Sunday, November 19, 2017
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The Mill London Takes Flight For Waitrose, Tops Quarterly VFX/Animation Chart
adam&eveDDB London puts a CG robin into storytelling ascent

Directed by Sam Brown of Rogue Films, with VFX/post by The Mill London, this “Coming Home” ad for Waitrose out of agency adam&eveDDB, London, show us the migration of a Scandinavian robin during the Xmas season. The fully CG bird makes an epic journey across mountains and the sea before finally reaching his home destination where a girl eagerly awaits his annual return. Upon his arrival, the robin is reunited with his feathered romantic companion. They share a festive treat, a Waitrose 1 mince pie, left out for them by the girl as she watches in delight.

The migration unfolds to a soundtrack by Icelandic composer Johann Johannson, adapting his track “Cambridge, 1963” from his Oscar-nominated, Golden Globe-winning score for The Theory of Everything.

Every element of the story was fact-checked by bird experts, ensuring that the depicted migration is as close to reality and as factually correct as possible. The Mill ensemble worked with specialists in robin behavior and anatomy in order to create a physically and behaviorally accurate CG representation. 

Jonathan Westley, creative director at The Mill, noted, “The story of migration needed to be 100 percent believable but also emotionally captivating for the viewer. This was challenging because the footage of the vast mountain and ocean scapes at the start of the spot were shot in an observational, documentary style, not a traditional setting for character animation and storytelling. This transition was able to take place thanks to Sam’s approach to the shoot which always had the story at the center; it was then down to The Mill’s 2D and 3D teams to really bring this character to life.”

The Mill’s Jorge Montiel, creative director and head of animation on the project, explained, ‘Working with specialists in robin behavior helped us with our detailed observation of the classic behaviors of the robin. We then worked to match these behaviors to the various settings and experiences the protagonist in the story faced. The way robins move, their size and their lack of facial expressions meant that the bird’s personality had to be evoked almost entirely through its body language. This had to then be linked directly to changes in environment and the birds’ interaction with the things around him. Every little breath, heartbeat, twitch had to be present, and in time; allowing this tiny creature to take center stage amongst the dramatic landscapes behind him. It was amazing to work with Sam on this challenging project. He’s great at telling stories which capture human emotions and the way he tells stories works beautifully with animation, ensuring that the characters are able to sparkle and are the true focus of the story.’

Feathered friends
One of the key challenges to making the robin--and its beau--look as realistic as possible was through its feathers which are notoriously difficult to craft in CG. The Mill lead 3D artist Adam Droy said, “Building on our previous knowledge of feather work, we knew that creating a photo-real robin was going to be our most demanding bird job to date. With that in mind, we went about crafting a bespoke feather tool that would allow us to create such accurate feather simulations, down to the micro details such as how many barbs a feather has, how soft they feel and how each feather reacts to the light.”

Richard Brim, executive creative director, adam&eveDDB, shared, “We’re really proud of this plucky little fella and his plight to get home for Christmas. It’s a warming story that speaks to the spirit of togetherness in the festive season and the joy of just coming home to where you belong. It feels like a great way to wrap up a great year for Waitrose.”

Rogue Films director Brown said, “The story is obviously about the migration of a robin, but we wanted to think of it in terms of a homecoming. Traveling home for Christmas is something most of us do, almost instinctually. So the bird’s story is really a human story: it’s about coming back to a place where you feel safe and loved. The film was a joy to shoot.”

See the Top Ten VFX Chart here.

Credits for ScreenWork: 

Client Waitrose Agency adam&eveDDB, London Ben Priest, chief creative officer; Ben Tollett, Richard Brim, executive creative directors; John Long, copywriter; Matt Gay, art director; Jack Bayley, producer; Alex Fairman, head of design; Paul Reddington, Marek Charytonowicz, Andrew Murray, designers; Jenny Smart, digital producer; Doom Boyd. Production Rogue Films Sam Brown, director; James Howland, producer; Charlie Crompton, exec producer. Editorial Trim Paul Hardcastle, editor; Edward Hanbury, assistant editor. VFX & Design The Mill London Alex Fitzgerald, exec producer; Tom Manton, producer; Jonathan Westley, creative director; Hitesh Patel, shoot supervisor; Jorge Montiel, head of animation; Adam Droy, lead 3D artist; Andreas Graichen, Hugo Jackson, James Muholland, Adrian Meyer, Amaan Akram, Andrew Bartholomew, Ashley Tilley, Aziz Kocanaogullari, Finlay Crowther, Luca Cantani, Margaux Huneau, Matthew Kavanagh, Michael O’Donoghue, Nick Smalley, Will Burdett, Alain Thay, Jasmine Ghoreishi, Alberto Lara, Philip Maddock, Matt Evans, Paul Donnellan, Sergio Xisto, Sebastian Braende, Antonio Fillippin, Kieran Ashley Russel, Ian Potsos, 3D artists; Jonathan Westley, Gary Driver, 2D lead artists; Milo Paterson, Nina Mosand, Grant Connor, 2D artists; Adam Maynard, James Pratt, David Toba, online; Craig Davies, R&D; Aurelien Ronceray, Cameron Johnson, design; Jimmy Kiddell, concept. Seamus O’Kane, colorist. (Toolbox: Houdini, Flame, Nuke, Maya). Color The Mill Seamus O’Kane, colorist. Music Supervision Leland Music Abi Leland, Ed Bailie, music supervisors; Johann Johannsson, composer. Sound Design & Mix Factory Jon Clarke, Anthony Moore; Ryan Smith, producer. Digital Production Company Banner Boys