by musician Paul Simon and Dr. Irwin Redlener that’s committed to providing health care to vulnerable children in the US.

“The CHF is such an extraordinary organization and the fact that it was started thanks to the vision and generosity of an artist like Paul Simon is something that isn’t lost on the creative community,” Nittolo says. 

The video card itself is a beautifully-crafted, festive animation created by Alison Abitbol and Adam Rozanski, with 3D support from Eric Kilanski and Jackie Garbuio. The continuous tracking shot traverses a 2.5D snow-filled winter village. Bryan Senti of Los Angeles-based music house Hook and Line created the original music bed.  

“I’m delighted with this year’s holiday card,” Nittolo adds. “Our creative team was excited to be able to produce an animation worthy of our relationship with the Children’s Health Fund. Its success reinforces our commitment to the power of ideas to persuade, and this is the time of year where we should remember that this is why most of us ended up in this business." 

Bent animates AT&T package

PORTLAND, OR — Bent Image Lab ( has been busy this holiday season. The Portland, OR-based studio not only completed a series of TV spots for Kellogg’s Rice Krispies but also these popular, stop-motion animation spots for AT&T, featuring the phone provider’s spokeswoman Lily, along with several beloved characters from the holiday classic, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

According to partner/director/designer Chel White, “the schedule was insane, but it was a blast to direct them. I felt like the bar was high because the live action campaign is so good.”

In one spot, Rudolph asks Lily to help pick a phone that will let him play all his reindeer games. The spot with the Bumble is more guttural, with the misunderstood beast showing approval for AT&T’s offerings with a fierce growl. And in the Santa spot, the Christmas icon assures the helpful Lily that she’s on the “nice” list.

Rice Krispies characters brought to life via stop-motion

PORTLAND, OR — Bent Image Lab ( recently created a stop-motion animation TV spot for Kellogg’s Rice Krispies that features the cereal brand’s iconic Snap, Crackle, and Pop characters. Pop to Life also marks a milestone for the brand, as its lead characters make their debut in 3D animation.

Bent Image teamed with Leo Burnett USA to create a spot that would celebrate the tradition of kids and parents making and decorating Rice Krispies treats for the holidays while bringing these treats to life and having them interact with the Snap, Crackle, and Pop characters. 

According to Derrick Huang, executive producer at Bent, “We felt a great responsibility for how we treated Snap, Crackle, and Pop, since this is the first time ever that they are being shown as 3D characters. We were asked to update and modernize the characters’ designs, while still preserving their distinctive look and personalities.”

Bent spent 10 weeks on the spot, from initial development through final delivery, handling all visuals, including the live-action shoot (on Red Epic Dragons), stop-motion Rice Krispies treats (shot against bluescreen with Dragonframe), CG characters (built in 3DS Max; rendered in V-Ray) and compositing (all in Nuke).

Here, in an exclusive interview with Post, Huang discusses how the Bent team created the spot.

Briefly, what is the story that's told in the deliverable(s) for this project?

“In the Rice Krispies ‘Pop To Life’ spot, the iconic Snap, Crackle, and Pop characters create fun and excitement as they help a mother and daughter prepare treats for the holidays. It's a spot that’s all about creativity, from the designs of the treats to the little interactions between the characters.” 

What type of work was required of you, to complete the spot? 

“We handled all of the visuals from top-to-bottom, including the live-action shoot, stop-motion Rice Krispies treats, CG characters, and the compositing of all those elements together.” 

Was there anything that was particularly challenging about producing the spot?  Can you briefly highlight each step of your workflow and talk about how the main tools were used (Maya, Photoshop, Nuke, etc.), and for what?  

“We really wanted to achieve the dynamic energy of a holiday musical, and to do that, we felt it was important for the narrative to unfold as one continuous, smoothly-flowing camera move. Pulling this off required extensive planning and pre-visualization by our team, to ensure seamless integration of the live-action, stop-motion and 3D animation elements of the final spot.

“The live-action actors and kitchen were filmed in Toronto, using a Red Epic Dragon camera mounted on a motion-control robotic arm. This system allowed our production team to capture multiple passes of the same action, creating seamless cut-points that could be used to carefully choreograph the actors, and to provide our VFX team with the tracking and HDRI passes required to integrate with the animated elements. 

“Then the stop-motion treats were shot against bluescreen with Dragonframe, at Bent Image Lab’s studio in Portland, OR. To integrate them with the live-action footage, we tracked the live-action camera move in CG (using the Syntheyes program), and our Nuke compositors projected the stop-motion elements onto 3D cards in the scene.

“We also modeled, textured and animated CG doubles of each Rice Krispies treat, for the sole purpose of generating accurate shadows and reflections. This was a lot of work, but the subtle interaction with the different surfaces that this allowed really paid off in the final look.

“The Snap, Crackle, and Pop characters were built in 3D Studio Max and rendered in V-Ray.”  

Is there anything additional you’d like to say about the project?  

“Animation director Rob Shaw says, ‘This job had a big set of technical challenges, but perhaps the thing that I'm most proud of is how I don't think about any of those when I watch the final spot. We set out to make a fun, creative and tactile experience for the viewer — an animated experience that felt like it was really happening in the kitchen. If the viewer didn't believe that everything was living in the same world, or saw the spot primarily as a technical feat, then we didn’t do our job. Everyone I've shown it to has responded that they really want to make some of the treats at home, which I think is the best compliment I could hope for.’”

Brand New School creates Happy Honda Days

SANTA MONICA — Ad agency RPA recently collaborated with Brand New School, South Music & Sound and Lime on Honda’s newest Happy Honda Days TV holiday campaign.

In the holiday spots, directed by Ben Go, Honda emphasizes the magic and wonder of the holidays in fun, whimsical ways, connecting their vehicles to the moments that make the holidays so special. Each of five intricate spots were melded from three layers — live action (people/vehicles), miniature sets and matte paintings — bringing the world inside the Happy Honda Days house to life. The spots show someone opening up different doors of a Happy Honda Days wooden house to reveal a world of Honda inside. Familiar holiday scenes, like snowball fights and ice-skating, all revolve around different Hondas, leaving consumers with the realization that the Happy Honda Days Sales Event really is the perfect time to get the gift they’ve been waiting for all year. 

Production and VFX on the spots are credited to Brand New School, while the package’s music was created by South Music & Sound. Audio post was completed by Lime, all under the creative direction of RPA’s Joe Baratelli, Jason Sperling and Alicia Dotter Marder. The live-action elements were shot on an Arri Alexa XT camera. CG animals and CG projections were created with Maya. Matte paintings were created using Photoshop, and CG particles were completed with Houdini and Maya. Colorist Loren White relied on DaVinci Resolve to give the spot its color treatment.

Whitehouse Post continues Kate Spade's Miss Adventure

NEW YORK — Whitehouse Post ( continues its work for Kate Spade Collaboration with a new holiday Miss Adventure short that appears on the global lifestyle brand’s Website ( The video runs just under four minutes and represents the fourth installment. Actress Anna Kendrick returns for this Miss Adventure, and is joined by Girls star, Zosia Mamet.

Mari Hiller directed “Joy Ride,” which picks up where the Fall 2015 film left off. Kendrick is shown departing the Russian Team Room in New York City, and after some confusion, finds herself sharing a limo with Mamet. Her canine sidekick Brussels Griffon is also on hand.

Whitehouse Post editor Ethan Mitchell cut the previous Miss Adventure installments, and here, uses editorial pacing to share how the actresses deal with boredom through clever dialogue.

Caviar produced the video and Melissa Merino assisted Mitchell on the edit.