Using stop frame animation to relay a serious message

Raising awareness of the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme was a challenge put before CTN by our client, the Ministry of Defence. As producer Miranda Counsell reveals below, it took some heavy brainstorming at CTN to generate a truly innovative approach. Last week, the film won an IVCA Clarion Award – so here is the animation and below, the story of its creation.

The brief came to us because of the success of the ‘Think before You Share’ campaign. Our name had spread around the MOD offices.  We received a very clear and concise brief “To provide an inviting and engaging awareness video that will primarily appeal to junior ranks” With a just one simple message: “If you are injured or made ill as a result of service then you can receive compensation from the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme.”

The aim of the film was to not to over load the viewer with information but entertain them and place a memory in their mind so that if they injured themselves while serving they would remember that they are entitled to compensation. We didn’t have to go into any detail of the types of injury or any circumstantial information.

Taking the brief into consideration we brought together a couple of producers and directors and brainstormed ideas for getting this message across. No idea was a bad idea, we just bounced them around the table, inspiring each other to come up with different images and possible suggestions.

Using our experience of working with the Royal Navy and Royal Marines we knew that in order to get the information across affectively it needed to be set around a familiar environment or scenario that personnel might find themselves in so they could relate to it. Also that if we were to keep their attention and entertain them it would need and added comic twist.

From our experience we knew what the limitations for filming in a military environment, and also how realistic it would be to bring our ideas to life. With the MOD going through an intense period of restructure following the SDSR we also knew that budget would tight so we came up with 3-4 realistic ideas at different budget levels to allow our client to see the strength of our creativity.

All of our concepts had one thing in common; they used drama, suspense and/or comedy to guide the audience into thinking they are watching something that they would choose to watch in their own time; either on You Tube or on iTunes movie trailers. Just when we’d captured their imagination and have their complete attention the ‘cat is let out of the bag’ (so to speak) and the audience realise it’s actually a film dedicated to communicating key information about the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme.

Out of the 4 ideas we had outlined in our initial proposal the client really liked ‘Toy Solider’….

Based on a combination of elements – the plastic army men in Toy Story, (but here, classic British Airfix soldiers), homemade war and action films with a variety of toys and a surreal imagination – we fashion a stop motion animated film that follows the exploits of a soldier as he battles through some familiar territory.

The kitchen worktop becomes an urban landscape, the expanse of the living room carpet is a desert, (complete with cardboard FOB) and the back garden becomes a dense jungle, (alternately we could build various scenes from model houses, cardboard, miniature tress etc).

An elite group of soldiers, English, Scots, Welsh and a token yank embark on a perilous mission. Each of them has a distinctive voice that suits their character. We follow their secret mission as they get ambushed by the enemy, steal a plane and bail out as it’s hit by a missile, get pinned down behind the washing up, and finally overcome the enemy to extract the prisoner they’ve been sent to save.

There’s a great opportunity for funny and relevant dialog between the characters that will be all too familiar to the audience.Towards the end of this adventure one of the team, (a Brit) gets injured. This isn’t in some firefight or by a RPG, no. It’s in some daft accident – arm bitten off by a rogue toy dinosaur or something equally stupid.

The payoff would suggest that whilst we’re pretty sure you won’t get eaten by a dinosaur, whatever your injury, big or small, you can make a claim. We’d see our hero with his arm bandaged up back at base, his team around him, taking the micky, they soon shut up as the cheque arrives.

Once the concept had been approved the majority of time was spent working on the script in particularly the dialogue of our 4 main characters and the narrative if their journey. We wanted to ensure the dialogue was as realistic as possible so we held a focus group with Army personnel and asked them to complete questionnaires. Although the concept was based on a ‘toy soldier patrol’ we still wanted it to have a ring of truth to it so that personnel would find it funny.

Once the script and storyboard were finished everything else just fell in to place. As a Producer I had little experience of stop frame animation so it was a big learning curve in terms of what could be achieved within the shoot day time frame but we made sure we hired experienced animation freelancers who could help bring our idea to life.

CTN’s Danny Braunstein receives the IVCA Clarion Award



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