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Craft Judges Unpack Insights from the 2021 D&AD Awards

Building fantasy worlds with production design, leveraging animation’s transformative power, and slick-smart editing

Content warning: references to work on the subject of child abuse

Good craft is the lynchpin of creative excellence, and the 2021 D&AD Award-winners are proof that brands and agencies are leaning into its power to tell impactful stories. As a large portion of the production industry halted and retracted in the wake of Covid, animation, illustration, visual effects, clever editing and outside-the-box thinking provided routes to crafting great work, even with limited resources.

In a conversation hosted by Little White Lies editor David Jenkins, a panel of D&AD Craft Judges discuss how craft can help tackle challenging subjects, how it can smash taboos, and create escapist new worlds. Read on for the keytakeaways and or watch the video above to immerse yourself in the discussion and debate.

Craft can break new ground — but there’s still work to do

The Black Pencil-winning #wombstories from Bodyform showed how craft can help tackle stigmas and taboos, and freelance director and producer Asawari Jagushte describes this campaign as “really groundbreaking”.

“I think Bodyform in general has been creating a benchmark in advertising for a few years towards normalising conversations around period,” says Jagushte. “#wombstories has been a great influence and incredible example of shattering the glass ceiling with women especially at the centre of it, and women behind the making of it. This mixed media format and the choice of shooting the live action sequences traditionally and juxtaposing that with animation takes it to a whole new level.”

However while #wombstories takes great strides forward in terms of content and representation, Jagushte points out that is more to be done to address the lack of non-binary, trans and genderqueer narratives. “Very few heteronormative cultures and people actually read about the lives of true queer folks and our history around the world, so… we still need to push that boundary.”

Craft creates new vehicles for difficult topics

The Covid lockdowns offered the opportunity for animation to shine, and this year’s awards saw how it could be used to handle sensitive or challenging topics, such as Publicis Conseil’s Two Monsters In My Story, which raises awareness of the hidden distress of childhood abuse.

“What I like about animation is that it can approach hard subjects in a beautiful way,” says Paulo Garcia, director and founder of Zombie Studio. “It’s easier to spread the message using animation. If you tried to film that, and not animate it, it would perhaps be very hard [for viewers] to understand the message.”

Also tackling the sensitive issue of child abuse is Unicef’s #ENDviolence "More Than a Mark", by BBDO Group Germany, which was shortlisted for Sound Design in the 2021 D&AD Awards. The soundscape conveyed the intensity and violence of the story without the need to show any triggering scenes.

“The soundscape was wonderful,” says Paul Notice, an executive producer and judge on the editing jury. “It wasn't just stupid like a little piano or sad piano playing. It was, you know, let's feed into the emotion of it. Let's actually have a riser place right here at this moment; let's have like some wind chimes that actually are going to be reflected three scenes after when, after it's introduced. Beautiful. Best use of L cut I've seen this year, definitely.”

Traditional craft prevails through the pandemic

“When I was judging ads, I felt like we were going back to the traditional way of doing animation,” says Garcia, referencing Childline’s Nobody is Normal, a stop motion animation that follows a child struggling to contain their inner creature within their human form in order to ‘fit in’ at school.

“I think we were harsh with CGI a lot, and more kind to 2D traditional animation and stop frame animation, because I think we are returning to the starting point of how to make films like we did a long time ago.”

“It’s easier to approach CGI projects during the pandemic, because you’re using a computer from your homes, but when you see [Nobody is Normal] it’s different … it takes a lot of work to make it happen, and I think that’s why we enjoy it so much as a stop frame animation” he adds.

Great craft can break all the rules

For Shereen Mostafa, Head of A/V Production at Leo Burnett Dubai, a well-crafted campaign like Shot on iPhone – Vertical Cinema, can break the rules with impunity. “This piece of work goes against everything I like about cinema, and as a producer being asked to cut everything into vertical is as if you’re cutting a piece of me everytime,” she explains.

“They took everything and put it in less than half of the screen. It really triggered me, but I should respect that. Maybe the problem is that from the ideation stage we should think how this idea would fit that platform, not just going with a traditional advert, producing a film... and then it just doesn’t work that way. It really made love what I hate most, and that’s what I liked about it.”

Creative craft can build wonderful, escapist worlds

With the world grounded as a result of lockdowns, it’s no surprise that creatives dreamed up wild places to escape to. Brawl Stars’ Starr Park film took world-building to a new level, exploring the origin story of the hugely popular game with what production designer Miren Oller describes as “a crazy surreal world full of details, things happening and weird creatures”.

Part of the charm of these kinds of campaigns is the level of craft they require, with Oller pointing out that the film would have relied on “a huge art department producing all different kinds of objects and creatures”.

And creating these immersive worlds isn’t just for analogue crafters. Oller also singled out Three’s futuristic Real 5G campaign as a strong digital example. “Production design is about creating new worlds,” she adds. “I think there must have been something going on in the pandemic, where all the stories were a trip from a screen to another world.”

Slick editing is not to be underestimated

While mediums such as animation are perhaps more instantly appreciable, editing is the invisible glue that holds it all together. Notice highlights It’s NBA on ESPN Time – a campaign with clever cutting and juxtaposition of imagery – as a particularly gripping example of great editing.

“Found footage sucks to edit – it’s hours and hours, so you’re going through entire game after game after game to find when that photographer shot at this angle,” explains Notice. “NBA games don’t just have one camera, or two. We’re talking about 45 cameras – that’s some editing work.”

Craft’s future is bright

The last 12 months have been a challenge for us all, but the Judges were universally positive about what the future holds. Jagushte says the fact that the industry has continued to craft such brilliant work, even during hard times, is a testament to human resilience and creativity.

For Garcia, the cutback of big productions with matching budgets during the pandemic provided lessons that will carry forward. “We can produce something with less resources. So it’s good, in a way because it’s cheaper and it’s better for the work... For me that is what is changing, from now to the future.”

“Content has always been king,” agrees Mostafa. “One simple idea, with a few talented people committed to delivering a piece of content that can move human beings, can always create magic. A strong idea doesn’t need to try too hard sometimes. Maybe you just need to do it right, give it the right amount of everything, and craft it.”

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