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John Lewis, Breakdown

The Boy and the Piano

MPC release two exclusive behind-the-scenes films breaking down the VFX used to create a young Sir Elton John

At the end of 2018, MPC teamed up with adam&eveDDB and John Lewis, once again, to work on their latest highly-anticipated Christmas commercial. With two exclusive behind the scenes breakdowns for ‘The Boy and the Piano’, the films show how the MPC team recreated one of the most recognizable faces in the world, Sir Elton John, and two of the surroundings for his performance.

Starting with the celebrated musician as he is today, ‘The Boy and The Piano’ swiftly turns back the clock, chronicling some of the most spectacular moments of Sir Elton John’s career - bringing audiences through US theatres, TV Pop shows, and a sold-out arena. No stock footage was used in the film and each of Elton’s iconic past performances were created in VFX by the team at MPC.

Explaining the sheer scale of the task at hand, Visual Effects Supervisor at MPC, Kamen Markov says: “This ad presented some very unique and unusual technical and creative challenges. This type of VFX is rarely seen in advertising post production and is usually reserved for feature films.” Using the very latest software and a large collection of photographic and film references, MPC were able to recreate models of Sir Elton John, throughout his life, in extreme detail. During the shoot, actors were made up with specialist prosthetics to create a base for the team to work with. The team then performed scans of the actors, photographing their skin and making busts of each person.

Kamen explains: “By completing these preparatory stages we were able to create a very accurate model of Sir Elton for each stage of his life. Following that, it was necessary for us to build a complex animation rig to create the facial muscles and bone structure that would support the fine details of the skin above it. A digitally-created human skin is currently one of the most difficult things to execute correctly in post production.” In order to create the skin from the blend of the scans taken of the actors with the CG model of Sir Elton John, various passes were created. Additional props and details such as CG glasses, and hair patches helped enhance the filmed material and the CG head.

Having worked on 
head replacement on feature films including Blade Runner 2049, CG Supervisor Anthony Bloor discusses the importance of going into such detail when creating a recognizable face.  “It is notoriously difficult to create a well-known human face in VFX – particularly if it is one people have their own clear memories of. The human brain is wired to spot imperfections in faces almost instantly. If the execution is not perfect, audiences would find the image odd to look at. It's an uncanny valley effect!”

Whilst creating Sir Elton’s younger selves was probably one of the most intricate parts of the post production, there was also a huge task at hand to re-create each of the iconic venues the musician is playing in and how each era panned to the next. Kamen Markov explains that whilst the team were recreating well-known performances, in real venues, they were coming at them from new camera angles. This meant every part of the environment had to be created from scratch.

“Every single shot did have ample original reference material. But we couldn’t just copy an existing picture and recreate it. We created a fully digital set extension for the red piano tour in the beginning and for the stadium. In fact, more than 40,000 digital extras were need to fill the stadium alone” says Kamen.

On some occasions, completing the shot involved extending the footage: from creating concert halls and extending airplanes, to constructing enormous crowds at baseball stadiums. Every transition between scenes was carefully choreographed with meticulous planning prior to the shoot, and then stitched back together in compositing. Mood, lighting and the time of day of each environment was also incredibly important. This was not only for seamless transition but to provoke the different levels of excitement and emotion to be found at each venue. Travelling from intimate gigs, to full stadiums and school recitals, each required careful consideration of the mood in the room.

Anthony Bloor adds: “This ad is perhaps one of the most anticipated and scrutinized ads of the year in UK. We had a huge challenge on our hands to pull this off. It was the fine details that went into every element of this project – from all parties involved – that made it into an incredible piece of craft. It was amazing to be a part of.”

Credits

Client

John Lewis & Partners

Creative Agency

adam&eveDDB

Group CCO

Richard Brim

Group ECDs

Mike Sutherland & Ant Nelson

Account Manager

Skye Stoppani

Business Director

Sam Brown

CEO

Tammy Einav

Film Production

Academy Films

Director

Seb Edwards

Senior Producer

Sally Pritchett

Producer

Shirley O'Connor

Production Manager

Racheal Donson

Executive Producer

Simon Cooper

Cinematograher

Chayse Irvin

Production Designer

Robin Brown

Editor

Sam Rice-Edwards @ The Assembly Rooms

Sound Designer

Anthony Moore @ The Factory

Music

Your Song - Elton John

Post Production

MPC

Colour

Jean-Clément Soret

VFX Supervisor

Kamen Markov

CG Supervisor

Anthony Bloor

CG Team

Anthony Bloor, Jessie Amadio , Andy Steele , Kubisi Younis , Silvia Bartoli, Maximilian Mallmann, Tom Carrick, Charles Downman, David Bryan, Chris Welsby, Eleonora Donofrio, Jason Ivimey

2D Team

Kamen Markov, Jack Stone, Kalle Kohlstrom, Daniel Benjamin, Bevis Jones, Anthony Bloor

VFX Executive Producer

Dafydd Upsdell

VFX Producer

Philip Whalley

VFX Coordinator

Georgia Cook

VFX Breakdown Editor

Zoe Izzard @ MPC

MPC Bangalore

Line Producer

Neela Kumuda P

Asset Lead

Pritesh Kotian

Assets

Manjunath Ramakrishnaiah, SelvaKumar K, Deepali Negi, Craig Savio Padua

Comp Lead

Pratyush Paruchuri

Comp

Shaik Abdul Adil, Dilshad Alam, Uday Veerepalli, Aitor Arroyo

Matchmove Lead

Ganesh Kumar S

Matchmove

Shridhar Bhat, Ankit Dheraj Toppo, Konduru Achiraju, Shaik Abdul Rahim, Elangovan Ganeshan

Prep Lead

Ragesh Ramachandran

Prep

Bruno Roosewelt, Kajal Pandya, Priyanka Dey, Rajesh S, Joshi John

Roto Lead

Mahendra Natha Reddy

Roto

Gokula Krishnan, Kishan Katrimal, Manoj Rajiv, Manu PS, Narendar Kumar, Sudev, Partha Pratim Chakraborty