In recent research, the Department for Transport found that, in the UK, one in four disabled people say negative attitudes from other passengers prevent them from using public transport. This equates to millions of people who feel they can’t get around. So, with ‘It’s Everyone’s Journey’ we set out to raise awareness of this troubling insight, and how we can all play a part in making a more inclusive transport system for everyone.
To get the message and tone right, together with our client, we explored what the overarching theme should be in the story. Whether we were highlighting non-visible impairments, getting people to think twice about who is around them when travelling, or whether we should focus on the behaviours that needed to change. In the end, a broader stroke made more sense to show how easy a change in attitude is to make. The truth is there’s no convenient, catch-all way to know whether someone is disabled or not. If we’re just more considerate all-round, this will have a knock-on effect for everyone.
When we started writing the characters for the campaign, we gave them a back story, a name, an identity. It helped us craft the big picture. And crucially, bring their subtle behaviours and actions to life, making sure we were both accurate and empathic to the very diverse, real people we were portraying.
From our initial concept and scripts, Nexus Studios recognised that this was not a story about animals. They understood the need to create a distinctly human world where people behaved like animals. We wanted people to instantly recognise their own, often unconsciously, inconsiderate behaviour towards one another. The animal metaphor was an astute and powerful way to visualise this. Seeing ourselves in the characters’ behaviour is an essential part of encouraging change, so extra charm and empathy in their design were essential.
Directors Smith & Foulkes, who we worked with, were instrumental when it came to the character development too. “Each animal had to mirror its human form visually. We had to decide on the right level of detail: what elements pertained to animals and what were kept human. Similarly, their performances were heightened but definitely more human than animal. It was vital to show that it is their own realisation, and consequent change in behaviour, that turns them human once more, they told us.
“We treated each scene like a mini stage set, only creating detail that is vital to each individual story. These are intimate and personal moments set within a constantly shifting mass of humanity, so it was important not to lose the subtleties amidst the crowd. To highlight this, only those involved and directly affected by the animal behaviour are fully rendered.” (Smith & Foulkes, Directors)
One challenge was to bring the hand drawn texture of the designs to life in animation. “We wanted to find a way to keep the hand-drawn quality of the early character designs, as a lot of 2D animation, unsurprisingly, gets flattened out and simplified in production. Every sketchy line and textured shadow was individually rendered and composited onto each character. It was a world of pain but worth it.”
The combination of the charming animation and our original song, composed and sung by Ben Cocks, goes a long way towards achieving an empathetic tone. We know we can have an automatic knee-jerk reaction when it comes to interactions on public transport. So the most effective way to encourage change was to be charming and help us to recognise ourselves in these harmful behaviours without feeling accused. Our tough audience must wish to be more considerate of their own accord, not because someone told them to be.
And before you ask, yes, we do have a couple of favourites. We love Lennie, our anxious character on the bus with the Hyenas. We wanted to make it clear that not all disabled people would show a visible, outward sign of impairment. We also have an unconscious bias when it comes to the age of disabled people, and Lennie challenges this head-on.
And secondly, Dawn the tortoise because she has an undeniably cool and modern look. Her features are full of charm, and the transition between her forms is just wonderfully seamless. The illustrators, animators, and our directors, Adam and Alan, have done an excellent job at capturing what’s going through her head. It’s a common behaviour, beautifully illustrated.
Our hope is these characters will stay with people as they make their journeys on public transport across the UK and encourage real change in our behaviours towards one another.