Cannes Lions

Malak and the Boat

180LA, Santa Monica / UNICEF / 2016


1 Silver Cannes Lions
1 Shortlisted Cannes Lions
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Children's stories feature imaginative places with fantastical characters. While these worlds of wonder can bring delight to young audiences, there are some stories never meant for children.

That’s the message in the animated series “Unfairy Tales.” The first film, “Malak and the Boat,” chronicles the true story of seven year old Malak's harrowing journey across the Mediterranean Sea. Malak is one of eight million children whose lives are in ruins because of the Syrian conflict.

A custom animation algorithm gives the waves a stylistic behavior, as if the sea has a mind of its own, becoming another character in the story. Using a combination of bluish and dark tones for the entire scene, Malak stands to have a bright future as sunlight finally breaks at the end of the storm.


Now in its fifth year, the Syrian crisis has caused 2.4 million Syrian children to be displaced, and has left a total of eight million children in need of aid.

As the world’s leader in humanitarian aid for children, UNICEF has been working tirelessly to secure the protection and rights of these Syrian children.

This UNICEF film promoted its involvement in the Supporting Syria & The Region conference in London co-hosted by the world leaders of the UK, Germany, Kuwait, Norway, and the United Nations. More than 70 countries, international organisations, NGOs, civil society, and the private sector attended.

The animated story starts sweetly with enchanting music and Malak’s own youthful narration. Yet, quickly, the story is engulfed by dark and bluish tones blending faceless strangers on the boat, the night sky, and the sea into one massive nightmare. Malak is positioned as the hero for the animation, standing as the only bright use of color even while narrating the grotesque and tragic things she sees.

The sea was made on a single plane, yet through noise deformations in 3Ds Max and wave deformers, mimics the look of Jello or a toothpaste for kids. A custom CGI with 3D Studio Max animation algorithm gives the waves a fluid and stylistic behavior, as if the sea has a mind of its own, personifying Malak’s fear, and becoming another character in the story.

An animated texture of radial lines made in After Effects with some ripple deformations and turbulent displacement made it look alive. This animated black and white texture was then used as a displacement map at render time followed by corona renderer with zbrush.

Details like the sea foam curl were created using the z-depth as a map for the displacement.


The animated story hit a nerve with European audiences, and particularly in two of the countries most affected by the Syrian refugee crisis: Germany and Greece.

Germans accounted for 32% of the views, and Greece represented 30%. Over six television news networks in Greece also featured the video amongst their coverage of the Supporting Syria and the Region conference. In the film, Malak herself travels across the Mediterranean Sea, a common migrant path, which usually ends in Greece. Tragically, this film coincided alongside a deadly boat capsizing off the coast of Greece.

Public relations and external news sources drove 73% of the viewers to the YouTube page. An additional 25% of viewers came through social shares of the content.

88% of video plays came from the video embedded in press coverage. The most views happened on the day of the conference: February 4th. The animation held attention spans for 78%

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