Designing the World's First Educational Transgender Toy
June 19, 2017
What started out as an agency incubation project turned into a heartwarming breakthrough for a small creative team at Montreal’s lg2 when they created the world’s first educational transgender toy.
Creative director Stuart Macmillan and three of his colleagues—Stéphanie Pellicer, Jean-Philippe Dugal and François Royer Mireault— were spirited away by company brass for two weeks about eight months ago to work on a project for Gender Creative Kids, a small peer support organization for transgender children and their families.
“They’re a bunch of super parents who want to make sure their kids’ futures are brighter,” says Pellicer, account director at lg2. The small group of parents who run the organization wanted to find a way to communicate to the public what it means to be a transgender child and to combat transphobia. Beyond that—everything was up to lg2. And there was no budget to work with.
“Our very first insight was stopping transphobia before it starts. Among adults, awareness wasn’t really a problem, but transphobia definitely was,” notes MacMillan. Appealing to children early on could help combat some of the bullying that transgender children frequently experience.
After the first week of researching and generating ideas, the team presented two separate concepts to the lg2 partners for approval: one for an educational toy funded through Kickstarter, and another for an animated video telling the story of a transgender child. In the end, the team decided to tackle both concepts through a campaign called "The You Inside."
“The idea behind it was kind of like how Disney does it—you have these characters in a film, and then you also have the merchandise,” says Macmillan. “We wanted to create the toy, but then also create the film to bring that character to life, and to bring empathy and emotion to the toy.”
The Government of Quebec, TD Bank and Bell Canada sponsored most of the film as well as the toy prototyping, and several creative collaborators came in to donate their resources to the project. “We did it kind of guerilla-style in the agency,” explains Pellicer. “Everyone had to own certain pieces of the project in order to get it done.”
In addition to resembling a matryoshka doll, the team wanted the toy to reflect the stages of emotions a transgender child may go through—and for it to look and feel kid-friendly. They succeeded in their goal after finishing the design with VFX and animation studio SHED and hammering out production requirements with Happy Worker, a toy manufacturer based in Toronto.
From all of that, the toy—Sam—was born. “We wanted something neutral and friendly,” says Pellicer of the unisex name. “It works in both English and French and is easy to pronounce.”
Sam is accompanied by a booklet outlining each emotion expressed by the doll. Also inside are answers parents can use to field difficult questions from their children. “Sam is not meant to be a textbook or a diagnostic tool,” notes Pellicer. “Sam simply starts the conversation.”
With the toy designed to specifically appeal to kids, the team wanted the film to have a broader reach. Production house Roméo et Fils spearheaded the piece, which was animated by Rodolphe Saint-Gelais. “His style is very painted and impressionistic,” says Macmillan. “He has this amazing way of creating moods with very little movement […] we only use actual animation sparingly, to communicate key moments.”
The film is set to a cover of Roxette's "Listen to Your Heart"—and Macmillan notes that Roxette singer Marie Fredriksson forfeited the rights fee because she believed that much in the cause.
“It’s hard not to get emotional thinking about the effort [our partners] put into the project,” he says. “It’s incredible how generous they’ve been.”
The 2.5-minute film is also meant to be used as a standalone education piece, so lg2 plans to send a shorter version out to hundreds of schools in Quebec and Ontario.
And now that the film is complete (we don’t want to spoil the story—watch it here!) and the toy prototype finished, the team set up a campaign on Kickstarter to raise money for the toy production (the supplier requires a minimum order to get started).
While there’s 53 days left on the fundraising campaign before the $137,500 goal is reached, the clients are already thrilled with the film and its positive effects, says Macmillan.
“They were genuinely so touched by it—because even though all three of them had completely different experiences, there was something in the story that was common to all of them,” he says. “We were very conscious that we couldn’t tell everyone’s story, but that we could tell a story that would allow people who have gone through this experience to feel like it was partly their own.”
“I’ve got two daughters 8 and 6 and talked to them about gender identity issues throughout this process. They were very quick to understand what we were trying to say and why Sam was feeling that way throughout the story.”
Client: Gender Creative Kids / Enfants Transgenres Canada
Vice-President, Creative Director: Marc Fortin
Vice-Président, Strategy: Alexis Robin
Creative team / Strategic planning / Account services: Jean-Philippe Dugal, Stuart Macmillan, François Royer Mireault, Stephanie Pellicer
Agency Producer: Claudia Lemire
Production: Roméo & Fils
Sound studio: Circonflexe / BLVD
Animation: Rodolphe Saint-Gelais
3D animation: SHED
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