We caught up with Jim Cullen, Senior CG Generalist, who not only was the lead artist on SB’s 2020 Christmas campaign, but creative-directed it too. Here Jim reveals the inspiration behind the campaign, his approach from concept ideation to execution and so much more...
What was the inspiration behind the campaign?
We started brainstorming our Christmas campaign in August, so I began by reviewing typical Christmas concepts to get me in the mood. The first of which was the 12 days of Christmas. This soon morphed into the 12 months of 2020, and well, this year has been so extraordinary that it became a matter of scoping out our most memorable experiences throughout the months.
I wanted to celebrate the ordinariness of everyday life, drawing inspiration from my own experience as well as scaling that up and showing a global perspective. The brief’s theme of reconnection evolved into a story of reflecting on our life in its most basic form and how we have connected when life is at its most solitary.
We’ve all had unique experiences in lockdown and I wanted to emulate that by having the tortoise by himself all year. He’s been walking alone through the months, then in December he meets up with his family for Christmas. It felt like the perfect way to finalise 2020. This concept worked really well for shining a light on loneliness, unity and the importance of connection - just a shame Christmas was then cancelled.
Why did you choose a tortoise as the character to represent 2020? What inspired the character development of SB’s 2020 Christmas campaign?
When I was reviewing the overall concept - my main thoughts were that 2020 was unashamedly slow… and shit. Time never stops still, but it went as slowly as it could have. So the tortoise is really a metaphor for time, and the slowness of 2020. In every animation his slow continuous movement visualises 2020 month by month, until he finally stops once he is reunited with his family and you then reflect on how isolated he’s been throughout the year.
What feelings were you trying to evoke?
I wanted to touch on both the joy and sadness of our lockdown year. We’ve watched our world fall victim to the pandemic and there have been some huge learnings from 2020. I wanted to emulate the feelings of reconnection, unity, loneliness, reflection, love and slowness.
I definitely drew on my own perception and perspective to emulate the feelings of 2020. Of course, Christmas was the hero shot and I drew inspiration from the news and anticipation of students being able to return home and families being reunited in December.
Obviously, it didn’t work out that way in reality - as the UK effectively cancelled Christmas, but the vision was to signify hope and celebrate the way we, as human beings, have connected, reconnected and remained sociable throughout a year of isolation.
This was your first project where you were the creative director, what did you learn?
I learnt that having a clear idea and brief from the start helped navigate my overall direction and the production. Having parameters, such as where the campaign would launch, helped me understand the dimensions of the campaign and therefore how to start composing the shots.
I was the sole director on this project, so managing the creative and briefing of other team members was an exciting (and frustrating) new experience. It’s especially challenging while we’re not together to problem solve on the fly.
What did you find challenging about the production?
Strangely (or not), the isolation I felt while on the project was probably the biggest challenge. I wanted to collaborate with the whole team on this project as it would have helped with the direction and workload. But without being able to get the time to properly plan and discuss the project across the company, it became quite a lonely project, which in a way sums the whole year up.
The size of the project was the other main challenge - I had to fit this around project work and I gave myself a lot of work to do - including having to rebuild the character model for rigging!
How long did it take?
From brief to final delivery, it took 5 months, working only in the evenings and between live projects! I wanted a project I could sink my teeth into, because we were in lockdown and I had nowhere to be etc. It really helped the months sail by! With the help of Megan McLean I was able to stay on the track and pass over the production of a couple of the shots to her. Thank you Megan!
What was your favourite scene and why?
I have a few…
Conceptually, December and March. December because it’s so hopeful and connected. March because it's the only animation in the series that’s not glued to reality. The setting is otherworldly, however, it’s arguably the most recognisable of the lot and kind of meme ready!
Creatively, putting April’s zoom call together was great fun. Adding all the details and thinking about all the characters and names to include was really entertaining.
Artistically, I love July and August as they are hyper realistic virtual environments. The whole screen is filled with detail and I am really proud of the way they turned out.
The London scene is full CG isn’t it? Talk us through the production process..
Oddly enough, September was the last one I produced and the most rushed. I was hoping we could use retouch, but they ran short of time, so I actually crafted it using various models and textures and blended all the elements together in houdini and vray.
What techniques did you use?
From a planning perspective, knowing what they were going to be used for (as part of our social media campaign), helped me determine the dimensions and camera positions of each shot. It also meant that I triple checked all my work on my mobile, so I could ensure the campaign was fit for purpose.
In terms of production process, I animated, lit, textured, rendered and composited all the shots.
Do you have a process for generating new ideas?
Honestly, I have a memory like Rain Man, which is basically a huge mental box to rely on. It’s great! I also like having detailed briefs as it helps to have a framework to create in. Once I have that, I generate ideas based on my own experiences and memories.
Want to see the full project & BTS content?