Animation can teach you all sorts of things (as we’ve seen in plenty of animated films).
Brave reminds you that you are your own person – no one can stop you from living a life of adventure.
Ratatouille tells you to push on and follow your dreams even if the odds are stacked against you.
Finding Nemo is a thinly-veiled message to parents to stop hovering over your kids and let them fight their own battles.
The Healing Powers of Dude, while it isn’t quite fully animated, continues the tradition of imparting edifying lessons – this time, about anxiety and how to deal with it. We’re not saying that this series is going to be a cure-all for your issues; TV entertainment is no substitute for professional help. But what we do want to take a look at is how they’ve made social anxiety a little more relatable through the use of clever visual effects.
Let’s dive in.
What’s the story
School is already pretty terrifying for most kids – even without crippling anxiety.
The show focuses on 11-year-old Noah Ferris (Jace Chapman). Noah happens to suffer from social anxiety disorder. He has been home-schooling for two years now, but Noah finally decides to come out of his shell and enter a public middle school.
That’s when Mama Noah (Larisa Oleynik) decides to bring in an emotional support dog – aka the titular Dude (voiced by Steve Zahn, the voice of both Chicken Little and Diary of a Wimpy Kid star) and Noah.
Dude is not any less frightened than Noah – but he is determined to be Noah’s best bud and together, they resist the temptation to hop on the nearest bus home when faced with horrifying social situations.
Dude’s new friend – wheel-chair bound Amara (Sophie Kim) deserves a pat on the back too. At their first meeting, Noah makes a hasty exit to avoid interaction. Poor Amara thinks the reason for it is her disability.
Soon, she learns of his condition and empathises with Noah. Case in point? The scene was excellent in proving that not all enfeebling problems are physical – neither are all physical problems entirely enfeebling . Judge someone based on how they make the most of their situations and not the situations they are born into.
Seriousness aside – the series also introduces Simon (Mauricio Lara) – a boisterous young man with a heart of gold who is always ready to support Noah. There’s also Noah’s younger sister, Embry (Laurel Emory) and father (Tom Everett Scott); these are Noah’s pillars of strength.
There you have it – Noah’s battle against social anxiety with Dude and the rest of his dearest supporters. We’re rooting for you too, Noah!
Plus one for family-friendly content
Think back to the number of times you’ve had to key in the pin to access restricted content on Netflix.
While different families have different thresholds for what counts as “family-friendly”, when was the last time we had an actual Netflix series without any unexpected sex scenes?
With The Healing Powers of Dude, that families can finally come together and watch a Netflix series that doesn’t involve violence or sexual overkill. Hooray.
Throw in a pinch of humour, and it’s a pretty solid Netflix programme that sends out a strong message to viewers.
Miz K from Rotten Tomatoes agrees.
The controversy behind Dude’s role
When you throw a piece a work into the public sphere, the wolves of public opinion are never far behind.
Some have passed judgment on Dude’s ability to perform well as a social support dog – after all, he isn’t the most well-behaved dog around.
As the film unwinds – you’ll notice how he absolutely failed at being a service dog and got demoted to emotional support status.
In the series, he was seen running around aimlessly and unfortunately, marking his territory at random spots around the school or even at people’s feet.
On the other hand, there are others who chose to move away from an objective assessment of Dude’s behavior to look at how he performed as a friend and companion.
But perhaps these people were missing the forest for the trees; we prefer to think of this as good, clean comic relief.
Clever play of visual effects
The two executive producers – Sam Littenberg-Weisberg and Erica Spates – didn’t just want to tell a story using words or acting – they wanted to add a little pizzazz.
Social anxiety goes a lot beyond shyness in public. Portrayals of anxiety in popular media reducing it to a refusal to speak up doesn’t do the condition any justice.
With visual effects – the duo hoped to show Noah’s perception of his surroundings and how the world view of someone with such a mental disorder can be completely different from how the rest of us perceive the world – so much so that people with anxiety often behave the ways they do.
The production team made the decision to incorporate both visual effects and practical effects to achieve the required look for the programme. As far as we can tell, their operating principle was, “Anything that costs the least but still looks good”.
According to Animation Magazine, this was because they had to stretch about $300,000 of budget per episode.
While this sounds like a pretty large sum, anyone in the industry can tell you that successfully laying visual effects over a 28 minute episode for that amount will depend on the complexity of the shots required and how the VFX studio communicates with the production team to cut costs without scrimping on quality.
I think much credit is due to the US-based Company of Science and Art (CoSA), the chosen VFX studio of the team for their strategic recommendations to keep certain things purely CG while achieving certain other effects by combining CG with practical effects. For instance, by lowering a platform to simulate the action of quicksand and then patching the scene in post to create something realistic without breaking the bank.
There were many ways for The Healing Powers of Dude to illustrate Noah’s anxiety, the chosen approach was therefore both simple and effective. The younger viewers probably had an easier time digesting Noah’s emotions too since it only required a sense of sight – no need for excessive intellectualisation or complex theories about mental health issues.
Addressing global issues, health matters or any other concerns through films and shows has always been an excellent way of raising awareness or spreading a message.
The Healing Powers of Dude has done that remarkably well.
Now, all that’s left to do on your end is to make sense of these takeaways from the series and apply them to your own animated video.
But before you get started on that, you’ll want an experienced company which specialises in animation services – that’s when everything starts to come together. Animation, visual effects and motion graphics – consider incorporating any of these into your video to take it up a notch.
But if you’re someone who prefers to make your visuals ultra-realistic (right in your audience’s face, even) – something like projection mapping might do the trick.
Then, it’s time for you to rack your brain and tell your story. Whether it’s for a branding video or promotional product clip – you need a compelling plot to get the show on the road (confronting social anxiety disorder certainly did it for many families).
And… there you have it – you’re off to a great start. We hope your video turns out spectacularly!