Behind The Moving Image | M&S’ Percy The Pig

The team behind M&S Food’s Christmas ad - The Mill/MPC speak to LBB about Percy’s creation.
News December 23, 2021

The moment we saw fairy Dawn French drop her wand on Percy wrapping paper, we knew all of our Percy Pig dreams were coming true. The new M&S Food Christmas campaign brings the iconic pink pig sweet to life, giving him the voice of Tom Holland and bringing with it all the charm of Christmas. 

As Percy comes to life, he discovers the range of M&S food that will line the British supermarket’s shelves this Christmas. Percy’s guide is a very realistically animated Dawn French, who plays a motherly fairy that introduces him to all the wonders he hasn’t yet seen in his ‘23 seconds of life’. The spot is built on a captivating script, with funny quips from the two actors as they go back and forth. Eventually, we’re left with the iconic line that covers it all: ‘This is not just Christmas food, this is M&S Christmas food.’

Bringing Percy to life was a task taken on by a crack team that included The Mill/MPC’s David Bryan, animation director and Matthieu Toullet, Creative Director of Colour. There were dozens more talented people involved, of course, but LBB’s Nisna Mahtani caught up with those two to get insight into the whole process, from ideation to finalisation.

LBB> David, can you tell us what your vision as animation director was for the final ad?

David> With Percy Pig being such a popular mascot amongst the UK public, it was a huge privilege to bring him to life this Christmas. We wanted to be sure that our representation of him would be a character that is brimming with appeal and emotion, but also that our animation approach would provide Percy with the best platform for unforgettable storytelling.
Ultimately our storytelling is only as good as our ability to express character, and with strong poses, we were able to communicate this, even in a single frame. For Percy, it was incredibly important to have poses that are appealing as it allows the audience to easily understand what he is feeling and can become the gateway to understanding his emotions.
Percy in his more familiar 2D illustrated form is a very simplified character, however, when recreating him in 3D we did not consider character complexity as a restriction when planning towards generating character appeal. Sometimes the simplest characters are the most appealing. Take Gromit (Wallace & Gromit) for example who has no mouth, but he is easily understandable from his appeal. We can understand exactly what he is expressing even without talking.

LBB> We’d love to hear about your favourite animated aspect of the piece and why you think it works particularly well?

David> Bringing the Christmas tree fairy to life in the form of Dawn French (another national icon) was massively enjoyable and challenging equally. The vision from the directors, DOM&NIC was that she should always appear as a real-life object and that her movement ought to stay respectful to the materials from which she is made. With this brief, our animated approach was to always be as efficient as possible with her movements. For example, if her legs were not required to move or would provide any storytelling advances we would simply not move them. Her upper and lower body was also made up of one solid piece of plastic. These factors ought to inevitably result in a very stiff and unappealing performance, however with just a few simple character techniques we were able to keep her movements feeling fluid and a character performance that was convincing and appealing. For her locomotion, we referenced a similar movement to that of a hummingbird or a dragonfly. To keep her from feeling stiff as she zips precisely from position to position, we used a single aerodynamic pose to give the appearance of fluid movement and added drag and overlaps to her body as a single piece. To keep her performance convincing, we gave the fairy some gesture-based movements using only her head and her wand holding the arm in the same way that we sometimes use our hands to tell a story when we speak to people. We also enhanced the lip-read by using small, sweepy progressions as she speaks, paying attention to the voiceover and applying the biggest movements and the strongest poses to the audio peaks with each line. This was a valuable lip-sync lesson I learned from The Muppets. They have simple open and closed mouth positions, but we all buy the lip-read because the puppets are progressing forwards while they speak!

LBB> Is there anything else you’d like to share about the animation of this campaign?

David> Another challenging aspect with this campaign was making sure that we were able to understand what Percy was thinking and what emotions he was feeling. We had fantastic video footage of Tom Holland recording the voice for Percy and with that, we were able to pick out key details in his performance that made it clear when Percy was talking to himself and thinking about something compared to when he was talking more directly to Fairy. Quite often we used introverted poses for the moments where Percy was questioning his new Christmas world and extroverted poses when he was at his most excited!

LBB> Matthieu, can you talk to us about the colour grade of the piece and how it helps set the festive mood?

Matthieu> I would really like to thank Stephen Keith Roach, the director of photography who had the wonderful idea of ​​lighting this film with only the existing lighting of the M&S supermarket. This allowed me to highlight essential parts of the frame and magnify them. The naturally dim lighting of the supermarket helped to create the festive atmosphere of sparkling Christmas lights on a dark night. Without forgetting to mention the marvellous work of the MPC team who raised the bar to make this film as magical as possible.

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