Creative animation work by Space Patrol transformed a live-action print campaign into a hard-hitting fully animated spot, titled Stop Pain for the charity Pain Without Borders.

“Within a minute-long spot, we had to deal with such major themes of human history as pain, death, illness, war and loneliness,” says Philippe Gamer, a director of French studio Space Patrol.

“How could we avoid making this film ridiculous and over-the-top, and not bring about a sarcastic negative response? That was the real challenge.”

Challenges such as these were central to creating the spot Stop Pain, which was created by Space Patrol for the France’s Douleurs Sans Frontières (Pain Without Borders).

The 60-second spot highlights the vicious cycle of suffering in certain countries – but the challenge was compounded by the need to make it as apolitical as possible.

“It was important not to specify the geographic location of the action or point a finger at a particular country or region,” explains Gamer. “To avoid this, we had to create a sense of being in a clearly underprivileged country while remaining universal. This principle also applied to the eventual ethnic identity of the mother and child.”

The brief, which came from the TBWA MAP advertising agency in June 2008, was based on a print campaign created in April 2008. The final spot had to be ready for the Global Day Against Pain on October 20, 2008.

“There had already been a print campaign, which gave us the direction to follow, the point to stress,” says Gamer. “We worked in a somewhat unusual manner, since we wrote the film in collaboration with the agency. The main idea was to create a sense of an unending cycle, one of accumulation, without divulging the final revelation: the treadmill.”

But the creative for the previous print campaign quickly threw up its own challenges. The print version had featured real people, while the spot had to be created without live production shooting, due to the tight deadline.

The answer, according to Gamer, was to translate the print ad’s universe into a more stylized treatment, where elements such as light, matter and behaviour worked together to create a more realistic backdrop.

The poverty treadmill

“We decided to divide the treadmill into several belts that would run at varying speeds – this would allow us to accumulate a maximum of incidents without creating a feeling of uncontrolled momentum,” explains Gamer.

“The second effect that is produced by this division of the treadmill into bands is a distortion of perspective, such as mountains passing faster than the foreground, for example, creating a relentless, industrial sensation throughout the film,” he says.

The spot was created using the 64-bit version of 3DS Max 2009, with compositing handled with After Effects. As well as directors Philippe Gamer and Fred Remuzat, the creative team included 14 graphic artists at different stages of the project. Much of the success of the project rests on the audio.

The initial plan was to avoid using a soundtrack and rely purely on sound design. However, the first cut of the film, while cinematic, was too harsh.

“We had no choice but to add an emotional touch to the soundtrack by introducing music. The agency designers did some research and we all agreed on a piano piece by a young French group called M83,” says Gamer.

While some of the spot’s challenges were technical, Gamer says that it was the bigger philosophical issues that proved the real challenge: they had to sensitively tackle deeply serious issues through animation.

“The first layouts quickly ran into this problem,” reveals Gamer. “Generally speaking, animation easily provokes laughter, but has a more difficult task when dealing with emotion. In the end, that’s where the greatest effort was made.

"Dramatizing the death of a mother, for instance, was one of the film’s most delicate moments, which involved us in some long discussions in-house and with the agency.”

“We also decided, in agreement with the agency, that this film would not be weakly consensual,” Gamer adds. “If we were to deal with suffering, we would depict that suffering and that was the hard part: in general, advertising isn’t given to dealing with such things and the possibility of a negative response was very great. So all through production we were haunted by need to find the right balance.”

The result proved that Space Patrol had made the right move and succeeded in handling a difficult subject matter with sensitivity and tact. The final spot, which had taken ten weeks of intense effort, generated a wave of positive reaction and interest in the charity.

To highlight the cyclical nature of much of the world’s suffering, the spot places a small boy on what is eventually revealed to be a treadmill of calamities, including war, earthquakes and disease.


Project:Stop Pain spot
Client: Douleurs Sans Frontières
Studio: Space Patrol,
Software: Adobe After Effects, Autodesk 3DS Max
On the CD: You can watch the spot on the cover CD.