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Last week Barnardo’s released the first of three ads that continue its Believe In Me campaign, which started in 2016 and outlines the ways in which the charity supports children. 

The newly released spot raises awareness of the issue of bullying, and brilliantly depicts its effect on a young girl by depicting her tormentors as vicious hyenas. 

The spot was created by FCB Inferno in collaboration with Rogue Films and director Sam Brown with VFX from The Mill and sound from Factory.

We caught up with FCB creatives Jayshree Viswanathan and Chelsey Redshaw, The Mill’s ECD Jonathan ‘Wes’ Westley and director Sam Brown to find out how the spot was made.

Barnardo's – Believe In Me

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Jayshree Viswanathan and Chelsey Redshaw, Creatives, FCB

What was the brief you received from Barnardo's?

The brief that FCB Inferno received from Barnardo’s was multi-faceted. Our key task was to make Barnardo’s role clearer, and highlight the very tangible and necessary ways in which they help and support young people. 

We were also entrusted to show that struggles like mental health issues were ones that could be faced by any child, regardless of their personal circumstances, busting common misconceptions about the type of children that Barnardo’s help and underscoring the vital nature of Barnardo’s support. 

A secondary and equally important task was to draw attention to mental health issues in general, and highlight the important nature of support services provided by Barnardo’s in this area.

Above: Jayshree Viswanathan [left] and Chelsey Redshaw [right]


Did you immediately know how you wanted to approach the campaign?

This campaign was handed over to us from another creative team, so initial scripts which included the concept to use the animal metaphors were inherited.

However, once we had taken ownership of the campaign creative we could see immediately why the approach made total sense, as the animal metaphors made each issue more immediate and relatable, especially to viewers with no exposure to it.

We were clear that we wanted to make the animals in the campaign as realistic as possible, as their purpose was to make the struggles that young people face as relatable and accessible to viewers who may not have had exposure to those issues.

After developing the scripts further, we had a clear point of view that the use of the animals should be as realistic and threatening as possible without the ads descending into horror-movie territory.

Audiences are often overloaded with charity and PSA commercials making it harder to cut through; what do you think makes this campaign stand out?

Barnardo’s Believe In Me brand platform already stands apart from other charities, because instead of casting its beneficiaries/young people as victims, it speaks to the resilience that young people inherently have that lets them overcome and feel empowered despite their personal circumstances. 

This specific campaign builds on the platform by putting viewers in a young person’s shoes, illuminating firstly the very real fear and struggle they experience, and then going on to show how they are beginning to rebuild their sense of self with the help of Barnardo’s trained counsellors. 

Sam Brown’s reputation as an empathetic storyteller and award-winning director preceded him.

It gives necessary context to each child’s experiences instead of portraying them as helpless victims or neglected children, and in so doing shows the very tangible role that Barnardo’s play in supporting young people to move on with their lives.

Why was Sam Brown the right director for this campaign?

We were clear that we wanted to make the animals in the campaign as realistic as possible, as their purpose was to make the struggles that young people face as relatable and accessible to viewers who may not have had exposure to those issues. 

Sam Brown’s reputation as an empathetic storyteller and award-winning director preceded him, and he had the added benefit of having a long-standing relationship with The Mill, one of London’s best VFX production houses. 

Those combination of elements made us feel that he would be the right person to help us bring our scripts to life in the most powerful and emotional way, and we were definitely proved right!

Click image to enlarge
Above: Some breakdowns of the elements involved in realising the hyenas digitally.


What were the biggest challenges in pulling this campaign together?

We were very conscious of the sensitive nature of the issues we were portraying for this campaign, and so we did a huge amount of research and due diligence at every stage, to ensure that we were sense-checking our concepts and not making any negative assumptions or enforcing any stereotypes. 

We worked with an extensive team of child services and mental health practitioners at Barnardo’s so that our portrayal of each issue was as true to life as possible, while on the creative side we thoroughly researched the traits and mannerisms of our chosen animals to make sure that the behaviours, sounds and movements of each animal was as relevant to the story that we wanted to tell without being inaccurate or gratuitous.

This campaign taught us to be patient and trust in the process. 

Due to the CGI the process was a lengthy one that involved all of us having a lot of patience. 

Once the final concepts and storyboards were approved, we handed over to the very capable CGI team at The Mill to get going. They built every animal from scratch, from the skeleton out, so for a long part of the initial process we only saw greyscale models of the animals in each scene. Then bit by bit they got more and more developed as further CGI work and rendering was done. 

In today’s world where we’re used to having things ready immediately or at least in very short order, this campaign taught us to be patient and trust in the process. 

And the stunning results are proof that good things really do come to those who wait.

Jonathan ‘Wes’ Westley [above], Executive Creative Director, The Mill

At what point in the process did you get involved in this campaign and what were the conversations you had?

Director Sam Brown contacted us very early on before he started work on the treatment. As he knew that this would be a major passion project for The Mill, he wanted to ensure that he wrote a treatment we were able to take on. With a hard-hitting script and such an important cause, it was always going to be something we would want to be involved with.

Animation is a key part of the process and Sam was keen for us to ensure that the hyenas’ actions remained in the realm of what they would do in the real world.
Above: Some work-in-progress shots from the spot.


What was the hardest part about the creation of the hyenas?

As with all creature jobs, the process starts with casting – identifying the personality and character we want to capture in the protagonists, deciding how dirty, scruffy, or fury we want them to be. 

Together with Sam, we selected five real-world hyenas and used those as references for the basis of each scene in which they feature. 

Using reference footage, we shot at a safari park, together with sourced reference footage of hyenas in the wild, we built a library of actions which we used to inform the animation and look.

Animation is a key part of the process and Sam was keen for us to ensure that the hyenas’ actions remained in the realm of what they would do in the real world.

The trickiest part was getting across the fearful nature of the hyenas hold towards the girl, in a few short shots without it feeling too threatening or overly animated - focusing on smaller actions and movements.

Sam Brown [above], Director, Rogue Films 

What attracted you to the script?

It just leapt off the page. Bullying is an issue I’ve always felt very close to, and I was struck by how viscerally the script described what it feels like for the young girl, this predatory thing that follows you around everywhere and invades every aspect of your life. That won’t leave you alone even when you’re sleeping. The hyena pack felt like a very evocative stand in for the real thing.

How important was the casting and can you tell us a little bit about that process?

It was a challenging process, because it was very important to me to represent the child authentically, and not just act out the emotions. If you ask a child to come into a casting and just act sad or distressed, you’re probably going to end up with a dishonest result. You have to work on a more instinctive and visceral level, and lay some emotional groundwork for the child when you’re filming. 

Maddy was amazing. She’s so smart and strong - perfect for the role. 

For example, it helped me a lot to banish the crew for a few minutes before each shot to get Maddy’s complete attention and reacquaint her with the girl she was representing. To empathise with her on a deeper level. We’d speak about her background, her story and her feelings and set a tone for her that brought the real emotions very close to the surface before we turned the camera over. She could reach for those emotions more instinctively. 

It’s a sensitive and delicate process, and I learned a lot doing it.

I’ve also found that one of the most useful tools when working with an actor is the experiences they walk into the casting with. The more time you can spend talking to them up front the more you can find those emotional buttons that are so useful when you’re directing them on the day. 

Maddy was amazing. She’s so smart and strong - perfect for the role. 

Click image to enlarge

The sound design in the spots are very affecting; how did you approach that part of the films?

We wanted to create a sense of building pressure with the sound mimicking the building anxiety felt by the young girl; of a problem that ends up growing to a sort of breaking point. I described it almost like tinnitus, something that gets inside your head and makes everything unbearable. I see anxiety this way. The damage doesn’t stop when the physical or verbal act stops. It’s a constant and debilitating presence. It’s a ringing in your head.

What were the biggest challenges for you on this job?

Shooting a commercial in a single day is very tough. I wouldn’t recommend it. 

I think also trying to represent the breadth of the victim’s experience in 40’ is tricky. The storytelling has to work very hard, and move very quickly.

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