Ready for a new book to read to the kids at bedtime? We’re all ears for Malina’s Jam, a new picture book by Walt Disney Animation Studios animator Svetla Radivoeva. The latest from the Walt Disney Animation Studios Artist Showcase series, Malina’s Jam follows a generous little hedgehog who shares her amazing raspberry jam with all of the other animals, but forgets to save some for herself for winter. What will she do? We chatted with Svetla to learn more about her new book, her role as the animation supervisor of the Nokk for Frozen 2, and even a few hints about her work on the upcoming film, Raya and the Last Dragon. Keep reading for the full interview below!
Hi Svetla! How long have you been an animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios?
Hello! I have been at the studio for almost nine years now.
Do you have a favorite film or project that you’ve worked on?
It is hard to tell. Each project has had its own charm and each has pushed me and helped me grow in a different way. If I really have to choose, I really enjoyed working on the first Frozen and on Moana.
What is your favorite medium for creativity?
This will be a very predictable answer, but I would say both drawing and animation. I can’t really choose one more than the other. They both have their own plusses. Drawing is much more immediate than animation, since animation consists of sequential drawings and you need to make many, many drawings to create what you feel you want to express. I am also a CG animator, which means that I animate on a computer. On the other hand, drawing is quicker. Well, sometimes it can also take a lot of time, since you are putting the attention of so many drawings to just one drawing, but often it can be just a sketch that expresses something. I love that when you see a drawing, you get an immediate emotion out of it. For animation – you have to add time to the equation. At the same time though, animation can make you cry and the emotion can be so much bigger and so much more inspiring, since you are bringing characters to life. It is hard to even express the amount of satisfaction that happens there.
Since I get to work as an animator, I do have less desire to create animation in my free time. I do have the amazing opportunity to flow those creative juices straight to the projects we do at work for the movies we create. I am sure that would be different if I didn’t have that option. So, in my free time at home, I focus mostly on drawing.
What was it like writing and illustrating Malina’s Jam?
It was a very interesting experience that helped me learn a lot about creating a story in a completely different medium than a movie.
I have to say that coming up with the story was the most challenging part, since I don’t have as much knowledge and experience in that field. I did have to make many iterations to achieve a story that was satisfying and that I was happy with. I also am super lucky that the text for the story was written by a professional writer that brought out the story and characters to another level and made it charming.
Illustrating the story was an incredible pleasure. It was the part of the process that I was more familiar with and also was super fun.
What is the inspiration behind Malina’s Jam?
Malina’s Jam started as an idea for a completely different story. It was a bit too ambitious, serious, and was going to be environmental, but it didn’t work at all and I had to go back and rethink it. I knew the elements that I wanted to have in it, but I had to clarify for myself what I wanted the story to be specifically about. The first take on it was just all over the place, didn’t have a focus point, and also didn’t have a heart. I knew I wanted it to have an animal as a main character that has to prepare for winter and will depend on the food it gathers. I knew something would happen that she would end up with no food. The rest came from many iterations of the story until it clicked and made sense. I love how it came out and it felt like I just had to give it the space to happen. In the end, all the pieces came together and clicked.
What were your hobbies and interests as a kid?
I loved reading and drawing and playing with my friends. Nothing has changed much since then!
What types of classes or electives did you take growing up?
I come from Bulgaria, so my parents really wanted me to know English and I did take English classes outside of school. Also, when kids go to high school they have to decide what they want to do in life and what they want to specialize in. I knew I wanted to be an animator, but there was no animation school for such a young age. I knew I had to go to a school that does emphasis in art. In order to be accepted in such a school, you have to do a drawing exam and to prepare for that I did take drawing classes. It was a similar process to when I was applying for university.
What did you study in school? What did you think you would be when you grew up?
I ended up in a high school that specializes in photography, so we had intense studies in photography. The hope was that photography has many common things with movies/animation and I knew since I was nine years old I wanted to become an animator.
Can you offer three tips for parents of kids who are interested in animation and/or storytelling?
I am not a parent yet, so I am not sure how entitled I am to give advice. I feel though encouraging the kids to be more creative and to express themselves through art, writing and creating is always a good thing. From the many stories I have heard from my colleagues – they all had creative tendencies that their parents didn’t stop and let them develop further. Allowing and helping an interest in reading stories, going to museums, and trying to introduce as much art as possible in kids life is always a plus.
What are you working on now? What’s next for you?
I am part of the animation team of Raya and the Last Dragon. After that we have many interesting projects in the studio so this for now is a surprise to me too!