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The story behind Smith and Caughey's Christmas windows

It’s the highlight of the festive season for many shoppers: the day when Auckland department store Smith and Caughey’s opens the curtains at the front of its store to reveal a tiny animated world that’s all about Christmas. Smith and Caughey’s special projects manager Kevin Broadfoot shares the effort that goes into creating it.

Preparations for the Smith and Caughey’s Christmas window usually start a year out from the planned reveal, Broadfoot says. He’s already working on the 2018 window as we speak – the window presentations aren’t his only job throughout the year, but they’re one of his favourites.

Broadfoot’s first task is to find a Christmas story to base the window on. Every Smith and Caughey’s Christmas window is based on a Christmas story, which can be from anywhere around the world: “If I can find a Christmas book, that obviously helps us decide what to do.”

Broadfoot looks for a story that will translate readily into animation and a multi-panel format. The theme for 2017 is A Pirate’s Night Before Christmas.

When he finds one that appeals and will work, he approaches the publisher to begin the process of gaining permission to use it.

“This can be a process, it depends on where the book is published. We look worldwide.”

Once permission has been secured, Broadfoot approaches the team which builds the intricate moving figurines that make up the windows. For the past 11 years, Smith and Caughey’s has used Queensland firm Promotions in Motion – although the company is Australian, the majority of its team are former Kiwis.

Promotions in Motion assesses the chosen story to see whether it can be successfully animated. If it approves, Broadfoot starts adjusting the story’s narrative arc so it fits into Smith and Caughey’s 11 shop windows.

“I essentially pull the story apart to see if it fits into the windows nicely.”

He will then meet with Promotions in Motion in Noosa to brainstorm the presentation as if it’s a movie. The team will do 2D mock-ups of their planned figurines, some computerized and some sketched.

By March, the team will be able to physically start fabricating the window presentation. They send Broadfoot a monthly update, usually with images. When the project is 80 percent finished, Broadfoot heads back to Australia to preside over the final tweaks.

By late August, the project is usually complete. Promotions in Motion prepares the modules for shipping, and must have them on the boat bound for New Zealand by early October. The timeline is tight, says Broadfoot: “There’s not really a Plan B if something happens.”

The shipment has never hit a snag on the way over, but if it did, Broadfoot says Smith and Caughey’s would be likely to import a different presentation by air freight.

“It would probably not be what we intended, but at least it would be something.”

The Promotions in Motion team come to New Zealand to install the Smith and Caughey’s Christmas window in its rightful home. The department store aims to reveal it during the first two to three days of November – since 2015, it’s thrown a street party to honour the event.

This year, 60 children from Park Estate School in Papakura were invited to be Smith and Caughey’s “special guests” for the evening. Pirate magicians, balloon makers, carol singers and a plentiful supply of milk and cookies were on hand to keep them entertained before Santa turned up in a red Corvette.

“Then, all mayhem broke loose, as you can imagine, with the kids so excited,” Broadfoot says.


The Smith and Caughey’s team counted down from 10 to zero before they parted a curtain to reveal the Christmas window.

“It’s one of those absolute, total magic moments,” says Broadfoot. “The kids are stunned. It’s magic. They go home very happy and excited.”

Asked which of the animated Christmas windows is his favourite, Broadfoot says he thinks each year’s one is always the best, but this year’s is his favourite “by far”. The team has stepped up its creativity, animation and puppet quality – plus, it features his favourite motif, pirates.

“We do it for the children,” Broadfoot says. “It’s our gift to them to create some wonderful memories when they come to the city and come to the store.” 

This story was originally published on The Register.

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