Manchester City’s star striker, Erling Haaland, has stepped onto a new field – the vibrant world of Clash of Clans.

In a collaboration orchestrated by New York advertising agency DAVID in partnership with Supercell and Axis Studios, Haaland takes centre stage in a commercial that marks Clash of Clan’s first-ever in-game celebrity partnership.

Tasked with reimagining Haaland within the world of Clash of Clans, Axis Studios, led by resident director Olly Reid and executive producer Nicole Duncan, assumed the creative production. From the beginning, Axis Studios collaborated closely with Supercell and DAVID New York, assembling a team that included sports specialists from Founder Creative alongside their own animation and visual effects experts.

The result of the collaboration is a film that introduces Haaland into the Clash of Clans universe and also sets the stage for a major campaign featuring his limited-edition avatar skin.

Director Olly Reid, Executive Producer Nicole Duncan, and VFX supervisor Julian Stamos, share insights into the creative process and the “transformative impact of merging football prowess with gaming innovation.”


How did Axis get involved in the project?

Nicole Duncan – Supercell’s decision to partner with us stemmed from our track record and deep understanding of their IP and objectives. With three successful collaborations under our belt, we already had a pre-existing, strong relationship with Supercell.  Moreover, between our VFX and animation teams, we were equipped to handle all aspects of the film internally. Additionally, our extensive local connections facilitated the seamless organisation of various shoot elements, further enhancing the collaboration.

What was it about the project that piqued your interest?

Nicole Duncan –  Having worked for many years in the ad world on VFX/ live-action work, this project aligned perfectly with my skill set and interests. Collaborating with old connections and leveraging my past experiences was incredibly rewarding.

We were collaborating with both Supercell and DAVID, who devised the overarching campaign, so this project differed from our typical collaborations with Supercell as our film was part of a much larger, multi-platform campaign. This meant there were multiple factors to consider, so it was great to have different perspectives in the creative process and DAVID’s expertise and insights added valuable depth to our approach and seamlessly complemented our usual workflow.

Olly Reid – Working in the Clans universe with the characters is really fun and it’s incredibly rewarding work, and Supercell consistently encourages us to explore creative and playful solutions to their needs. There are a lot of people in the team who have worked on almost all of the Supercell films we’ve made, and every time, there has been a palpable sense of people enjoying working with these characters, within this world and this level of stylisation.

We always strive to present Supercell with a multitude of ideas to consider, and across all departments, we’re dedicated to elevating the project and ensuring every detail shines.

Can you tell us about the prep for this; can you tell us about that process and how you pulled it all together?

Nicole Duncan – We were involved from the very early stages of the campaign, collaborating closely with Supercell and DAVID New York to tailor the concept to fit within the allocated timeline and budget, ensuring its feasibility. A significant part of the initial work was watching a lot of Haaland references, so we could sculpt the story to reflect his character, and also to capture his style of movement. Haaland has a distinctive run and the story was in part developed to showcase it.

Olly Reid – At each step of the process, from my initial thumbnails, through to boards, previz and animation added more and more specific beats that brought Haaland to life.  We thought a lot about ways Haaland could help the Clash team using his football skills, and the script was honed by bouncing iterations back and forth between ourselves, DAVID Agency and Supercell.  Then there was working directly with Haaland himself. He was responsive and engaged from the start, excited to see the character we’d created with Supercell, and just super-keen to give us a great performance. I think because he was such a fan of Clash of Clans it meant a lot to him that he was represented in the game as well as he could be, he threw himself into it.

Nicole Duncan – The pre-production also included planning all the elements of the live-action shoot, including sourcing and working with the production company, overseeing the selection of locations, DOPs, etc. This required close liaison with DAVID and Founder Creative to orchestrate, as many moving pieces needed to be established ahead of the shoot. Beyond guiding the commercial from storyboarding, our VFX team provided VFX supervision and an on-set team during the live-action shoot to ensure we obtained everything we needed.

Were there any specific challenges you anticipated or encountered, and if so, how did you overcome them?

Olly Reid – The live-action section of the piece posed a challenge. The action demanded a really specific space, which took a lot of finding. It also demanded quite a lot from Haaland, we could see he was easygoing in interviews, and on-set he couldn’t have been easier to work with, and we had a fantastic live-action team to capture his performance.

We wanted to carry his easygoing attitude and personality into the animation, so throughout the scriptwriting process, we made sure to keep Haaland’s performance feeling relaxed and make sure he felt excited to arrive in the Clash universe. The animation team nailed his performance – Haaland’s reaction is full of wonder after he passes through the portal, and I love how gung ho he is about charging into a real battle. He feels very ‘Clash’ but still very Haaland.

With any character, it is always good to find references, from previous projects or movies, tv, etc that would help you to understand how he/she should move. For Haaland it was really easy to find interviews and game highlights on YouTube, so we got very good references for his running, kicks, and football movements. He has a very characteristic way of running that would make him recognisable in the spot. It was the same with his facial expressions.  We studied videos and pictures and the footage we captured in the live shoot and we found and implemented the nuances of his movements, the way his jaw pushed forward a little or the pulling at the corners of his mouth.  His gestures give him a lot of personality so we made sure we added it all to his character.

Julian Stamos – From a VFX standpoint, we often work with projects that have already been filmed, which can sometimes lead to challenges down the road if there aren’t considerations made for the specific tasks we’re asked to undertake. However, for this project, we had the opportunity to collaborate closely with Olly, the director, and Jack Maddison, the DOP (Director of Photography) right from the very start. This allowed us to maximise both the creativity and efficiency of what was possible pushing the creative further.

One of the exciting creative challenges we encountered was interpreting Clash of Clans characters in the real world. Drawing from our past experience, such as our work on the SYFY series “Happy,” where we crafted fully CGI protagonists and supporting characters in a live-action series, we approached this challenge with confidence. Leveraging our expertise from previous projects in both our VFX and animation divisions, we had a strong foundation for tackling any potential issues that arose during production.

This project has inspired us to push for more of this kind of work. We definitely want to utilise our combined animation and VFX teams more because we now know how well they work together. And yeah, it’d be great to see what we can do in the future with it.

What did Haaland think of the final result?

Olly Reid – Well, we had heard that Erling Haaland is a genuinely nice guy, down to earth, and pleasant to work with. He’s also a big fan of Clash of Clans, which definitely helped set the stage for a positive collaboration. When he arrived on set, there was a lot of excitement and anticipation from everyone. I had the opportunity to meet him and walk him through the project. He was genuinely excited to see the progress and witness himself in CG form. His entire team shared in his excitement, which only added to the energy on set.

Erling was fully engaged and eager to contribute in any way he could while we were on set. There’s good footage of me shouting at him, directing and encouraging him to embrace the role of an attacker descending upon a village with full force. And let me tell you, we managed to get some authentic Viking yells out of him! He was fantastic to work with, very cooperative, and willing to do whatever it took to bring the vision to life.

Julian Stamos – As for Erling’s reaction to seeing his avatar, he laughed and remarked that he looked fierce, expressing genuine satisfaction with what we had created in collaboration with Supercell. It’s clear that Erling is genuinely excited about the project.

Nicole Duncan – His response was great and it’s been lovely to see audiences’ reactions now the spot is live.  There has been such positive feedback across the board and it has had amazing pick-up from news and press outlets, it’s brilliant to see all the hard work was worth it!

Jon Creamer

Share this story

Share Televisual stories within your social media posts.
Be inclusive: is open access without the need to register.
Anyone and everyone can access this post with minimum fuss.