How Catherine Prowse’s beautiful, home-made stop motion ad for Childline shows nobody is normal

Working with The Gate, Blinkink and Rowdy, the director uses her signature puppetry work to lend a soft aesthetic to the campaign, juxtaposed by Radiohead’s Creep as its soundtrack.

9 November 2020


Childline, part of the NSPCC, says that every year they hear from thousands of young people who feel like they don’t fit in, and counsellors have seen a spike in calls about body image, sexuality, identity and mental health during the pandemic. Its new campaign Nobody is Normal hopes to bring life to those buried feelings, through a beautiful stop motion animation from agency The Gate, co-produced by Blinkink and Rowdy. Led by Catherine Prowse, a director who has spent the past few years establishing herself as a go-to talent in stop motion puppetry, the film has a soft, friendly and subtly surreal aesthetic; perfect for reaching out to those young people in need.

“The idea behind the ad was to communicate that adolescent feeling of alienation, isolation and discomfort in your own skin,” Prowse tells It’s Nice That. The film shows a creature getting ready for school by putting on his human skin, and struggling to keep his true form hidden throughout the day with his furry body threatening to escape at inopportune moments. Prowse says the film’s style references vintage body shock horror movies, “to amp up the sense of uneasiness. There are lots of Dutch tilt camera angles, and a limited comic book style colour palette”.

In the final scene at the school dance, the “real” body of a seemingly composed prom queen suddenly bursts out from underneath its human cloak, which Prowse says was inspired by high school horror films such as Carrie. Then, the main character decides to shed his human skin and reveal himself as he really is, a tentacled octopus, followed by the rest of the crowd – a misfit crew of brilliant, colourful creatures. The message is clear, delivered with empathy, sensitivity and a little humour thanks to Prowse’s characters, its cuteness juxtaposed cleverly by the soundtrack of Radiohead’s Creep. “Overall we just wanted to communicate the idea that everyone feels a bit like a weird alien creature deep down and if we all take our masks off occasionally we get to see each other, and be seen, for who we really are.”

Amazingly, Prowse did the bulk of the set build in her kitchen. “There were a few huge sets like the gymnasium where the prom takes place, so constructing everything at home was a bit of a challenge,” she says, “but it turned into quite a fun lockdown project. I actually had time to luxuriate over things like hand-crafting every tiny piece of food on the lunch trays in the cafeteria.” Prowse was helped by puppet-maker Adeena Grubb, who worked remotely from home and would send Prowse “packages of school kids and creatures” in the post.

Prowse explains that the main character’s true form was designed to represent anxiety, with “this itchy quality with strands of wool constantly twitching and undulating over each other. I wanted it to feel like there was this hidden thing constantly scratching at him internally even when it seemed like he was acting normally”. Other creature designs drew from issues such as body dysmorphia, depression and struggling with coming out as LGBTQIA+, albeit subtly, which was important to the director, who wanted to avoid stereotypes and leave them up to interpretation. “I have a specific intention behind each character’s secret inner form, but I wanted kids watching to potentially be able to see themselves reflected in one of the creatures no matter how they were feeling.”

Prowse previously made Young and Alone: Without My Mum, a heart-wrenching film about refugee children separated from their families, through a character having his hair cut by his mum.

Lucas Peon, chief creative officer at The Gate, says the Nobody is Normal campaign “speaks to children in a way that is natural to them. To walk through the usual walls these types of messages face, we needed an emotional story that intrigued people enough to pay attention and moved them enough to make them reflect and change their perspective”.

GalleryThe Gate: Nobody is Normal, directed by Catherine Prowse (Copyright © Childline, 2020)

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The Gate: Nobody is Normal, directed by Catherine Prowse (Copyright © Childline, 2020)

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Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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