As a longstanding partner with Leo Burnett and McDonald’s this is not Framestore’s first time collaborating on such a prestigious offering for McDonald’s, or their highly anticipated Christmas spots, having created McDonald’s VFX-laden Christmas ad ‘#ReindeerReady’. For McDonald's Festive 2021 - Imaginary Iggy, Framestore, worked with acclaimed writing-directing duo, Bert & Bertie, and creative agency Leo Burnett.

In this campaign we meet a young girl who befriends Iggy, a good-hearted imaginary friend, but as she grows into a teenager she packs the heartbroken friend away. Years later, a child playing nearby, triggers the now young woman to find Iggy, creating a moving finale that resonates all the more at Christmas time. Completing the atmosphere is R&B star Mabel's beautiful delivery of the poignant song, Time After Time.

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The spot had Framestores full art department behind it and in order to lock the concept, Framestore’s team had to be sure that Iggy could live in the real world and connect with the actors in a way that would instantly translate to an audience. Everyone collaborated on this including the agency, client and director and an Iggy bible was constructed to dig into the detail of the character, ensuring he was always kept true to his nature.

“We had to create something that looks physical and not cartoonish, but at the same time find ways in the animation to bring out emotion and to communicate well with the girl at different ages.” said Jules Janaud.

Once the concept was locked, the team could then start to pre-visualise scenes before the shoot. They designed a life size puppet of Iggy to be used on set, enabling actors to interact with the character and start to embed Iggy into the world being created. 

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“As it was an indoor shoot there was a lot of lighting and dynamic lighting present, but we were determined to sit our fur creature into the environment seamlessly, so we compiled as much data as possible from the shoot using Lidar scanning.” said Christian Baker, Nuke Compositor. “We needed to make Iggy’s fur feel soft and fluffy without it falling apart with the actors around it – it was hard to match that up.”

Textures matching Iggy were dotted around the scenes including the fluffy socks in the opening sequence and the Christmas stocking seen hung up later. Encouraging the viewer to toy with the idea that that Iggy was made up of items the little girl would have grown up with around the house, further seeding the notion that Iggy was an imaginary friend. 

Shot with anamorphic lenses which gave a cinematic look to the overall film, the Framestore teams further dressed scenes with Christmas items, creating snow on the end shot to build a winter feel. “It was shot in the summer, so we had to replace green, summer exteriors with wintery scenes using digital matte paintings.” said Christian Baker.

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Once filming was complete, the team started animating the character defining his body language in each scene.

A lot of the shots are quite still so it does often come down to a cleverly placed eye dart, the shaping of the mouth or a slight raise of the eyebrow to create this living imaginary friend, which took a high level of crafting from the animators,” said Brad Silby, Animation Supervisor. “We deliberately kept the animation and performance subtle in order to ground Iggy in the real world. We avoided going completely graphic and stylised, but we used what’s great about the design – the big eyes can be really emotive, his mouth can open pretty wide on occasion and his ears can wiggle so we get extra personality from him."

“One of the trickiest shots and most emotionally complicated was the subtle emotions of Iggy coming out of the wardrobe, after being left for so long,” continued Brad Silby. “We needed to show some of the conflict in Iggy's mind, and to perfect this our animators spent a lot of time shooting themselves performing as Iggy which we used for the basis of the shots. I knew the piece would live or die on the emotional connection between Iggy and the girl and if we didn’t get that right then the story would not connect.”

The way the character performs and moves in shots was of utmost importance to the team; they wanted the audience to question what Iggy was made of and bring out a sense of mystery and wonderment whilst reigniting childhood memories. 

“The challenge was to create a rig which performs enough to emote but doesn't stretch too much like a cartoon character. It had to have a lot of physicality, and this brought a lot of demanding technical work in the groom process and the creature effects area,” said Jules Janaud. “The character looks very naive and simple but on the other hand you want to feel that it could almost be someone in a costume, but you are not too sure.” 

“One of the interesting things about the technicality of this job is that it’s a very simple character but it has a lot of highly technical stuff going into it,” said Jules Janaud. “His fur is quite long and fluffy like mohair, his socks and horns are hand knitted, his scales made of felt and he even has a tinsel tail. All of these materials had to be meticulously designed and groomed using our own custom hair system generated in Houdini and all of these features had to be simulated individually to make Iggy physically believable.”

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“Being able to partner on this McDonald’s advert was an absolute joy and watching the development from those early concepts to seeing the final character alive in the film, was really special,” said Helen Hughes, Head of Advertising. “It was a privilege to be able to draw on our expertise as a team to create a character that I think people are going to fall in love with.” 

Finally, Framestore’s colour master, Steffan Perry did an elegant grade which highlights the festive warmth and simply ups the sentimental nature of the film. 

90 seconds is an unbelievably short time to tell this sort of story. Ultimately the advert is a reminder to never lose the spirit of childhood or the magic of Christmas, and the team did an immaculate job. The advert aired November 12 across the UK.