This is Ella

Every Breath Matters

At a glance

An urgent and emotive wake-up call to the world about the deadly cost of air pollution.

Making the world gasp

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).

Sketches of Ella Kissi-Debrah video by Beyond Words
Animation frames for Ella Kissi-Debrah data visualization by Beyond Words

Personal data, global evidence

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…

  • Ella’s 28 trips to hospital in just three years
  • The annual number of children who die from breathing polluted air
  • The number of children who are breathing polluted air every day
Photograph of Ella Kissi-Debrah

This is Ella

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.


Textures and colours used in Ella Kissi-Debrah video by Beyond Words

Creative collage

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.

Gif from Ella Kissi-Debrah video by Beyond Words

Grit and urgency

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’.

Look and listen

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.

Data visualization about air pollution

Visualizing a crisis

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.

Tweet about Ella Kissi-Debrah data visualization video by Beyond Words

Breathtaking response

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.