Aardman director Dan Binns dives into the creative process behind What’s Up With Everyone?, a new campaign developed to encourage young people to become more aware of their mental wellbeing. Aimed at people aged 17-24, the campaign was uniquely co-created with the audience it sets out to support.
Creating a campaign around mental health for younger people was pretty daunting. We were very aware that it’s a sensitive subject to handle, aimed at an audience that can be hard to reach. To be successful it needed to be developed with young people, getting their input at every stage to feel like a real and genuine voice.
We held lots of workshops with young people, discovering what issues were relevant. Certain topics: perfectionism, independence, loneliness, competition and social media came up time and again. These conversations gave us our themes along with a much better understanding of why they’re important and how they manifest in young people’s lives. All of this went on to be the spine of the project and the starting point for the films and characters.
The workshops were incredibly useful for working out the look and feel of the project. Quickly we gained a much better insight into what the co-creators liked and, more often, what they hated! The aesthetic people imagine when they think of Aardman had currency with all we talked to, but when we discussed animation, it was certainly not the only one that came up. Such a wide range of references led us to our eventual look: a stop motion character surrounded by a world that was different, more exaggerated, and echoing that time of a young person’s life: Being dropped into a new and sometimes intimidating world of work or University. All of this led us to more of collage feel.
The characters were an extension of this process. Having a hint of animal made them relatable in way were that the audience still empathised and connected despite them not being ‘exactly like them’. From the start we wanted this project to be as inclusive and diverse as possible. We ended up with ‘collage characters’ made up of many different details from all of our young people.
By this point in the project we had a team of young people ‘co-creating’ with us which meant a lot of back and forth and a lot of revisions, the scripts were constantly changed, not only tweaking language but everything from location to tone. This made the pre-production process longer than it would usually be but the final output is much better because of it, and hopefully much closer to that ‘authentic voice’ we wanted from the start.
When it came to making the films, my job as director was to try and channel a lot of that varied input into something film-shaped. We had our young people contributing great thoughts, ideas and feedback; a team of very talented researchers and mental health professionals giving us very valuable advice; and our creative team here at Aardman. As with the rest of the project, the films were so much stronger because of all those voices.
Film production itself was a very ‘Covidy’ affair with a lot of Zoom meetings, but as usual the Aardman CGI time did a great job, especially making the characters look like lovely plasticine!
We had a great team and all worked incredibly hard on what we felt was a very special project. Young people have a lot to contend with at the moment so if we help some avoid a mental health problem or even just make a positive change, then we’ll be very proud indeed.