According to a major international children’s educational fund, 20 per cent of deaths in infants and children under the age of five in Malawi are due to diarrhea, of which poor hand-washing practices is a major contributor. This prompted a campaign to teach children and their caregivers the importance of washing their hands at key times.
The challenge: the entire project had to be completed within 3 months, including production design, script, music, voice recording and all approvals, and the costs had to be low enough to be feasible for the non-profit organization’s limited budget.
Director Jacquie Trowell’s extensive experience with writing and directing material for Sesame Street helped her to win the national tender for Firefly Pictures. “My main aim in designing the content for the campaign was to wrap a vital message in great entertainment. We had one character, a bar of soap called Sopo, and the message – wash your hands at 4 critical times a day. From that needed to come three television spots including a live action interview with Yvonne Chaka Chaka, a twelve minute film, a jingle, four radio spots and mobile phone content. I needed great music, strong copy and high-end character animation so I chose Su Lubner, Meg Rickards and Triggerfish Animation as the core creative team.”
“We decided on a simple but fun style of animation, to lower animation overhead but to still be engaging for kids to watch,” says Triggerfish’s production manager Mike Buckland. “By using fast, energetic posing and longer holds, we were able to get the animators to deliver an average of 5 seconds a day – which is fantastic for this quality production.” The funders wanted to create an African peri-urban setting, so the animators had to create crowd scenes and various characters. In total the production consisted of 25 different characters.
“We specialize in narrative driven character animation, so this production was right up our street, but the budget point and hectic delivery schedule posed some challenges for our 13-seat studio,” says Triggerfish producer Stuart Forrest. “In the end the production went amazingly smoothly, thanks largely to Jacquie’s experience and strong direction.”
Scriptwriter Meg Rickards had a week to write the script in which we follow the adventures of Sopo and the local children as Sopo raises awareness amongst his young friends of the importance of washing your hands with soap. “It was an impossible time-frame, but it was certainly rewarding to see the script animated and completed within a few months,” says Meg. “Usually it takes years to see the fruit of your work on screen!”
Original music was composed by Su Lubner. “I had worked with Su before on Takalani Sesame”, says Jacquie. “She has loads of experience in embedding educational messages in localized music. My design for the campaign’s content hinged on a song. It needed catchy music and words that were easy to remember. With help from Meg on lyrics, Su really came up with a great and memorable song – we all sang it throughout the production.”
All material had to be delivered in both English and Chichewa as the campaign launches in Malawi. “Producing the Chichewa language components presented unexpected problems,” says producer, Leigh Page. “In between quoting and commencing the production South Africa underwent the xenophobic onslaught. This resulted in the well of potential Malawian talent literally drying up over night; so we ended up having to import talent from Malawi for the Chichewa versions.” Voice over recordings and sound design were done by Stash Couvaris. “It was quite a challenge matching the Chichewa voices to picture. The animated characters were lip synched to the English track so we had to really work the Chichewa to fit well with picture. Luckily we had the help of language advisors so we could drop words and rephrase parts of the script.”
“Thanks to Leigh and the dedication of the creative team, the end product looks fantastic, gets the message clearly across and is great fun to watch”, says Jacquie. “I think as animators and filmmakers we’ll always go that extra mile for education in the hope that we make a difference to children’s lives.”