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Toys come to life and learn to skate in Aardman’s Dancing on Ice ad

Bristol-based animation studio Aardman has created a new campaign for ITV reality show Dancing on Ice, which features two toys skating while their owners are tucked up in bed. Dreamt up by creative director Alex Mathieson and directed by Aardman’s Will Studd, the one-minute spot uses a mix of live action and CGI to show the cute journey of a music box figurine and clumsy astronaut learning the ropes.

“The brief was to create a contemporary fairytale, an emotional animated story for the whole family about a lonely dancing girl on Christmas Eve, searching for a partner,” Studd said in a statement about the project.

Set just before Christmas, the ad starts off with two children asleep. A forlorn ice skater watches the snow fall from her music box before she finds an unlikely partner in a toy astronaut across the other side of the room. Using an iPad as a rink, the couple continue to perform a lift-filled routine, undeterred by quite a serious face plant.

“From the magical stage-craft to the routines, there have been so many memorable moments on the show, it was really hard to choose which to reference directly,” says Studd. “In the end, we chose Gemma Collins’ fall because it was so iconic, but it was very nearly Todd Carty’s spectacular stumble.”

Some of the first films Studd made were about toys coming to like at night, so the chance to revisit the concept was a real draw. “I love creating miniature worlds with everyday toys and objects, so this felt like the perfect film,” he says. “There’s something warm, classic and nostalgic about the set-up, and it was an instant hook for me.”

Inspiration for the characters came from classics like Toy Story but also Borrowers that “re-imagine our human sized environments at a tiny scale,” says Studd. “Stylistically, I wanted the film to have a slightly old-fashioned feel, inspired by traditional poems like The Night Before Christmas.”

Although the team wanted the magic of stop-motion, they knew that CGI would give them more control over light, which is very important to the ad. “To balance this, we treated the CGI puppets as though they were stop-motion, with bold simplified actions, chunky movements and smooth carving sequences on the ‘ice’ to make the characters feel tangible,” says Studd. “Using animated tests, we honed this look until we found an approach that felt smooth in dance but bold and tactile for character actions. It was a really exciting part of the process.”

The spot will air on ITV in the lead up to Christmas. TV presenter Michael Barrymore, H from band Steps, model Caprice, Love Island’s Maura Higgins and talkshow host Trisha Goddard have all been confirmed as contestants on the ice dancing show, which is due to air in January 2020.

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