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A Tribute to Aunt Loulou: Inside IGA’s Festive Ode to the Traditions We Never Knew We’d Miss


Sid Lee’s Quentin Fachon and IGA’s Carl Pichette, alongside TONIC DNA’s Joe Bluhm and Fabien Fulchiron, take LBB’s Josh Neufeldt and Adam Bennett behind the scenes of the Canadian grocery icon’s uplifting holiday spot

A Tribute to Aunt Loulou: Inside IGA’s Festive Ode to the Traditions We Never Knew We’d Miss

For all of us, there’s at least one aspect of the holiday season we never *quite* look forward to. Maybe it’s soggy brussels sprouts, or perhaps one family member isn’t quite as gripping a storyteller as they like to imagine they are. For a beautifully-animated family in IGA’s latest Christmas spot - the latest in a long line of adorable festive animations from the supermarket brand - it’s Aunt Loulou’s Meatloaf. 

But, to paraphrase the immortal words of another Canadian treasure in Joni Mitchell, you never truly know what you’ve got until it’s gone. 

Brought to life by the visual wizards at TONIC DNA, and conceived by the team at Sid Lee Montreal, the ad plays out as a whimsical and heartfelt ode to the traditions we never understood quite how much we’d miss. As Aunt Loulou’s family discover, there’s no replacing the meatloaf which became a holiday staple over the years. For viewers, it’s a timely reminder to treasure every moment with our families over the festive period - whatever those moments might be. 

To go behind the scenes of the ad and discover how it all came together, LBB’s Josh Neufeldt and Adam Bennett sat down with TONIC DNA director Joe Bluhm, co-director and CG supervisor Fabien Fulchiron, alongside Sid Lee copywriter Quentin Fachon, and IGA’s Carl Pichette, vice president marketing, e-commerce Sobeys.

LBB> This represents the fifth year of collaboration between IGA and Sid Lee. As such, what was the brief - and what immediate ideas came to mind? 

Carl> The approach to the briefing is pretty much the same every year. We want to showcase the emotional connection that food brings to families. What we hope to do is reach consumers with a story that appeals to them and that they can relate to. We are not here to sell a product or a service. We simply want to tell a food story that exudes generosity and family spirit. It's a pure joy to convey the importance of the culinary heritage that runs in every family. 

Quentin> The brief is the same every year - to offer a beautiful holiday story that’s more of a short film than an ad. It’s always about getting a message of love out there (love of food and love for each other). 

The idea of having a recipe that’s passed on from generation to generation has re-appeared every year, but what caught our eye this year was the added element of showcasing a distinctively yucky meal that the family only eats in the name of love. In this case, we chose the meatloaf because it’s kind of a typical holiday meal, without being too much of a cliché. It’s universal enough, without being overly used in pop culture. 

LBB> Watching the family find excuses to discard the meatloaf is very entertaining. What was the writing process, and how did you come up with these specific scenarios? 

Quentin> Once we had established the ‘mechanics’ of the story, we had to choose the best executions of these ‘diversion tactics’. So, we came up with about twenty of those, and then narrowed it down to the most visually interesting, keeping just enough to fit into the timeframe of the film. 

LBB> Let’s talk about the animation itself, which was done in partnership with TONIC’s Joe Bluhm. Why was he the right person to bring this to life? 

Quentin> Joe is well known for his work in animation. Whether it’s for children’s books or other ads (like the scarecrow he did for Chipotle, among others), his portfolio is filled with premium, well-told stories, all of which are full of emotion. It was kind of a given for us. 

LBB> Joe and Fabien, what was the script for this campaign like? What immediate ideas came to mind when you first saw it? 

Joe> The most important aspect of choosing a collaborative project is to believe in the message and love the characters. This certainly met that criteria! Not only that, but the script left some room to invent distractions and have a little fun in storyboarding. So, we started dreaming about gags - how the family could distract Loulou, and what pieces of our life and family we could use to really help the audience feel the love in this story. We knew that the target was family, love, and humour. 

Fabien> I think everyone directly fell in love with the story. It’s such a familiar situation everyone can relate to in their family. You also have a great balance between the gags and the sentimental portion that makes it so powerful. 

LBB> This is the first time you are handling a cherished Quebec campaign – what does it mean to be responsible for a big IGA campaign that will be broadcast to provincial and national audiences? 

Joe> Our approach to the story is universal. We knew that we could pull this off, so there was no intimidation. It almost felt like a perfect marriage. Like... ‘It's about time we found each other! Of COURSE this will work’. We knew we had it under control, because that’s what we do. 

Fabien> Of course there is a big responsibility in continuing this legacy, but also an honour to be part of it. We knew we could do it, so it was more of a continuous excitement to work on this campaign. 

LBB> What was the initial concepting process like? How did the spot evolve? 

Joe> Our first efforts were built around characters and storyboards. We knew we wanted something more on the playful side of the IGA world, so Valentina Brancati did some great loose character designs, giving us a snapshot of the family. At the same time, I took a stab at rough storyboards, so we could explore a comedic camera language, while finding small gags and an overall structure for the visual language. Working in essentially one small environment with so many characters put us in a fun spot where we had to problem solve and figure out how to keep it fresh and interesting. 

And then, the icing on the cake was working with Sid Lee. The team on this project was very collaborative and fun in their ideation, accepting wacky new ideas, discussing design changes and working with us to evolve the elements as needed. And that’s what changed the most - the distraction gags. We had SO MANY ideas, and it was difficult choosing what worked best. It’s always tough to cut a fun idea, but we knew it was essential. 

LBB> There’s no denying the visual charm of the ad - especially that of its characters. What kind of inspirations did you draw on in designing the animation? 

Joe> Thanks! Character is everything (along with story!). We knew that each person needed a back-story and history. We had so many thoughts about who did what, how they knew each other, what the relationships were... and what this does is it fleshes out the vibe without having to say it to the viewer. It can be felt. As for animation, we did the same by discussing the lives and personalities of each person, allowing them to write their own acting. It was really exciting for the team. 

LBB> Despite everything, the meatloaf itself looks… quite appetising?! So, what’s the secret to making delicious looking food translate on-screen as an animation? 

Fabien> There is no secret, it's experience and hard work! Having built up many years of expertise working on CG food projects, we've found our own tools and techniques to create beautiful and realistic food. 

The best end results are always a culmination of every layer that’s gone into a project. You need a highly-detailed model as a base, and then you need good textures, lighting and composition. There isn’t really a ‘secret’, so to speak - success can be found in all the details. 

LBB> Tell us more about what it takes to illustrate and animate a spot like this! How long did it take, and how did the process go?

Joe> Personally, I like to start with storyboards. It helps us find character design needs, and highlights the locations, space, rigs, and lighting needs we will be up against. We tend to design characters and hero locations in parallel. Overall, we spent around three weeks for the initial designs, concepts, and storyboards, but with the knowledge that tweaks and finesse often bring us down the road a bit, we didn’t finalise the animatic/edit, full location and character designs for a couple months. 

Fabien> It takes time! From the first sketch to the final details of lighting, there are many steps before you can see the final spot. In the end, it took us about six months to produce this just over two-minute spot, and what a journey it was! 

In particular, modelling is the root of 3D - you can't do anything else until it is done. So, we modelled characters first, followed by rigging. Only then could animation start. From the first pose to the final expression, this long process took us about three months to complete. Luckily, parallel, we were able to also get a first stab at texturing our charismatic family while the modelling team was still busy working on environments. 

Finally, we started the final step of lighting: finding the right mood, the perfect temperature of light, and all the small other details that bring everything together. After that, it was just a matter of appreciating the work of compositor, colourist, voice actors, and musician, and watching the spot on a huge 4k TV! 

LBB> Building on this, there are some delightful visual details in the animation, from the holly-flecked festive tableware to the classic Corningware dish held by Loulou as she arrives at the door. Did you intend to have this ad feel so nostalgic, and what was your process for achieving that? 

Joe> Well, first off, thank you for noticing! We pulled from our collective experiences and childhood. In the first year, the plates are what I remembered my mom dressed our table with. Loulou’s meatloaf dish is something that I grew up with as well. We even used this inspiration to help decorate the house and drive all the details. Fun fact, my mom has a meatloaf recipe (I actually ate it EVERY CHRISTMAS), and we used her old recipe card as the design inspiration for Loulou’s card in the Epilogue. Basically, we brought our heart to the table. 

LBB> The voice-over is fantastic! Who did you cast to provide it?

Quentin> We casted real-life Loulou’s for Loulou’s voice: Helene Major for the french, and Dawn Ford in english. 

And, for the warm but not too deep voice of Leon’s, we casted Vincent Potel for the french version, and Mark Trafford for the English spot. 

LBB> What challenges have you faced during this project? How did you overcome them? 

Quentin> It’s incredible to say, but other than making an animated movie - which is a challenge in itself (requiring constant rigour) - we felt it went like a charm the whole way through. 

Fabien> Time is always a challenge! We always want to push the quality, add more details, make things better, and time is against us. We asked to push Christmas, but it was apparently not possible!

In seriousness, this is where organisation is paramount, and communication is key. We were lucky enough to work with a very open-minded agency, and it was very easy to share ideas or talk about solutions to make everything as smooth as possible. Internally, thanks to good coordination, we also overcame many challenges along the way. There is no such thing as a problem without a solution! 

Carl> A campaign with a 90-second format like this takes a lot of time to make. It's similar to producing a short film. In order to ensure we meet the deadline, we needed to have the first creative leads in May/June. However, with the pandemic and the uncertainty that came with it, it was risky to produce that far in advance. That being said, we decided to go ahead with a contingency plan, and adjust if needed. 

LBB> Are there any elements of the project you’re particularly proud of? And why? 

Joe> Storytelling is everything. We had to make sure that light, framing, composition, focal depth, and colour palettes all helped convey the message, story, and tone. So many elements are not necessarily noticed, but they are felt by the viewer, and those subliminal details and small decisions become part of our language and world. We certainly used the time we had to consider every aspect of this tale, and there are fun stories behind every prop, every camera angle, and every stitch of clothing. 

I am also quite happy that everyone enjoyed the plate spinning gag. I knew the family could not be too good at fooling Loulou (as if she was fooled - haha), and the audience needed to feel a part of it. I originally storyboarded the mom character stopping a rattling plate in the foreground, but due to some scene and staging changes, we nearly lost the opportunity with that gag. But Sid Lee was so on board with it, and they helped suggest a place to put it back in. 

Finally, I love any story where we can use the expressions of a dog. This is a circle of life story, and to see Leon as a puppy, then older after all the years is very satisfying to me, and somewhat emotional. I have many pets and most of them are dogs. To find the cartoony quirks of a canine character like him is so fun, and I’ll use any chance to get the familiar dog details in there, so anyone who has a pet recognises their own family in our story. 

Fabien> I am proud of my team! Whatever the level or the role, everyone put in so much effort to meet expectations, and that's the greatest achievement as a CG supervisor. 

As an artist, I'm also proud of my own work and improvements. I'm very happy with how much detail I could put on characters' textures, and how the lighting ended up looking. 

Seeing as how we can always push and get better, we're already thinking of next year's spot! :D 

LBB> How have people reacted to this campaign? 

Quentin> Really darn well. People were apparently brought to tears, and it infused them with extra love for their loved ones. 

Carl> The response is phenomenal. We've reached over 2 million people on our digital ecosystem - with over 700 comments and over 16,000 interactions to date.

LBB> How does this campaign fit into IGA’s branding for 2022 and beyond? 

Carl> Whether it's an approach that supports a retail promotion or a message that focuses on service and our differentiation aspect, the 3D animation approach is recurrent for our IGA messages. It is the tone and manner of the IGA brand, and when it comes time to focus on a purely branded message (brand love), this type of animation helps us go even further in our storytelling. 

LBB> Finally, is there anything you’d like to add?

Quentin> This film took nine months to make, just like a real baby. And for that reason, we kept and will keep saying the film was a labour of love. 

Joe> Thanks for keeping your recipe cards, Mom. Your meatloaf recipe card from my childhood is lifted straight from this film!

Aside from that, Fabien and I have been fans of the IGA holiday campaigns for many years - always waiting with anticipation to see these touching stories. They are a Quebec holiday tradition. We were delighted that the team at TONIC DNA could add our little touch of magic to this well-known campaign with the creation of these memorable characters and heartwarming story.

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Genres: Animation

Categories: Supermarkets, Retail and Restaurants

TONIC DNA, Tue, 27 Dec 2022 09:55:14 GMT