Eddie Sotto, the Imagineer behind some of Disneyland’s most popular attractions, famously said: “Fear, minus death, equals fun”. While this might seem like a slightly hyperbolic way to describe the production of a Christmas TV commercial, it’s fair to say the stakes were high, and our ambitions even higher.
Let’s rewind to November 2018. In the film production industry, things traditionally start to slow down as the festive season approaches. Interestingly, this tradition has never been one to bless the Storm & Shelter office, as without fail each year, like some kind of Christmas-themed A-Team, the phone rings and before we’ve had a chance to eat our first mince pie, we find ourselves launched neck-deep into an ambitious, time-sensitive project.
In this case, we literally were being asked to save Christmas. Okay, maybe not literally, but we were asked to produce a commercial designed to bring shoppers to Cardiff at Christmas time. The challenge was that although the commercial wouldn’t air until the following year, it was already November and the commercial had to include live-action visuals of the city centre, with the Christmas decorations in place.
A moment of silence to appreciate the sheer logistical Everest that laid before us: the location permits, the pedestrian control involved, the recruiting of cast and crew so close to Christmas, the unpredictable Welsh winter weather…
You’d think this was enough of a challenge, right? Well, we were only getting started. How does covering the whole city in artificial snow, shooting the whole commercial at night, and writing a story that revolves around child actors chasing a dragon around the city sound? Had we been on the egg-nog a little early this year?
Despite the odds, our production team knuckled down, mustering their collective Christmas spirit to get the shoot cast, crewed, storyboarded, signed off by Clearcast and ready to go.
This wasn’t Hollywood; we didn’t have the budget to shut down the whole city centre in the busiest shopping month of the year, so instead we opted to keep the filming unit light on its feet. Keeping everything compressed down to one senior Magliner and using battery-powered LED china balls for lighting, we were able to move between locations swiftly, which was handy because the temperatures seldom got above zero.
Over the two nights of production, we lit and shot our way around the majority of Cardiff’s most well-known landmarks, such as the castle, arcades, Winter Wonderland and the Hayes.
Post production was managed in-house, with our team implementing a proxy workflow in the offline stages of the edit, while also delivering files to a freelance VFX artist so that they could animate the dragon into the final shot. Did we mention there was a CGI dragon in this thing? Yeah, that happened. The film was coloured by our good friend Dan Moran and delivered in plenty of time to clear for the next year’s ad campaign schedule.
After almost a year of keeping our antics to ourselves, it was an extra festive treat to see it hit TV screens in 2019 to a warm reception. The YouTube upload of the ad currently sits at 83k views, an impressive achievement considering that TV was the intended delivery platform.