In an ambitious project to help children better understand a cancer diagnosis, RPA brought together 20 individual animation, music and sound-design partners launching a series of animated films for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, the world’s largest nonprofit dedicated to families facing a child’s brain tumor diagnosis
The Los Angeles indie, in conjunction with the organization, created the Imaginary Friend Society, to help children learn about their cancer treatment in a way that still covers the important facts, yet in a way that is easy to understand. The films debuted at the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation’s Starry Night 5k at Griffith Park in Los Angeles earlier this week.
The pro-bono, global film project enlisted a veritable A-list of partners, all of whom took on a specific topic that addresses very specific challenges for kids diagnosed with brain cancer, especially emotional ones.
Films that feature the imaginary friends range from explaining the diagnosis (i.e. - “What is cancer?”), discussing the process (“Who Will be Taking Care of Me?”) and addressing emotions during the process (“Feeling Angry”). Additionally, an interactive-style video serves as a resource for siblings, to help them talk about their feelings.
To Jason Sperling, SVP/chief, creative development at RPA, the sheer scope and breadth of the project was far outweighed by the impressive, important end result. Additionally, it illustrated the unique bond that the creative community has with each other — the willingness to work on projects that tackle important, and sometimes very specific issues.
“I’m so thrilled we could get so many real friends together to bring the Imaginary Friend Society to life,” he said. “This colossal project was an absolute labor of love, worth the enormous effort it took to make it happen. To make these terrifying experiences a little easier for kids dealing with cancer, and to bring smiles to their faces during a truly difficult time, makes it all worth it.”
The idea for the work was sparked from insight that there was a lack of material that hones in on all of the medical and emotional aspects of cancer in a way that is both relatable and engaging for kids. Most of what any cancer patient, and especially children, goes through can be intimidating, daunting and foreign to them. The overall direction came from understanding how cancer survivors use imaginary friends as a coping mechanism during treatment.
“It’s our goal to help the more than 4,600 children diagnosed with a primary brain or central nervous system tumor each year. That’s 13 new cases per day,” said Robin Boettcher, president and chief executive of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. “These films help us equip, educate and empower families throughout their journey by explaining difficult aspects of cancer care and giving children confidence and courage.”
The Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation is teaming with child life specialists, social workers and medical staff at hospitals across the United States, as well as other childhood cancer nonprofits, to bring this film series to families in the midst of treatment.
The next phase of the project seeks to engage the community, with the Imaginary Friend Society invites everyone to submit a drawing of their own imaginary friend or within social posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, using #ImaginaryFriendSociety. Submitted drawings will be used to create dolls for those newly-diagnosed, as well as coloring books, journals and motivational posters that will be available early next year as part of phase two.
Additionally, the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation is developing motion-capture medical-assistance technology using select imaginary friends, as well as hospital-based AR experiences designed to lessen the fear of impending procedures, with release plans for early 2018.
“It takes teamwork to fight this devastating disease, and many of our nonprofit distribution partners were inspired by children who will benefit from this film series,” said Boettcher.
“Everything we’re doing now and everything we plan to do in the coming months is about reducing kids’ fear and anxiety, from that initial cancer diagnosis, to the terrifying procedures, to the physical changes, to the emotional rollercoaster ride," added Sperling. "Its important to raise money and awareness for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, but here’s our chance to answer a need and make a noticeable difference with creative work that matters.”