The inspiration for 2020's Christmas card came when my friend Martin bought a suit of armour. I instantly knew I had to use it as the possibilities for comedic anti-christmas themes were near endless. Assassins Creed Valhalla had been released recently too, so there were plenty of high-res medieval themed assets available for building composite scenery.
The idea I settled on was to be a knight riding a cat in some sort of snowy battlescape. For my steed I chose Dill, the most regal of cats.
Moose and Beans would be my loyal squires.
I planned for the scenery to involve some sort of backlighting, either from moonlight or fire, so I set up my "studio" with a flash behind my furry subjects, along with an 80x80cm softbox as the main light.
Dill needed to be relatively large in relation to myself and the other cats, so I set up the tripod lower down, pointed slightly upwards and the lens at a shorter focal length. For the other cats I used a longer focal length and set the tripod higher and angled down. For myself I set the camera at a neutral height and angle. This meant that when I went to create the scene I'd be able to maintain the correct perspective for each character, even though they were all going to be sized vastly different to reality.
The cat photo shoot took half a day including setup and coaxing the cats into posing in the right place and position using various toys and lasers.
For the knight photo shoot I needed a larger light source to create an equivalent light quality that the 80x80cm softbox created on the cats. Luckily that's pretty easy to achieve in most indoor settings by just pointing a flash at the ceiling. A bar stool made a great stand-in for a giant cat, and after refining the setup it was time to put on the 40kg suit of armour for the real shots.
After selecting the shots I'd use for the final composition I cut them all out. Cat whiskers are near impossible to cut out on photoshop so I opted to just chop them off (from the photos, not the actual cats) and redraw them, which actually turned out indistinguishable from the real thing!
I pieced together the setting using a few different screenshots of Assassins Creed Valhalla layered together. They were sliced up, reversed, cloned and masked until I had a fairly convincing environment to integrate my characters into.
For the characters to look natural in their setting I had to integrate them into the global lighting. The fire was really useful for this as I could lay an orange glow around the edges of subjects and parts of the scenery, as well as draw shadows that were convincingly cast by anything placed in front of it.
2020 was quite an eventful year, so I chose to place a few Easter Eggs (Christmas Eggs?) in the scene.
To complete the anti-christmas theme I added Santa in the classic sihouetting against the moon position, but falling from the sky as if having been shot down, with firey presents raining behind him. Some cheery Christmas type was given the blood drips treatment and Beans given a cute Santa hat.
After working on it every evening for a week, the card was ready to send off to print and then to my nearest and dearest.