‘A Boy Called Christmas’: Interview with Framestore VFX Supervisor, Stuart Penn

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A Boy Called Christmas – Picture: Netflix

A Boy Called Christmas is now on Netflix in most regions around the world (Sky Cinema in the United Kingdom) and has been cited as being one of the biggest new Christmas movies of 2021. We managed to have a quick chat over email with Stuart Penn who worked on the movie as a VFX Supervisor from the London branch of Framestore. 

Released on November 24th, A Boy Called Christmas told the story of a young Nikolas who meets his destiny in a magical land inhabited by elves on a quest to find his father — and bring home the gift of hope.

The VFX was handled by Framestore who have worked on a slew of Netflix projects including The Crown, Jingle Jangle, Red Notice, Army of the Dead, The Midnight Sky, and Project Power.

Framestore has offices in London, Vancouver, Melbourne, Mumbai, Chicago, and Los Angeles and has over 3,000 employees.

Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions – could you give us an introduction as to who you are and what your role was on A Boy Called Christmas?

Stuart Penn, I was Framestore’s VFX Supervisor on A Boy Called Christmas.
I was an on-set supervisor for the shoot in Prague, working closely with overall VFX Supervisor, Glen Pratt, as well as overseeing all of Framestore’s work.

How much of the film did Framestore have a part in? How many sequences etc?

Framestore worked closely with director, Gil Kenan, from pre-production designing the characters through the shoot and to delivering 847 shots.

We worked on all sequences of the film from animating Miika the talking mouse and Blitzen, Nikolas’ trusty reindeer companion, to sweeping arctic landscapes.
Framestore also worked closely with production designer, Gary Williamson, to realise the town of Elfhelm.

Are there any subtle VFX techniques or sequences that audiences may not be able to spot?

Adding falling snow to a lot of sequences.

A lot of the chase through the trees with Nikolas riding Blitzen and pulling the sleigh was a full CG environment. The cake city that Miika eats his way through was entirely CG based on an Art Dept practical model.

Christmas movies often have an indescribable feel to them that makes them feel “Christmassy” – can you articulate what you think that is and how you try to make the VFX feel authentic to that?

I think with holiday films there’s a certain magic to it – Christmas especially is a time where most people like to believe in the good. With all our projects we strive to deliver the highest standard of VFX, but I think with A Boy Called Christmas it’s about helping create the suspension of disbelief, making a magical experience that draws in viewers of all ages.

Stephen Merchant voices Miika who is the animated mouse in the movie. How do you try and bring some of Stephen Merchants visual characteristics (if at all) into the mouse? Things like matching mouth movements etc?

Stephen did a great job of voicing Miika, we used witness camera footage of his performance as base for the timing of Miika’s facial performance, even though we avoided anthropomorphising Miika’s expressions to make sure he kept his rodent nature. It was more about matching the timing of Stephen’s performance rather than the facial shapes.

a boy called christmas mouse

A Boy Called Christmas – Picture: Netflix

Framestore notably worked on Netflix’s big Christmas movie Jingle Jangle. How much of the team also worked on A Boy Called Christmas and what lessons were learnt on that project that gave you an advantage for this one?

There was very little cross-over between the shows as Jingle Jangle was mostly done in our Montreal studio and A Boy Called Christmas in our London studio.
Though with every movie, things are learnt that help us refine and improve our workflow on the next show.

What upcoming Netflix projects are you currently working on? Or any other projects of note releasing soon?

The next projects featuring work from Framestore’s fantastic London teams are Kingsman prequel The Kings Man, and highly anticipated The Matrix: Resurrections, both in cinemas on 22nd December. Our Montreal teams have the Netflix dark comedy Don’t Look Up and Spider-Man: No Way Home arriving in cinemas this month, as well as Roland Emmerich’s Moonfall out next year, and we’re both currently working on Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.

Did you check out A Boy Called Christmas on Netflix? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.

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Founder of What's on Netflix, Kasey has been tracking the comings and goings of the Netflix library for over a decade. Covering everything from new movies, series and games from around the world, Kasey is in charge of covering breaking news, covering all the new additions now available on Netflix and what's coming next.