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Behind the Work: How Lux Took a Stand with Caster Semenya

Behind the Work 330 Add to collection

Wunderman Thompson’s Ricardo Tronquini, DaHouse Audio’s Lucas Mayer, Final Frontier’s Gustavo Karam and Le Cube’s Ralph Karam tell LBB how they brought Lux’s powerful statement against discrimation to life

Behind the Work: How Lux Took a Stand with Caster Semenya

Why should Caster Semenya not compete? The South African born athlete, and two-time Olympic champion, has been told she will not be able to continue participating in world athletics without hormone-lowering agents, or undergoing life-altering surgery. 

The decision stands as a pivotal moment in the global fight for equality. To many, the ban smacked of unfairness and discrimination. Taking a stand against the ruling, the health and beauty brand Lux commissioned a visceral film which highlights the injustice of the decision, and the struggle faced by Caster and millions of others as they fight for validation.

The animated film, entitled ‘Born This Way’, was the result of work from creative agency Wunderman Thompson, production company Final Frontier, and the music and sound company DaHouse Audio. To go behind the scenes and find out how the moving film was put together, LBB spoke to Wunderman Thompson Singapore’s Ricardo Tronquini, DaHouse Audio’s Lucas Mayer, Le Cube’s Ralph Karam and Final Frontier’s Gustavo Karam… 

Above: ‘Born This Way’ from Lux sees the brand take a stand alongside Caster Semenya

LBB> Hello, all - thanks for taking the time to chat about this fantastic campaign. First of all, what can you tell us about the original brief? 

Ricardo Tronquini> In the third quarter of 2019, we were creating a new BCI for Lux, which is entitled “My Beauty, My Strength”. Together with this new BCI, we received an open brief to create purpose-oriented pieces. Activations, films, campaigns, anything that could translate the message of beauty and strength. This was before Covid, and the Olympic games were the biggest event in the pipeline. Our planners brought the Caster issue to the creatives as one of the possible routes to explore.

Lucas Mayer> For our part, we have a great relationship with Gustavo and Ralph at Final Frontier. Not only working together, but also as close friends. When they started developing the concept, they called us and made the invitation to get on board with them. The project idea was powerful and well-crafted, so we accepted the challenge with no hesitation. We were involved right in the beginning, which was some time in 2019. Our goal was to bring even more power, emotion, tension and excitement to the animation.  

LBB> And what was your initial vision? 

Lucas Mayer> As soon as we became involved, we knew this film needed something special - a different kind of approach, somehow. It’s an important subject, and as a result it needed a unique soundtrack. Our aim was to create something which could make viewers shiver when they watched it. 

Ricardo Tronquini> With the gender equality subject in mind, we had the insight in no time at all. If I remember correctly, it appeared in the first brainstorming session. Our line of thought went something like this: “All top athletes were born with special gifts, and extraordinary biology. So why ban Caster Semenya?”.

LBB> And what made animation the right choice to communicate this message? 

Gustavo Karam> Animation, especially cel-animation, is an incredible tool to convey emotions and powerful visual metaphors, which was something extremely important for this project. The techniques chosen allowed us to create an empathic piece that also manages to highlight Caster’s skills and resilience.

Ralph Karam> Animation provides the freedom to portray complex metaphors that turn deep emotions into visuals, taking abstract concepts and shaping them into relatable representations that connect with the audience.

Ricardo Tronquini> Once our idea was to call attention to athletes' special gifts and show them in an extraordinary way, and then show Caster being subjected to different kinds of medicine to alter her condition, it was natural that we would use animation to emphasise all these topics and turn them into something larger than life. We think the final result is incredibly impactful.

LBB> What was the process for making the music for this spot? 

Wonder Bettin> It was a good ride! We came with a sort of ‘first draft’, then started changing minor details and cutting edges along the way, as the animation was evolving. That's one of the nice things about working with animation - sound and image are a parallel process. 

We were confident about the power of the piece from the beginning, but as animation and final sound were evolving, one can get more and more confident. At the end of the day, the final confirmation you need as a creator is the client's approval.

LBB> In the first 15 seconds we hear different derogatory remarks about Caster Semenya. From a sound perspective, why did you choose to convey those in the way you did?

Lucas Mayer> We thought it was important to start the piece with a clear exposure of the problem, and for us, hearing real, existing opinions about Semenya was a strong way to do it.

LBB> Can you give us an insight into your process? How did this film come together?

Gustavo Karam> We all immediately clicked with the idea, which created a collaborative creative environment with the agency from the get-go. This doesn’t always happen, with many creative briefs reaching our hands already matured. The shared responsibility towards the project had us crafting and polishing everything together, which was great.

As productions go, this was a slightly crazy one. The original goal was to have it coincide with the 2020 Olympics, which means the idea stood on hold for a whole year before getting the green light again. This was a unique and bittersweet element, in the sense that we got to really be sure of our creative choices after such a long period of revisions.

LBB> The animation and graphics of this spot tie in so well with the emotional issue. How did you achieve that?

Ralph Karam> The frame-by-frame animation technique was purposefully chosen for its ability to convey emotions, provide dynamic angles, and amp up the overall warmth of the finished film. It was the perfect choice for this spot, making it into a portal to Caster’s world, and we truly believe that this is apparent in the final piece.

LBB> What was your creative process for designing the characters in the film? And when did you know you were ‘done’? 

Ralph Karam> Especially with Caster, we wanted the design to be faithful to the real person, taking into account her forms, personality, and general vibe. Creating a character from a real person takes a fine balance of highlighting their key features, without turning them into a caricature. It should be identifiable without crossing into cartooney territory.

The same goes for the other characters, all inspired by iconic real-life Olympic athletes. Our goal was to focus on their most recognisable features, shaping them into the bigger-than-life superhumans we see in the film. This aesthetic was influenced by anime artists like Æon Flux’s Peter Chung and World Record’s Takeshi Koike

LBB> Looking back on the finished film, how close is it to your original vision? 

Ricardo Tronquini> I think our partnership with Final Frontier, Le Cube and DaHouse really elevated the original script to an amazing degree. Ralph brought forward a lot of solutions and new ideas that made the film what it is: powerful, fluid, engaging, and emotive. The soundtrack created by DaHouse paces every moment with tension, emotion, and/or excitement. We couldn’t be happier.

Gustavo Karam> Thanks to years of experience in animation, we’ve learned to put a lot of energy and thought into the pre-production phase. This helps define the piece’s creative aspects early, properly aligning them with the client, agency, and execution team. This makes the production smoother, with less need for “revisions” as we go. As a result, it allows the final film to be very close to the initial locked-in vision.

LBB> What were the trickiest components of working on this campaign? And how did you work to overcome them?

Ralph Karam> We needed to seamlessly balance many different art styles, selected to better represent different points of the narrative. That is always a challenging choice since it’s easy to lose control over the overall aesthetics, which can make a piece feel incohesive. 

Also, having such a powerful, deeply emotional story in our hands, especially when it portraits a real person’s struggle, is a big responsibility. We hope to have hit the mark when it comes to being faithful to Caster’s message. 

Wonder Bettin> From a music and sound perspective, the main challenge was to make it powerful but at the same time leave room for introspection and reflection. We tackled it not only with music, but also with help of sound design. 

LBB> And finally, how encouraged have you been by the reaction to the campaign? 

Ricardo Tronquini> Honestly, the reactions were fast. In one week, we had mainstream news channels commenting on our campaign. 

That bloomed out from sports media channels to the worldwide media. The Guardian, Time, Sport Business, and pretty much all of the trades. Caster has also been massively supported in her country - even South Africa Deputy Minister Nocawe Mafu mentioned Lux and Caster in a recent speech. To top that all off, the numbers are huge: 1.6 billion earned impressions, 446 million online readerships, and 104 million estimated coverage views only in the first week.

Lucas Mayer> It seems that the film helped in putting the topic of equality on the agenda, not only in South Africa but also around the globe. Ultimately, this is one of the most rewarding aspects about doing what we do: helping people to rethink their concepts. 

Knowing that more and more people now support Caster and people in her position, gives us the feeling that advertising - sometimes - is about so much more than exposing a brand. 

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Categories: Skin care, Beauty & Health

DaHouse Audio, Tue, 15 Jun 2021 14:33:41 GMT