The Framestore team were excited to embrace this creative and technically challenging brief, which brings Buddy, from the beloved holiday classic Elf, into the nation’s living room for a charming and hilarious Asda Christmas campaign.
Integrating existing film footage into an all-new production represents considerable creative and technological challenges - especially when someone as well-known as Buddy is the hero character for the ad’s entire 90-second duration.
Planning and preparation were key. An approved edit of selected Buddy takes enabled Framestore to analyse the shots and extract lens information and camera position/movement, providing vital data for the previsualisation phase and live action shoot. “We had to come up with a sound methodology of how to successfully merge 35mm colour corrected footage into the modern day material filmed on digital camera” said Framestore Creative Director Kamen Markov. “Given the unique nature of the project, this offered a great opportunity to flex our collective VFX experience and knowledge”.
A digital ASDA store was created by LIDAR scanning a real, bricks-and-mortar location, as well as an existing studio set. This allowed the creative team to scout their locations virtually and relative to Buddy’s performance, meaning the story could be engagingly told and that its logistical details - the preferred spaces for each scene; camera lenses and movement - could be effectively mapped.
Buddy himself was skillfully extracted from the original film background, meaning he could be used in previs and also on set using mix and overlay, to line up his performance with the live-action environment and lighting. An on set body double was also used for eyeline reference, and to provide nuanced shadows and interactions which could be deftly incorporated into the final composite. VFX Supervisor Jules Janaud explained: “Being able to overlay the film footage and our rotoscoped Buddy was a huge help for action framing and being able to replicate the film lighting conditions on the contemporary set”.
Work then began to seamlessly integrate the original film footage and the new plates. Extensive and highly detailed rotoscoping work was applied to cut Buddy out of the original film. This included everything from rotoscoping fine hair detail (and rebuilding it where it was lost due to highlights) to keying out motion blur and the fluff of his costume. Careful match grading was incorporated early in the process to bring the modern world towards that of the original footage, handled by Steffan Perry of Company3, Framestore’s grading partners. Grain, chromatic aberration and physical film stock look were also applied to the plates shot on a digital camera.
Beyond skillfully integrating Buddy the Elf into the Asda scenes, the VFX team were also tasked with digitally extending the studio set to give it the scale and feel of an ASDA store. Compositing Supervisor Ben Taylor explained: “We also created digital matte paintings to extend the snowy outside environment, and, of course, for that perfect Christmas finish, added a (digital) sprinkle of falling festive snow”.
‘Framestore’s attention to detail and support on this project was as ever, much appreciated by me.’Danny Kleinman - Director