apple tbwa fuzzy feelings stop motion behind the scenes video still

Imperfect magic: the beautiful craft of stop-motion in ads

Despite an industry-wide AI, VFX, VR and AR overload, stop-motion production techniques remain popular among brands

By conor nichols

My brother and I used to rewatch (and rewatch again) the Wallace and Gromit films when we were younger, not to mention the Aardman Classics DVD and Shaun the Sheep. While my young mind was mainly preoccupied with believing that the moon was in fact made out of cheese, I still remember noticing the sometimes-jumpy movements of Wallace's character and the fingerprint marks on his bald head in A Grand Day Out. I also used to marvel at the post-credit scenes where Aardman would talk viewers through the stop-motion process and you’d see a completely still and lifeless Gromit.

Undoubtedly, to this day, the music video for Nina Simone’s song ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ also remains a timeless classic. The charm, the imperfection, the detail and the craftsmanship all add up to one thing for me when it comes to stop-motion films like this - magic.

And it seems the advertising industry recognises this fantastical feeling. Not only have brands used the production technique and several varying stop-motion studios throughout the decades, but the art form still remains popular in the 2020s, even with the AI boom and increasingly impressive levels of VFX. 

The technique has most recently been used in campaigns by the BBC (‘Things we love’ by Aardman) and Just Eat (The Joy of Everyday’ by Arch Model Studio), the latter of which was executed by Arch Model Studio, the team behind Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr Fox and Isle Of Dogs. 

To add to this, last year, the likes of Apple (‘Fuzzy feelings’ by TBWA\Media Arts Lab), Thatchers (‘Pint-sized perfection’ by Bray Leino) and Freenow (‘Feel Freenow’ by BMB) also used stop-motion in their campaigns.

With animators and production studios galore in the industry, it is quite astounding that brands and agency partners are still using a century-old method - (the very first example of cinematic stop-motion is cited as the 1898 short The Humpty Dumpty Circus) - that can be both time-consuming and expensive. Is there something to be said for the appreciation and love of craft in a hyper-technological 2024? And is the emotional appeal of stop motion also related to nostalgia - like it is for me? We ask the industry’s finest production and creative leaders to find out.

Olly Wood, creative director, McCann London

There’s an enchanting magic to stop motion that no digital software can replicate, no matter how good the technology is these days. With many elements contributing to the immortality and the timeless qualities of this art form.

With stop motion there’s no fooling the eye. Everything is physically there in front of the camera lens, creating unique miniature worlds. There’s no trickery, VFX, or digital manipulation telling you something doesn’t quite feel right. And when you start the process of making things move, adding dialogue, expressions, and mannerisms, we witness the creation of life that has an endearing and believable charm to it.

Behind the scenes there’s an incredible level of craftsmanship that goes into making the characters and sets, for example in our recent work for Just Eat UK, made with director Tim McNaughton at Arts & Sciences and Arch Model Studios, our furry animal characters had each single hair meticulously placed one at a time. Each single tile within a bathroom set was individually placed and then grouted using miniature equipment. A glass lightbulb the size of pea was handmade and filled with gas! It’s that ethos of doing things with such attention to detail that makes this an art to be admired.

Stop motion gives brands the perfect canvas for delivering warm and captivating stories, full of rich texture and craft that’s as fit for 2024 as much as it’s ever been.

Nick Rowland, executive creative director, VML

I’ve always been in awe of stop motion and its creators. The attention to detail. The infinite patience to see the bigger picture in every minute adjustment. From the early days of fantastic mythical creatures and characters from the depths of Tim Burton’s mind to the charming Creature Comforts and Apple's Fuzzy Christmas - they seem to have found a way to touch our souls across generations.

Stop motion’s homemade quality blends perfectly with storytelling and characterisation that brings an honesty and authenticity that our day-to-day sometimes needs. This is why brands embrace this technique and is why a high-tech brand like Apple is able to tell a touching human story at Christmas.

But it’s not just there for the feels. It can charmingly bring to life beautifully observed moments from real life and present it in a way that’s both relatable and magical. As brands look for distinctiveness from their competition and from the culture that surrounds them, stop motion can be an enlightening, evocative and powerful tool. But for an animation technique devoid of people, its power to engage emotionally with its human audience is why brands are willing to utilise it, one magnificently crafted frame at a time.

Ed Rosie, executive producer, Girl&Bear

It's absolutely about craft, and there probably is a hyper-technological industry fatigue setting in at the moment too - AI, VFX, VR, AR overload, perhaps. Plus, it feels very human, which I can see resonating with people.

However, when I think of stop motion, I imagine filmmaking in one of its purest forms. There are levels of complexity and polish to stop motion, but often they’re almost deliberately imperfect, and that's precisely why they're so captivating. The visible effort and creativity that goes into creating it is so clear to see.

Earlier this year, we were asked to create a stop motion piece for a pitch. It was a simple idea, but it reminded me just how complex the discipline is. It requires lots of planning, adjusting, fixing, redoing - all things that are necessary to make it work properly.

Also, it just looks different from everything else. Maybe that’s partly what is enticing people back. It has a raw and tangible character. You can see how it has come to life, even if you've got no idea exactly how it was done. It’s a bit like that thing called magic, and I think that's why audiences love it so much too.

David Beattie, creative director, BMB

Pure bloody charm.

Stop-motion has a magic that is very hard to replicate in other forms. Especially in AI.

Seeing the thumb prints of the animator or puppeteer on every move or understanding that every frame needs to be perfect otherwise the illusion you’re creating will be broken – it’s that combination of imperfection and perfection that gives us a sense of wonder as we watch. It’s that detail that adds extra layers to the stories being told.

And the fact that it takes time and patience to craft means everyone (viewer and maker) must be more engaged with what’s happening on screen.

Live action sets are beautifully chaotic and using VFX and AI means any story is now possible. But sometimes, in advertising when it’s treated badly, it can feel more disposable, more throwaway, more forgettable.

Whereas working with stop-motion is slower, quieter, more solitary. Every shot and move has purpose. You can’t waste a single frame. I think both makers and viewers feel that attention to detail and craft when they see it on screen.

With such reward and romance for both creator and viewer, it’s a medium that will always be on the bucket list of any brand and creative.


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