As you will have seen from Owen Sagness’s blog ‘Collaboration between Microsoft and John Lewis sees ‘Monty’s Magical Toy Machine’ come to life’ in our latest venture, the Microsoft’s creative technologists (including myself), worked with John Lewis, Adam and Eve and Manning Gottlieb OMD to create Monty’s Magical Toy Machine, a breakthrough, immersive in-shop experience in the John Lewis flagship store on Oxford Street in London, bringing the iconic John Lewis Christmas campaign to life by enabling toys to come alive using a Kinect 2-enabled 3D interactive.
I wanted to give you a little more context on the project and share the immersive experience in all its glory.
The iconic John Lewis Christmas advertising campaigns are a sure-fire signal that the festive period is most definitely on its way – but their success each year leave very big boots to be filled. Who could forget the Snowman’s epic journey two years ago, or the boy who couldn’t wait for Christmas to give his parents a gift?
As such, we could not have been more excited when we heard that Microsoft Advertising UK would be working with John Lewis this year. It meant that we had the opportunity to really exercise our imaginations thinking up ideas to create something magical to embody this year’s screen story of the unique bond between a child and a toy.
We knew what our goal was from the start: we wanted to give people goose bumps. We wanted to take the fantasy and make it real, so we needed to be pioneering. Approach these challenges required a tailor-made solution that would play to our strengths; innovative technology; understanding of digital channels; new media; and custom content. We’re certainly not shy of diving into the unknown, or combining a smorgasbord of technologies to bring out the best in our partners’ campaigns in unique ways.
The core idea of the ad is toys coming to life – a staple of children’s fiction, from The Nutcracker to Toy Story - and we wanted to bring the magic of the screen to the British high street. We wanted to make it personal, and more importantly make it real.
I’d heard about a woman who made toys from children’s drawings of their favourite monster and I thought, why not turn that idea on its head and use technology to make a kid’s favourite toy dance, just as they always imagined?
The process of creating the technology involved a period of experimentation and a variety of different stages – from scanning a real toy with Kinect technology, to mapping it to create a surface representation (mesh), then adding in texture and colour. We then brought in an expert in photogrammetry who created perfect 3D images for us to work with. The process was similar to how bullet time is created in the movies, perhaps most famously inThe Matrix. We used a similar camera array to capture a 3D object in space, and then built a rig in the office to animate the image, effectively bringing to life a digital replica of a toy.
The 25-strong team completed the entire project in two months. While fine tuning of the project, we managed to cut down the time it took between taking 3D scans of the toy to it ‘waking up’ on the screen from 12 minutes (too long for any eager child or parent to wait,) to a mere 130 seconds. We then read, choreographed and performed (yes, really!) a series of dance routines for the toy using a combination of Kinect technology and motion capture libraries.
The real beauty of the installation is that children can bring their own Christmas toys to the John Lewis store. They entrust their toy to the scanner and within a matter of seconds, see an image of their toy fast asleep on the big screen. Kinect technology is triggered by the child pointing or waving at the screen, resulting in the toy’s awakening; they start to dance, as do the children in most cases! Once both child and toy have danced their hearts out, they have an opportunity to take a selfie together to capture the moment for posterity. We hope this live interaction will bring a bit of Christmas magic to children – and bring out the inner child in adults, too.
It was emotional when we handed the project over to John Lewis partners in store to take forward – we’ve all worked so hard and put so much into Monty’s Magical Toy Machine, so it was a pretty big moment. Plus, it’s the first time Microsoft Advertising has combined an interactive physical build with a digital advertising campaign.
Arthur Tindsley, Creative Technologist, Microsoft UK.