CAMPAIGN CRAFT: CRAFT SECRETS; Scaled models and make-up transform one man into many

Belinda Archer hears how eight layers of film made W. H. Smith’s ad possible

Belinda Archer hears how eight layers of film made W. H. Smith’s ad


When Nicholas Lyndhurst was cast as the main character in Abbott Mead

Vickers BBDO’s ads for W. H. Smith, he set about doing a bit of

research. He began scrutinising all 12-year-old girls who came near him

and watching old episodes of Grange Hill.

‘It was the challenge of playing all the characters on the same screen

at the same time that attracted me,’ he says.

Filming of the first five ads in the campaign, directed by Sid Roberson

at Roberson Films, took nine days. The process was relatively

straightforward. It involved shooting Lyndhurst separately as the

mother, father, 12-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son in each

situation, using four stand-ins to get the eye levels right. A blank

plate with Lyndhurst on his own would also be shot against a blue

screen, and straight footage of the set would be made. In total there

were eight layers of film that were cut together using Flame at the


However, the real complications arose from the fact that Lyndhurst is

six foot two inches tall. Every time he played the seven-year-old boy,

therefore, he had to be filmed against a specially built set that was 30

per cent bigger than the main set. Props such as pencils and books were

made 30 per cent bigger too, while his T-shirts and baggy trousers and

baseball caps were tested first on the stand-in and then made up in man-

size dimensions especially for him.

‘A real kid’s head is actually out of proportion to the rest of his

body, but we didn’t make Nicholas’s head look bigger because we thought

part of the humour was that this was Nicholas Lyndhurst very obviously

shrunk down and out of proportion,’ explains Paul Briginshaw, who art

directed the ads while his partner, Malcolm Duffy, wrote them.

The height problem arose again when the actor played the teenage girl.

Once again, special sets and props had to be made that were 15 per cent

bigger than normal.

‘It would take Lyndhurst around an hour to change into full make-up and

costume between characters, then he would film the next character almost

in the first take,’ Briginshaw says.

A state-of-the-art mobile editing suite on set made almost instant

playback possible so Lyndhurst could hear and see what he had just

filmed and thus interact with it in his next incarnation. The machine

could also do rough multi-image mock-ups so he would have an idea of the

finished article.

The plan is, if the ads are successful, to introduce new characters

later on, such as a twin brother or long-lost relatives from Australia,

according to Lyndhurst.

‘That’ll mean more work, more time in make-up and more leg-shaving,’ he

says with a grin.

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