BBC Children’s uses puppetry to tackle delicate topic of kids’ screen time

The Sam Gainsborough spot challenges a tale as old as time – that people, in particular kids, will get square eyes from using a tablet, computer, phone or TV.

25 July 2023


Many parents have seen their kids use devices more since the start of the pandemic. Looking specifically at the UK, the majority of parents (79 per cent) confirmed the upward trend in a 2023 survey commissioned by BBC Children’s and Education. Though interestingly, respondents were split on the impact of these screens. While 67 per cent felt concerned about what their child was watching through their devices, 65 per cent said that screens do have the ability to “foster creativity and communication”.

It’s this nuanced understanding of children’s screen time usage that the BBC is hoping to present with The Square Eyed Boy. A collaboration between Blinkink director Sam Gainsborough and BBC Creative, the 60-second ad uses animation to show the potential benefits of screens. When used responsibly, “[they] can be a tremendously powerful tool for their children”, says a press release.

It’s a multifaceted subject, yet the film blends puppetry and stop motion to steer the conversation expertly. The ad opens with a young boy whose screen use has turned his eyes into a pair of glowing squares. We see the boy receive scrutiny from onlookers for the sound of his noisy tablet at the bus stop and in public spaces. But we also see how screens can offer age-appropriate content that can encourage learning and discovery. Sam ends the short showing the young boy with round eyes, suggesting that screens might not give you square eyes, but might actually make you well rounded.

“I really wanted the boy to be the most expressive character in the film, which led to the idea of having these, glowing, floating, vibrant almost magical square eyes,” director Sam Gainsborough explains. “To make the square eyes glow, we actually put lights within the puppet, so wherever the puppet would look, it would cast a light. This was a technical challenge, but Sam Holland and his amazing team created puppets which could have lights placed within the heads. This meant that the Square Eyed boy looked very strange on set, but in the end created an amazing effect. It was wonderful to see the amazingly skilled animators Andy Biddle and Tobias Fouracre bringing the character to life with his bizarre glowing eyes.”

GallerySam Gainsborough / BBC Creative / Blinkink: The Square Eyed Boy (Copyright © BBC Children’s, 2023)

The making of The Square Eyed Boy (Copyright © Blinkink, 2023)

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Sam Gainsborough / BBC Creative / Blinkink: The Square Eyed Boy (Copyright © BBC Children’s, 2023)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. In January 2023, they became associate editor, predominantly working on partnership projects and contributing long-form pieces to It’s Nice That. Contact them about potential partnerships or story leads.

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