At the beginning of 2023, Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales launched a major new awareness-raising campaign to increase public understanding of the crucial importance of the first five years of our childhood lives.
Under the name ‘Shaping Us’, this long-term campaign - a collaboration between The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood, Wonderhood Studios and Blinkink productions - aimed to shed light on the ways in which young children develop in response to their earliest experiences. The campaign launched with a 90-second claymation film, showing the wobbly first steps in life of little Layla, her first ever experiences with people, new places and emotions of happiness, fear and love.
The ‘Shaping Us’ campaign launched in accordance with newly released data by the Centre for Early Childhood, pointing to one shocking fact - one in three, or 36% of adults, knows little to nothing about early-childhood development. This insight came as a follow up to that of last year, highlighting that very few adults realise the unique importance that ages zero to five have on a human’s development. To put things into perspective, 90% of the human brain develops between these ages.
The new campaign, spearheaded by the crafty 90-second claymation, aims to fill in those knowledge gaps and hopes to create a future where adults are well-informed about how much of an impact their interaction with a child during such a fragile period can have on growth and development.
Simon Elvins, head of art at Wonderhood Studios spoke to me about the incredible visual identity and brand look paired with the campaign. Comprising a fresh logo and design language, the new identity lives across all platforms - from print and out of home, to online and social. Simon reveals that a key part of the brief Wonderhood received was that the new look should work ‘just as well’ in traditional media as it would in the digital landscape.
“It was important that the identity didn’t feel too childlike, and although the foundation focuses on the development of children up to the age of five, a key focus of the project was to show how this key phase in our development shapes us for the rest of our lives,” he explains.
Two keywords that helped the team come up with the brand’s identity were ‘growth’ and ‘development’, and the expression of the foundation’s name - shaping us. “Typography was set in a mix of weights and set in a way that had a sense of play and movement. Animation also played a key role in the identity, and a motion-first approach meant that a sense of growth and movement informed every aspect of the brand, even when used in static formats.”
James Lunn, senior designer, adds that the sense of growth, scale, development and progression are also delivered through the motion approach in the branding.“The new identity is intended to feel elegant and never traditional,” shares James. “The combination of font weights in the headlines and expressive usage of layout allude to playfulness, without ever feeling childlike.”
When it came to the claymation film, Wonderhood and Blinkink had the difficult task of carrying through that balance of elegance and playfulness, without stunting the project’s fresh approach. Wonderhood creatives Sofie Saietz and Simone Weilborg explain that in the film, they aimed to show a journey, while still achieving an emotional bond with the character of Layla. This is when Blinkink’s director Sam Gainsborough came up with the idea to move from a 2D to a 3D approach, which made the storyline come to life and allowed the detailing of the clay and surrounding environment to evolve over time.
“Using clay as a medium in the film was at the core of the idea from early development,” say Sofie and Simone. “We wanted to have a physical element to the film that could show how the child is shaped by her surroundings and take a viewer on a journey full of craft.” And what better way to show the process of ‘shaping’, if not with one of the most malleable craft materials - clay. “Sam’s 3D approach really brought the material to life.”
Blink’s Sam and producer on the project Matt Marsh explain that most of the film was captured in camera, while the VFX process was largely rig-removal,2D animation and composting of the painterly brain development animations, which were added after the stop-motion process. “The main VFX shot is the final scene, where the incredible team at Saurus Animation, an award-winning CG studio in Norway, created the final shot, and colour transition entirely in CGI. Everything else was shot with traditional techniques, even the underwater animation in the swimming pool was animated entirely from real clay,” Matt says.
A big part of making the journey of Layla truthful consisted of the team at Blink watching a ton of reference videos, to capture the authenticity of the performances of the clay characters. “From these videos we started to get a sense of the personality traits we wanted to convey,” explains Sam. Following this, the team finessed the design of Layla and made her into the charming character we know her as. Claymation is notorious for being dangerously close to uncanny valley territory, so Blink designer Isabel Garett, who created Layla’s face, had to be on set keeping the character on model.
And although it takes a few tries and errors for many, Sam explains that claymation is a lovely technique if you want to allow a director, animator or artist to put their own spin on a medium. “For this reason, I don’t think it’s going anywhere,” he says. “The tricky thing with it is that the process, especially when you’re re-sculpting frame-by-frame, can be extremely time consuming.” Hence why the first 30 seconds of the campaign film went extremely slowly, as each frame of the animation meant the animator needed to re-sculpt everything within the frame.
Lastly, we’re brought to sound. The 90-second film is perfectly finished with Lokki’s track ‘Breathe a Breath of Me’ - a hopeful and wholesome tune, one of those you can see yourself playing on a Sunday afternoon. “The scenes upfront in the film are so visually sparse, so it was really important that the sound design made the story completely clear and authentic,” say Matt and Sam. Exactly because of that knowledge that the music will be the one navigating the emotional journey for viewers when the claymation characters are still blooming before their eyes, they listened to tons of tracks. But finally, they knew, Lokki’s songwriting and heartfelt performance would help shape the arc of the film beautifully, as it did.