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Opinion and Insight

How Subtle Storytelling Can Pack the Biggest Emotive Punch

Arthur London, Royle Productions, and Passion Pictures reveal how they moved thousands with their animated film for Dementia UK

How Subtle Storytelling Can Pack the Biggest Emotive Punch

Dementia UK recently launched its inaugural campaign, ‘Together Again’ – a highly emotive, animated short film that raises awareness of its Admiral Nurses and the specialist one to one support they provide. The deeply engaging storytelling and gorgeous visuals haven’t gone amiss – the film has since been shared widely, inspiring many people to contribute their own experiences of dementia. 

Arthur London’s Executive Creative Director, Lyndsay McMorrow, Royle Productions’ Executive Producer, Sarah Marcon, and Animation Director, Reuben McNaughton of Passion Pictures, take us behind the scenes of ‘Together Again’ to reveal how they managed to craft such an impactful film. 

Q> What inspired the creatively ambitious approach for Dementia UK’s first ad?

Lyndsay McMorrow, Executive Creative Director, Arthur London> We realised that Dementia UK perhaps needed something more imaginative to catch the public’s attention and reach a wider audience. Because dementia is a sensitive subject and something that people don’t necessarily want to engage with immediately, we needed something that could capture their emotions in a way that perhaps only animation could do. Once the client saw it, they fell in love with the story. 

Q> What’s behind the narrative?

Lyndsay, Arthur London> We worked closely with Dementia UK’s admiral nurses – conducting interviews to find out the best way to communicate their service. Interestingly, at one point, we had another script on the table that portrayed the nurses as heroes – but they didn’t feel that was appropriate. Ultimately, we opted for the voyage idea as it received a very positive response from the nurses. 

Q> Reuben, what first drew you to this project?

Reuben McNaughton, Director, Passion Pictures> Firstly, it's a fantastic charity and I have a very personal connection to the project as my granddad lived with dementia during the later years of his life. In a creative sense, this was such a wonderful script with so much heart in it. I’m definitely a story junkie and this was such a beautifully rounded story. It used what animation can do so well which is use metaphor to describe something that you can’t necessarily do with words. It hits home more.

I think one of the most important things for all of us was to make this feel like an honest portrayal. It needed to have that very intimate, subtle quality. These real-life stories aren’t all guns blazing - they’re miniscule interactions. It needed to resonate in that truthful way.

Q> I heard you worked flat-out to make this vision a reality, can you take us through the process?

Reuben, Passion Pictures> This was, by far, the most intense project I’ve ever worked on. Many great people offered their time for free but, practically speaking, I was still essentially one person completing a three-minute film. It’s safe to say, there were a lot of late nights, especially in the last week! But it was worth it in every sense. As soon as I read the script, I knew with such clarity what I wanted to do – it was just about whether I could achieve it within the time-frame. Thankfully, we got there and I couldn’t be happier with the result.

Q> Sarah, what made this project special from a production perspective?

Sarah Marcon, Executive Producer, Royle Productions> Initially, it was the powerful and emotive script that blew us all away. Sometimes, projects come in that you desperately want to make happen – this was definitely one of those. The work Dementia UK is doing is, without question, important. My grandmother and her sister had dementia and my family nursed them. Like many people, they didn’t have information on how to deal with it. It’s something that you very much need guiding through.

From a production point of view, the challenge was how to bring this incredible idea to life within the budget of a smaller charity. But that’s a great challenge – everyone got behind it and we collectively were able to pull it off. 

Q> ‘Together Again’ has a beautiful visual style. What inspired the look of the animation?

Sarah, Royle Productions> We explored a lot of different animation styles - what was achievable, feasible, and realistic. Luckily, Reuben’s style is so beautiful and he was interested and passionate. I think the film’s understated charm adds to its authenticity and helps it stand out amidst the more commonplace full photoreal CG work that we’re now quite familiar with.

Reuben, Passion Pictures> We wanted the film to feel handcrafted and human, as well as soft and approachable. Not hiding any of my brushwork helped achieve that textural feel. A commercial sheen wouldn’t have been appropriate, as we were going for a more grassroots style with this film. 

Lyndsay, Arthur London> Reuben’s use of minimal animation was perfect for the story. 

Q> Given the sensitivity of the topic, was there anything you needed to take extra care with in transforming this into a metaphor? 

Lyndsay, Arthur London> It was important to stress that this was a momentary connection. The admiral nurse character is providing ongoing care; she empowers the people she’s helping but crucially, she doesn’t ‘save the day’ or ‘solve’ dementia. At the same time, we wanted to show something positive – it didn’t have to be so poignant that people were left feeling downhearted – and we try to reflect that in the ending.

Reuben, Passion Pictures> Another important consideration for us all was that the wife character didn’t become a victim. The character design and behaviour needed to reflect that she was still herself, rather than a caricatured idea of someone living with dementia.

Sarah, Royle Productions> We had a lot of discussions about maintaining her dignity. Perhaps her hair isn’t like it used to be but she still looks after herself – which is hugely important for people affected by dementia. It’s quite common for family members to try to maintain their loved ones’ dignity and identity by helping them resemble who they used to be.  

Reuben, Passion Pictures> Balancing that was an interesting challenge, particularly without dialogue.

Lyndsay, Arthur London> It was really lovely to work on something where craft was so important to the finished result. Too often at the moment, I hear people say that advertising has lost all its craft. I think this proves that craft can make a massive difference. 

Q> Music and sound play such a huge role in enhancing the visuals here – how did you integrate these?

Sarah, Royle Productions> The music from Goldstein is so emotive and integral to the story – they did an incredible job. We worked very hard to get this right, especially for the ending scene where the underlying track to become part of the narrative. There’s some really lovely subtle work in the sound design from Factory - especially the storm scene.

Lyndsay, Arthur London> It’s almost unnoticeable but it’s definitely there. It was a brilliant mix.

Reuben, Passion Pictures> For me, that opening wouldn’t have felt nearly as powerful without the sound of that cold wind.

Q> How have people received that film so far?

Lyndsay, Arthur London> It’s too soon to share detailed data but anecdotally it’s been incredibly well received. So far, there’s been a massive uplift in people going to Dementia UK website. The extra informational films on their website have had increased views and the literature too has had around 800 times more downloads that they had previously. Although it wasn’t a fundraising film, it seems that donations are up, which is fantastic. 

It’s one of the most shared things we’ve put out on socials – not just in terms of likes, but also in that so many people have expressed their own personal experiences, which brought home to me how pervasive the disease is. The fact that people were motivated to share their experiences and share it with people they know who need that help is something that we were hoping for. 

At three minutes, it’s quite long and not exactly fast paced – deliberately so. But our findings show that people are mostly watching it all the way through to the end, so for a film of that length that’s very encouraging.

Sarah, Royle Productions> I think the response has generally been brilliant. Certainly, for us, we’ve had so many people getting in contact to share how touched they were. People have been clearly been very moved and, ultimately, I think that’s a testament to the film’s emotive power.  

Reuben, Passion Pictures> There was one in particular that made me very emotional; an admiral nurse actually shared the film on socials, with a message saying you need to watch this because this genuinely reflects her experience. Seeing someone who does this full-time to give the film that seal of approval really was the biggest accolade.
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