As the annual festive ad battle continues, McDonald’s has unveiled its latest offering with a new animated character named Iggy that hopes to spread some Christmas cheer. Created by Framestore, who worked alongside award-winning duo Bert & Bertie and Leo Burnett, it’s an emotional spot based on a young girl’s imaginary friend.

It’s not the first time Framestore has been involved in such a project, as it previously created McDonald’s VFX-laden Christmas ad, Reindeer Ready. For this latest 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. It’s all set to the backdrop of R&B star Mabel’s delivery of the song, Time After Time.

The animated blue character had to work alongside real-life actors, so Framestore put its full art department behind the project. “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,” explains Jules Janaud, VFX Supervisor.

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. “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,” says 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 us to toy with the idea 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, Framestore 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,” adds Christian.

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

To look at Iggy, you might assume it was quite a simple character but it required a lot of highly technical expertise to get it right. “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,” says Jules. “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.”

With a final touch of festive warmth from Framestore’s colour master, Steffan Perry, the 90-second spot is a humble reminder to never lose the spirit of childhood or the magic of Christmas.

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