The Twelve Days of Christmas

Festive Window - Competition - Robot-Animated Film


There have been many variations on the well-known carol ‘The Twelve days of Christmas’, but none quite like this! We invite you to join us as a visitor or participant as we convert the Fabrication Lab robot cell on Marylebone Road into a unique festive window, featuring our industrial robot arm, 12 animated film sets, and the live creation of a robot-animated movie.


You can see the robotic cinematography performed live in the windows at the University of Westminster, at 35, Marylebone Road, London; or join us in a live stream of the action at FabricationLab.London/FestiveWindow2020-live.

The world movie premiere begins Tuesday 8th December at 18:00, and the window will be running for 12 days, 12 hours a day; 8th to 20th December, 10.00 - 22.00.


Better still, join in with the creation of this unique event. We are holding an open competition with generous prizes for winning proposals for designs for the 12 elements of the film.

To enter the competition, you need to submit three things:



Film SetYou need to provide a sketch, drawing or collage of the background, a simple film set in which the robot will film your idea. It will form the backdrop for a single scene, captured in a 12-second choreographed movement of the camera. It must be no bigger than 420 x 297 x 297mm (LxWxH) and will probably include a floor and at least two sides, as well as layers, props etc. as appropriate. See the diagram and further details below.



Paper ActorsYour scene needs actors, whether people (e.g. ‘ladies’), animals (e.g. ‘turtle doves’), or things (e.g. ‘gold rings’). We’re looking for contemporary, creative interpretations of these categories. Don’t hold back! You might use drawings, photographs, collages, or 3D found objects to represent your ideas for characters featured in your gift.



NarrativeShare your idea for a scene depicting one of the 12 days. Interpret the song as you like (see the guide to the gifts below). Be imaginative and feel free to add humour, wit, satire, even a bit of politics. Remember though it’s a festive season and we’re aiming at spreading joy and good will. Express the scene you imagine in a few sentences, or even better as a simple drawing or diagram showing how you see the action unfold.


All Entries

Everyone that submits a usable design will have their work displayed in the festive window and exhibition of the event.


The 12 best, shortlisted entries we will help you build, and they will then be featured in the robot cell itself and in the Twelve Days film. We’ll provide the materials and digital fabrication tools to realise your ideas, as well as the mechanisms to animate your actors. We’ll then program a specific camera path for the robot to bring your ideas to life.


The 3 best entries featured in the film will be judged by our guest panel of distinguished architects, designers and VIPs, and they will be awarded the following prizes from our generous sponsors:

1st Prize  - £250

2nd Prize - £150

3rd Prize - £50

Judging will take place on Tuesday 8th December, and the winners will be announced at the film premiere.


How to Submit

To submit your proposal email three photographs to These can be photo's of your drawings, collages or 3D models.


We invite everyone to join us in the creation of this festive window, and welcome a diversity of input and interpretations of the competition theme. Bring whatever perspective and skills you have! Participants already include our own students from the School of Architecture + Cities, but also younger students from local schools and colleges. The competition is open to everyone, of all ages and backgrounds.


Competition opens:                       Friday, 20.11.20

Competition closes:                       Tuesday, 01.12.20

Film Premiere:                               Tuesday, 08.12.20, 18:00 GMT

Festive Window/Exhibition:           08 to 20.12.20, 10:00 to 22:00

View live:                                     Windows of the University of Westminster, 35, Marylebone Road, London

Live streamed:                               www.FabricationLab.London/TwelveDays


This is an open competition with inclusive judging criteria. We are not judging entries on drawing or model-making skills - though we encourage to do the best you can, and are very appreciative of skillful executed designs. Judging however will be based based on the following more inclusive criteria:


There have been many variations over the 200 year history of the Twelve Days carol. But most include the following remarkable gifts from 'my true love'. We invite you to interpret these traditional gifts as you like! We should be able to recognise which one was the original inspiration, but we're hoping you'll open our eyes to something new and unexpected, bringing your unique vision of what this gift might look like today. It's an old song, so contemporary interpretations that fit the theme but bring it bang up to date will be especially welcome:

  1. A partridge in a pear tree,
  2. Two turtle doves,
  3. Three french hens,
  4. Four calling birds,
  5. Five gold rings,
  6. Six geese a-laying
  7. Seven swans a-swimming,
  8. Eight maids a-milking,
  9. Nine ladies dancing,
  10. Ten lords a-leaping,
  11. Eleven pipers piping,
  12. Twelve drummers drumming.


You can find inspiration where you like - no doubt Google will help. And your proposal can take many forms, from simple collages to complex animatronic sculptures. But bear in mind we have to make them, and some simplification may be involved! We include here some images of projects both simple and complex to get you started:


There are many ways you can represent your proposal; drawings, collages, 3D models. Below is a process for making a mock up of an idea. The idea was inspired by the animations of Monty Python and we chose 11 pipers piping for our day. The tools are just scissors, scalpels and steel rules, we used spray mount and hot glue but a glue stick and tape would work just as well. The materials were mostly reused packaging (cereal packet card would work better than corrugated card). The images were found on the internet and printed out on a desktop printer.


You don’t need a degree in architecture or robotics to take part in the Twelve Days. But if you are interested in the technical and academic work underlying the project, here are a few details.
Twelve Days is a festive spin-off from long-standing projects in the Lab researching the using of digital manufacturing tools in architectural design. We have used the robot previously for traditional automated manufacturing like 5-axis milling, as well as more creative processes, such as foam carving, weaving, and robotic heat-sealing of inflatables.
Robots are increasingly used in the film industry to produce intricate and highly repeatable camera movements. They are especially useful for special effects, as the same scene can be filmed in the same way several times, allowed action recorded at different times to be easily composited together into single scenes. Our research in the Lab has focused on the using of programmable, repeatable changes of perspective as a tool in the design process. It affords a highly controlled use of cinematic techniques to frame and explore views through physical architectural models, with the use of repeatability and compositing to investigate different design options. The Twelve Days project is an opportunity to further develop our robotic cinematography project, while engaging a wider audience in the creative use of digital fabrication tools. And of course doing our best to spread some festive cheer to bring to a close this especially difficult year.
For the technically minded, the robot we will be using to create the film is a six-axis ABB IRB1600 industrial robot arm on a 4.8m track. It will be controlling the remarkably compact but powerful 6K Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, with the extraordinary Laowa 24mm macro probe lens. Motion paths are programmed using RoboDK software, and synchronised with DMX lighting control by Chauvet DJ, and a bank of video projectors running MadMapper projection mapping software. Animation of the sets is driven by stepper motors are Arduinos. If you are interested in getting behind the scenes and joining us as a collaborator on the Twelve Days project, do let us know. If all this section is gibberish to you - that’s also fine. Just draw some sets, and some actors, and we’ll take care of the rest!


The Twelve Days Festive Window is brought to you by the Fabrication Lab at the University of Westminster, in partnership with the School of Architecture + Cities and the Baker Street Quarter Partnership. Participants include students from the College of Design and Creative Industries, as well as local schools including St Mary’s Bryanston Square. We are very grateful for our generous sponsors from Baker Street and the Portman Estate.