Through fuzzy and textural stop motion, Effie Pappa narrates the trials and tribulations of owning a small business
In her signature style, the animation director journeys through the highs and lows of entrepreneurship in her heartwarming stop motion series, created for Intuit Mailchimp’s All in a Day’s Work.
Let’s face it, as a business owner, marketer or entrepreneur, there are bound to be thrilling highs and some unavoidable lows. Maybe you’re celebrating your first client victory, or steeling yourself for a nerve-wracking meeting. Maybe you’re following up on late invoices, yet again. Or you’ve set up your independent grocery shop, only for a large supermarket chain to open up across the road – you need to act fast to come up with a plan that sets your business apart.
Effie Pappa, an animator director based in London and Athens, brings these stories to life in her enchanting stop motion series, created exclusively for All in a Day’s Work, a project crafted by It’s Nice That for Mailchimp Presents – Intuit Mailchimp’s collection of original content that celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit in creative and relatable ways. The series comprises six episodes directed by Effie and an additional six by Catherine Prowse, a stop motion animator director based in London, with each delving into the realities of entrepreneurship and owning a small business.
In Effie’s episodes, the audience is introduced to a delightful array of stop motion puppets who share their work-related experience. From a freelance web designer confronting a client about overdue invoices, to a CEO grappling with pre-keynote jitters, and even a fruit and vegetable farmer who mistakenly sets up shop on the wrong day. These characters embody the real ups and downs of small business life. “The stories are about the trials, tribulations and small triumphs, and talk about the daily grind that it takes for a small business to keep it all up,” says Effie. “They share stories of resilience, extraordinary efforts, problem-solving, adaptability, the value of hard work and the importance of community support.”
“When a set is up and lit, a good question is whether I feel the urge to live there. If the answer is yes, then we start shooting.”Effie Pappa
Effie’s animation style is a masterful fusion of joyful colours and rich textures, influenced by her formative years in the vibrant 90s. Cotton, wool, corduroy, patterns and bold colour blocks have woven their way into her artistic language and feature heavily throughout the episodes. “I’m trying to create worlds that provoke a familiar cosiness, a feeling of goodness and a sweet tingle to them,” she explains. “When a set is up and lit, a good question is whether I feel the urge to live there. If the answer is yes, then we start shooting.” This approach infuses her work with a tangible sense of relatability as her characters navigate their everyday lives in homes, offices, shops and workspaces that look like they’ve been plucked from a Pinterest interior design board.
“I love creating characters that you could meet in the neighbourhood, and adding a little touch of vulnerability to them, making them imperfect and real.”Effie Pappa
Familiarity is key throughout Effie’s animation style – and with this series. What really sets Effie’s work apart, though, are her meticulously detailed characters, replete with fuzzy hair, fluffy skin and individual idiosyncrasies that extend from facial expressions to their likes and dislikes. Each character boasts a rich personality, allowing the audience to connect with them on a deeper level. She achieves this by mapping out a full sheet of character traits – ”a mini bible for each character” – to figure out who does what, how they react to certain events and things they like to eat for dinner. By doing so, Effie’s able to communicate her full, three-dimensional approach to the wider animation team and gain a deeper understanding of who these people are. “I love creating characters that you could meet in the neighbourhood,” she says, “and adding a little touch of vulnerability to them, making them imperfect and real.”
The character’s personalities are artfully reflected in their surroundings. For instance, in the Game Face episode, protagonist Helenè is known for being “rigid and organised” and doesn’t react well to surprises. However, she also gives off a warm and comforting energy. As such, the set design is homely and professional, and there’s an overly organised bookshelf perfectly framing her figure in the background. Meanwhile, in Rosalia’s kitchen from the episode Recipe for Success, the character’s creative spirit is reflected through the blue walls and a plethora of handmade ceramics. Noisy New Neighbours, the episode about the grocery store and supermarket rivalry, is all about “fresh spirit” and is awash in vibrant colour palettes. “Raj and Stan’s grocery store facade, if you notice, is a little deeper than the rest of the buildings,” explains Effie. “That is to show that, despite external changes and reconstructions, this little shop remained there and is doing its best to show up. All these little details are secondary information but really give so much heart to the visual narrative.”
1 of 8
Effie Pappa: Development drawings for Noisy New Neighbours – All in a Day’s Work (Copyright © Mailchimp, 2023)
While the series maintains a consistent energy throughout, each story is different. “Each episode is so unique and it’s a universe on its own,” says Effie. To this end, Effie crafted individual title sequences for each episode, inspired by the protagonists and their stories. This includes an “old-school” serif for Helenè’s Game Face, a “vulnerable yet modern” font for Boss Level Nerves, one that’s “bold and loud” for Noisy New Neighbours, and a more “modern and rigid” one for Balancing the Books. By matching the fonts with the quirks and traits of the characters, this imbues an unmissable sense of theatricality to the series.
“Stop motion does rely a lot on coming up with out-of-the-box solutions, which is part of its glory.”Effie Pappa
This is the second instalment of the All in a Day’s Work series and, much like the first, it relies on the absence of dialogue to ensure universal accessibility. This challenge fuelled Effie’s directorial creativity. “Using vocal expressions and mumblings instead of speech actually let the animation (and our animator) shine,” she explains. “Much like in silent cinema, characters’ emotions are expressed through body language, posture and rich facial expressions which would look over the top if you put dialogue on it.”
1 of 5
Effie Pappa: Prop development for Noisy New Neighbours – All in a Day’s Work (Copyright © Mailchimp, 2023)
Stop motion animation comes with its own set of challenges, but for Effie, it’s where she thrives – even if things don’t go as smoothly as planned. For example, in the episode Recipe for Success, the team glued all of the props on their set surfaces to make sure they’d stay in position when animating. While shooting, a long shot of the three friends around Rosalia’s table came up, and her handmade salsa was positioned inside her jars and bowls. Several tests later, and after figuring out how to make the liquid actually look like salsa, they finally landed on a solution. Then, on the second day of the shoot, green mould started appearing and soon the jars were overgrown by fuzz. “All we could do was keep animating and witness the mould grow bigger and bigger,” recalls Effie. Another hurdle arose while making the smoothie in Farm Fresh, where the team decided to use lubricant gel (“yes!”) mixed with fruit slices and coloured chalk filling. “It actually looks drinkable!” Effie adds, “Stop motion does rely a lot on coming up with out-of-the-box solutions, which is part of its glory.”
The stop motion aspect is key to the telling of these stories, adds Julie Douglas, senior manager of Mailchimp Studios, the miniature worlds “harkening back to the nostalgia of stop-motion holiday classics, and tapping into a sense of connection and joy,” she says. Offering an empathetic insight to their customers’ daily lives, the team hopes the show “brings a brief moment of brightness and levity to their day”.
Now that the series is complete, Effie, a small business owner herself, pauses for a moment of reflection. “I feel connected with all our characters,” she says, citing those in the Noisy New Neighbours episode as the most relatable. Like her, she hopes that the audience will also resonate with their stories and feel a little less alone in their entrepreneurial journey. “I hope these small films can encourage and inspire personal and business growth.”
Effie Pappa: Noisy New Neighbours – All in a Day’s Work (Copyright © Mailchimp, 2023)
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she became online editor in 2022 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.