Over the Thanksgiving holiday we got quite the early Christmas present when a commercial gave audiences a surprise sequel to Steven Spielberg’s beloved “E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial.”
The ad featured Henry Thomas reprising his role as a now grown-up Elliott, and in a new behind-the-scenes spot about how it was made, he said he was astonished to learn not just that he’d been asked, but that Spielberg loved the idea.
“It’s Steven Spielberg’s baby, you know? And he’s very particular about this film. So I’ve always viewed any attempt at revamping the character or showing it in a different context as the thing that’s never going to happen,” Thomas says in the video. “And then they said, well, Steven signed off on the story. He loves it. And I said, ‘What?'”
The ad was a commercial for Xfinity created by the ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, or GS&P. And you may know the ad agency as the same ones who filmed a commercial at Ferris Bueller’s old house for another nostalgia driven spot.
But in speaking with TheWrap, GS&P’s executive creative director Jim Elliott said that after the idea for an “E.T.” sequel was hatched in July, Spielberg gave incremental notes on the process and feedback on the special effects, and he even saw the final product before it had shipped, which wrapped just a day before Thanksgiving.
Elliott acknowledged the project was a “moonshot,” but said that every decision made on the short film was done with the original in mind.
And this video shows the care and dedication that went into making this ad something special. Lance Acord directed the short film called “A Holiday Reunion,” and the behind-the-scenes video explains that if you look carefully, the film is loaded with dozens of Easter egg references to Spielberg’s 1982 classic. For instance, one shot has a photo of Elliott’s dog from the movie or Elliott’s original drawing of E.T. as seen in the film.
The other important key to keeping the legacy of E.T. intact was using a puppet alien rather than a fully CGI character or a robot. The technology however has advanced immeasurably, and there’s a wonderful sequence in this video of a visual effects designer controlling E.T.’s eyes, head and mouth with a remote control.
“Such an iconic character. Steven never wanted to do a sequel. This is a character that is beloved by everybody for generations. So you can’t screw it up. We had a team of mechanics, painters, mold makers that all have to recreate this character,” Alan Scott, the animatronic effects supervisor of Legacy Effects said. “With a rod puppet, you get a really fluid, connected performance. Little subtleties of head movement and arm movement you can’t get with internal robotics. And the easier thing for CG to do is to remove the rods and remove the puppeteers than to do a full CG character.”
It’s a real labor of love, and the finished product is just as adorable. The ad already has over 12 million views on YouTube since its debut on Thanksgiving. Watch the original ad below, and check out the behind the scenes segment above.