Every Breath Matters
An urgent and emotive wake-up call to the world about the deadly cost of air pollution.
Here’s a fact to take your breath away: air pollution kills three times more people each year than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria – combined.
Every Breath Matters is campaigning for a world in which everyone will breathe clean air by 2030.
They asked us to create a powerful video, designed for social media, that would be shared widely on World Environment Day (5 June).
This video would be emotionally rooted in the tragic story of 9-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, whose death has become a legal and symbolic focus in the fight for clean air.
We also needed to highlight selected data points that show the deadly effects of breathing toxic air to reveal the global scale of this health crisis.
With just 60 seconds to tell our story, we decided to visualize…
The very first words of our script are “This is Ella.” We knew people had to see Ella’s face to feel the pain and outrage her story demands.
Her mother gave us permission to use a beautiful, poignant photograph and it became a powerful emotional anchor for the entire piece.
In fact, from script to sound to design, Ella’s photograph inspired our entire creative approach.
We collaged different media – photography, texture, geometric and organic shapes, and data visualization – to build a dynamic, restless visual story.
This piece needed to feel serious, poignant and urgent.
We used gritty textures layered on black and white imagery to create a choked, claustrophobic feel. This also gave dramatic contrast to pops of colour highlighting the data points.
The animation was carefully designed to fit this unsettled mood, too. Never smooth or slick, it judders with discomfort to keep viewers caught in the feeling that ‘things are not right’.
If you shut your eyes, Ella’s story is also told entirely through the sound design: the sounds of a child inhaling and exhaling, traffic, a bleeping heart monitor, then silence.
We commissioned composer Tim Cowie to craft the affecting audio track, complete with a discordant musical score that matches the visual tone.
Some charts can be read and digested. But these visualizations had to strike the heart and mind without a second look.
We drowned the screen with dark blots to represent the 600,000 children’s deaths caused by air pollution each year.
And finally, a world map wipes almost entirely red to represent a staggering number: the 93% of children on Earth who are breathing toxic air right now.
Launched on World Environment Day 2019, the video immediately gained positive engagement on social media.
But the biggest compliment came from Ella’s mother Rosamund, who celebrated it as the best telling yet of her daughter’s story.