To commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, BBH turned to MPC New York to help them not only recreate the city’s bygone era but also to create a CG version of that most beloved of holiday icons, Santa Claus. In an epic spot titled “Old Friends,” MPC’s artists were called on to portray Manhattan’s Herald Square in decades ranging from the 40s to the present; to render Santa as a warm, friendly and expressive inflatable balloon; and to transform the lush upstate New York landscape from mid-summer to a blazing autumn.
Directed by Noam Murro of Biscuit Filmworks, it follows a young boy from his first Macy’s Parade experience through to his 90th year. We first see him in what appears to be the 1940s, and we see him in successive decades as he grows to manhood and then into old age. Each year, the Santa balloon singles him out for a special wink, which he meets with a wide smile.
The action is interrupted, however, when in the final parade scene Santa looks for him but he’s not there. Concerned, Santa breaks from the parade route and is seen floating over the Manhattan skyline and the George Washington Bridge. He heads north, over the lush, rolling hills of upstate New York, vivid in autumnal colors, until a house appears in a clearing. As the camera moves in closer, we see our hero sitting alone in a room by the window. He looks out and sees Santa, who gives him a knowing wink. With this, Santa returns to the parade, glad to know his old friend is still around.
Re-recreating the parade route was a major task for MPC’s artists. “This fully CG environment spanned through multiple decade changes as the narrative played out, each era encompassing both subtle and broad stroke changes to the layout, assets and lighting of our scenes,” says MPC VFX Supervisor Ashley Bernes. “And our schedule dictated that we had to start our build process in advance of the shoot. With overlapping aspects of prep, pre-production, production and post happening almost at the same time, it resulted in a huge collaborative effort by the team here.”
MPC relied on a variety of historical documents, photographs and references provided by the agency while creating the Herald Square shots. “They even offered up to put us in touch with Macy’s architects,” Ashley says enthusiastically. “Coupled with our own research we had a detailed reference document for every decade in the commercial.”
Bernes adds that coming up with the right look for Santa was both a technical and creative challenge. “Designing a character widely recognized by the majority of the planet might seem like an easy task, but when you introduce the fact that it’s a balloon, things get complicated,” he notes. The MPC team had to allow for a range of variables, such as how the character would look when inflated or viewed from different angles or scales, how many wrinkles or creases to show when it moved, how translucent it should be, etc. “These were all things that were developed and tested until we landed on the final product.”
Overall, says Bernes, he’s as satisfied with the final product as is Macy’s: “I’m happy that we managed to capture some of the scale, depth and excitement of the real event, and to see a project come together that challenged many different disciplines all the way from prep through to delivery.”
BBH, New York
Hemant Anant Jain
MPC New York
Camila De Biaggi
Mark Gethin, MPC LA
Trevor Williams, Jhowee Chiang
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