Back to main website


13th December 2017
A Show of Stars: Behind the Scenes

It’s hard not to love London in December. The sweet aroma of roasted chestnuts permanently wafts through the streets and towering Christmas trees fill every cobbled square. Even the notoriously straight-faced commuter has a spring in their step.

London, in all its Christmas finery, is the backdrop to Molton Brown’s 2017 festive animation. The short film sits alongside paper artist Helen Musselwhite’s stills campaign for Molton Brown and takes viewers on a star-lit whistle-stop tour of London’s finest landmarks.

Below director Jody McAlavey discusses the ins and outs of creating the film.

What was the brief for the film?

Connected Pictures was approached to produce Molton Brown’s online Christmas commercial. Our brief was to take inspiration from the brand’s Christmas stills campaign – paper sets of London landmarks created by artist Helen Musselwhite – and create a 3D character-based animation that reflects the tradition, craft and personality of the brand.

What are the key considerations when creating an animation rather than a film? Do they have different treatments when it comes to planning?

Although the animations and films start from the same place, in which we are considering the purpose of the brand and the campaign, the process is very different. The animation style you choose then determines the complexity of workflows.

For this series, we had the references of Helen’s artworks but we still needed to work out how close to them we wanted to come. Did we want to have something that replicated Helen’s work or something that was just inspired by it? We went with the more difficult option and decided to have something as close as possible to the real life paper cutouts.  We started with a script outline with a number of scenarios that we worked on together with Molton Brown – scenarios that were fun and creative, but also featured products.

What does a “set” for this sort of film look like?

We’re glad you asked – it’s all computer generated! We wanted it to be as life-like as possible so that’s why it was the more difficult option. We did consider making the set out of paper, but you have much more control if you create everything with graphics, particularly the light. You can control all the light sources in a graphic environment whereas with a set it is much more difficult.

Generally, with animation you have a lot more possibilities so it can be easy to lose focus on what you are trying to do. As a result, you have to always focus on what the intention of the film is. With the Molton Brown film we wanted to communicate craftsmanship and attention to detail but in a very playful way.

The render time for the film was greater than anything we have ever made before. In total it took around 120 hours to render out just one full version of the film. When a client wants to make tweaks you can imagine how that affects the timeline. As a result, we had to walk through every stage and get it signed off as we went.

There’s no speech or text in the film so the audience has to rely purely on visuals to understand the narrative. How does this affect your approach?

The underlying narrative was about playfulness and craft, all centred around Molton Brown products. The Christmassy narrative around London was quite easy. We focused on humorous and characterful scenes that would be easy to communicate across different social media platforms, both in short bursts and as a whole. Every scene had its own little story attached to it – around giving, love, celebration and bringing light to the city.

What is it like working on a Christmas campaign in the height of summer?

It gets a bit ridiculous when you are listening to 800 pieces of Christmas music in the middle of August. Especially while sipping on a chilled Caipirinha! Luckily the summer wasn’t all that this year so it didn’t feel too bad.

A sense of purpose lays at the centre of every Connected Pictures’ film. How does it manifest in A Show of Stars?

Christmas campaigns have become the annual creative pinnacle for retail, so the pressure was on. Normally we have meetings with two or three people at Molton Brown. Instead we had weekly meetings with a team of around 12 or 13 to make sure it was right.

We’ve worked with Molton Brown for long enough that we understand who they are. We now bring that into our work for them almost subconsciously. I would say that Molton Brown’s purpose is to bring an understated craftsmanship to the world, a luxury that isn’t showy but just well made. It’s classic and established, but with its own twist. Almost like London itself. I think these films convey just that.