It’s a simple message, told in a very simple way — having a health issue and being judged for it, hurts. An animated PSA for The Simon Foundation, titled Rude2Respect, was animated by Chicago’s Calabash in conjunction with the creative design studio Group Chicago.
Opening with typography “Challenging Health Stigma,” the PSA features two friends — a short, teal-colored tear-dropped blob known simply as Blue and his slender companion Pink — taking a walk on a bright sunny day in the city. Blue nervously says, “I’m not sure about this,” to which Pink responds, “You can’t stay home forever.” From there the two embark on what seems like a simple stroll to get ice cream, but there is a deeper message about how such common events can be fraught with anxiety for those suffering from an array of health conditions that often results in awkward stares, well-intentioned but inappropriate comments or plain rudeness. Blue and Pink decide it’s the people with the comments that are in the wrong and continue on to get ice cream. The spot ends with the simple words “Health stigma hurts. We can change lives” followed by a link to www.rude2respect.org.
“We had seen Calabash’s work and sought them out,” says Barbara Lynk, Group Chicago’s creative director. “We were impressed with how well their creative team immediately understood the characters and their visual potential. Creatively they brought a depth of experience on the conceptual and production side that helped bring the characters to life. They also understood the spare visual approach we were trying to achieve. It was a wonderful creative collaboration throughout the process, and they are a really fun group of creatives to work with.”
Based on illustrated characters created by Group Chicago’s founder/creative director Kurt Meinecke, Calabash creative director Wayne Brejcha notes that early on in the creative process they decided to go with what he called a “two-and-a-half-D look.”
“There is a charm in the simplicity of Kurt’s original illustrations with the flat shapes that we had to try very hard to keep as we translated Blue and Pink to the 3D world,” Brejcha says. “We also didn’t want to overly complicate it with a lot of crazy camera moves rollercoastering through the space or rotating around the characters. We constrained it to feel a little like two-and-a-half dimensions – 2D characters, but with the lighting and textures and additional physical feel you expect with 3D animation.
“We spent a good deal of time with thumbnail boardomatics, a scratch track and stand-in music as it began to gel,” he continues. “Kurt searched out some piano music for the intro and outro, which also set tone, and we cast for voices with the personalities of the figures in mind. After a few conversations with Kurt and Barb we understood the personalities of Blue and Pink very well. They’re archetypes or incarnations of two stages of dealing with, say, going out in public with some medical apparatus you’re attached to that’s plainly visible to everyone. The Blue guy is self-conscious, defensive, readily upset and also ready to bring a little push-back to the folks who call out his non-normative qualities. Pink is a little further along in accepting the trials. She can shake off with equanimity all the outright insults, dopey condescension and the like. She’s something of a mentor or role model for Blue. The characters are made of simple shapes, so animator Nick Oropezas did a lot of tests and re-animation to get just the right movements, pauses, timing and expressions to capture those spirits.”
For Sean Henry, Calabash’s executive producer, the primary creative obstacles centered on finding the right pacing for the story. “We played with the timing of the edits all the way through production,” he explains. “The pace of it had a large role to play in the mood, which is more thoughtful than your usual rapid-fire ad. Also, finding the right emotions for the voices was also a major concern. We needed warmth and a friendly mentoring feel for Pink, and a feisty, insecure but likeable voice for Blue. Our voice talent nailed those qualities. Additionally, the dramatic events in the spot happen only in the audio with Pink and Blue responding to off-screen voices and action, so the sound design and music had a major storytelling role to play as well.”
Calabash called on Autodesk Maya for the characters and Foundry’s Nuke for effects/compositing. Adobe Premiere was used for the final edit.