Shaping Us campaign

A new campaign is highlighting the importance of early childhood

Shaping Us explores the long-lasting impact of our interactions during the first five years of life. We speak to Wonderhood Studios and director Sam Gainsborough about bringing the campaign to life

During our first five years of life, more than a million connections between the nerve cells in our brain are formed every second. Our experiences, relationships, and surroundings during this time fundamentally shape the rest of our lives – affecting everything from our mental and physical wellbeing to the way we parent our own children.

Despite this, one in three people know almost nothing about how we develop during our early years, according to new research by the Centre for Early Childhood. The research has inspired a major new public awareness campaign titled Shaping Us, which highlights the crucial importance of the first five years of a child’s life.

Spearheaded by the Princess of Wales, the long-term campaign from the Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood will look at how we can create a nurturing world for the youngest members of our society, as well supporting parents and carers who are increasingly experiencing inequality and uncertainty.

The launch campaign has been led by creative agency Wonderhood Studios. “The brief was to create awareness of the significance of early childhood on the rest of our lives, turning the issue from one of scientific interest to one of the strategically most important topics of our time,” say creatives Sofie Saietz and Simone Weilborg.

The agency created the visual identity and OOH campaign for Shaping Us, working with production company Blinkink and mixed-media director Sam Gainsborough to bring its claymation campaign film to life.

The idea behind the 90-second spot was to make an emotional film in which a lump of clay gradually takes shape and transforms into a five-year-old girl. “I loved how simple this premise was, and it felt like we would be able to really push the style,” says Gainsborough. “I quickly loved the idea that the world and the child’s surroundings would also develop, just as the little girl’s understanding grows throughout the film.”

As the film plays out, we witness its main character Layla navigate her way through various experiences as a newborn, toddler and young child, with the help of those around her. It shows her interactions with people and places, culminating in her celebrating her fifth birthday surrounded by those who have played a role in shaping her young life.

One of the most striking elements of the film is the decision to use white plasticine, so that they could use colour to illustrate Layla’s brain development more vividly. “Our goal from day one was to create a child that felt totally real, despite being made from plasticine,” says Gainsborough. “I quickly thought that it would be nice to only really see Layla throughout the film and reveal the community at the end on her fifth birthday. I felt that this was a nice way to convey the fact that every interaction is important.”

Given that claymation is usually a painstaking process, and the small production team didn’t have access to equipment such as motion-control, they were forced to get creative. “In order to create the moving camera montage through Layla’s life, we attached the camera to a rig above the set. This was counterbalanced by sandbags, which meant an animator could animate the camera to fly over the set,” Gainsborough explains.

Despite the challenges of pulling it off, the film is a simple but effective way of bringing a universal issue to life. “The claymation technique became a beautiful, simple, and powerful way of expressing the idea,” say Saietz and Weilborg, “creating a world where we could have an emotionally compelling narrative with science still playing a part.”

Agency: Wonderhood Studios
Creative Directors: Ben Edwards, Guy Hobbs
Creatives: Sofie Saietz, Simone Weilborg
Production Company: Blinkink
Director: Sam Gainsborough
Character Designers: Sam Gainsborough, Isabel Garett
Character Modelling: Flinn Twins
Director of Photography: Ronnie Mcquillan
Art Directors: Brin Frost, Anita Bruvere
CGI Animation: Saurus