UWE graduate co-directs John Lewis Christmas advert

Issue date: 12 December 2013

Two graduates from the University of the West of England were part of the team that created the latest John Lewis Christmas advert, Elliot Dear as Co-Director and Ben Lole as Production Coordinator. Both graduated from UWE Bristol in 2009, Elliott Dear in Animation and Illustration and Ben Lole in Media Practice and Animation.

The seasonal reveal of this advert has become a much anticipated event, with the first broadcast happening this year in mid-November at peak viewing time during the X Factor. The ad was created by Blinkink in the UK and Hornet, a studio in New York US. It features a nostalgic story about the friendship between a bear and a hare at Christmas time, set to a soundtrack of Lily Allen singing Keane's 2004 hit Somewhere Only We Know.

Elliot Dear from Blinkink, a UK agency, worked as Co-Director with Yves Geleyn from US agency Hornet. They worked with Disney character designers and animators including Aaron Blaise, the Director of Brother Bear, who also worked on The Lion King and Pocahontas.

The ad features 2D stop motion drawings shot on a 3D set, a process that Dear initially explored as a student. He included some of the music videos he had created using this technique when he pitched ideas to the agency for the job.

Elliot Dear said, “We wanted to create a nostalgic advert that took adults back to their childhood yet felt fresh enough to appeal to young people too. It was initially daunting to direct an animator of the calibre of Aaron Blaise at such an early point in my career but he was wonderful to work with, such an inspiration.

“I remembered something that I was doing when I was a student which was to do illustrations, cut them out and place them in front of the camera and make these almost pantomime-esque sets with them. I'd then photograph them to get lens effects, focal depth and lens flares, whilst still retaining an illustrative quality.

“My time at UWE Bristol did help me to get to this stage, that and a combination of saying yes to projects of all sizes, tenacity and the constant development of my own show reel to demonstrate versatility of style.

“I chose to study at UWE Bristol because I wanted to learn about moving images, special effects and model making, and the Illustration course included modules that allowed experimentation across a wide range of media beyond simply drawing. I learned so much about colour, tone, composition, storytelling and narrative flow. These are disciplines that can be applied across a range of media from books and photography to live action film - so it's a great base to start with. I only took one module in animation but this 16 week period gave me the opportunity to experiment and learn. I have recommended the illustration course to quite a few people since.

Asked about the advice he would give to current students wanting to break into this highly competitive industry Elliot said, “When starting out no job is too small, a tiny piece of work that is well executed could be the work that leads you somewhere exciting. Say yes to everything, be hungry and develop a strong work ethic, refine your show reel all the time and keep learning how to do new things.”

Benjamin Lole was Production Manager for the John Lewis ad; he has been taken on full time by Blinkink since completing the project. He said, “I moved to London to work on this project and my responsibilities included managing budgets, crew and all the logistics like planning shoots. I was involved right from the start and developed tests for the initial pitch to John Lewis; I also liaised between the animation team at Hornet helping with development on everything from colouring, paper stock, printing and post production. It was brilliant to work on a 2D project, John Lewis wanted the ad to feel nostalgic so we used techniques that are rarely employed now. It was an amazing project to be part of.

“Since leaving UWE Bristol I have worked in broadcast and production with Aardman and on a range of freelance projects from a studio in Stokes Croft in Bristol that was shared with the Elliot Dear. I did one of the first graduate placement schemes run by UWE Bristol at Arthur Cox Animation and the experience there was a great start that has proved valuable as a stepping stone into animation work.”

Marketing director for John Lewis Craig Inglis said of the £1million animation, "We are trying to do things differently and always trying to raise the bar. We are hoping the bear and the hare will enter the public psyche a bit like the snowmen last year."

John Parry, Programme Leader in Animation at UWE Bristol said, “We are really proud that two of our recent graduates have played pivotal roles in the making of the John Lewis Christmas TV advert. It's fantastic that Elliot Dear cites his student days and what he learned as being influential in the techniques he used to make the film. This year the social media noise that the advert has made is very clever. The making of the film has generated as much popularity as the TV event with the parodies being made and appearing within 24 hours, which has to be a true mark of a successful campaign.

“Parents at a recent open day were very impressed when I mentioned that this year's John Lewis advert was co-directed by a UWE Bristol graduate. That night it premiered in the middle of the X Factor so would have been seen by millions of people. What is interesting for us is that the current students have been discussing the job on their social media sites. Not in a sycophantic way, but in a debate about form and function.

“For current and potential students to see what is possible after gaining a qualification at UWE Bristol exemplified in what is arguably the most talked about ad of the year is fantastic and for us as lecturers it is proof that we are succeeding in helping our students to develop skills that can be put to good use in the workplace at the highest levels.”

Find out more about Animation and Illustration at UWE Bristol.

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