AKQA and Ukrainian artist Mariia Shub’s handmade Christmas animation is one of hope

The new short launches with typography from Kyiv Type Foundry, animation direction by Rodion Shub and a soundtrack from Kyiv Children's Choir Shchedryk.

15 December 2022


Little Wings is the name of a new stop frame animation that launches today (15 December) from digital design and communication agency AKQA, Ukrainian artist Mariia Shub and animation director Rodion Shub. It draws specifically from Ukrainian Christmas imagery to tell the story of a swallow who guides carol singers to a family in need of renewed hope, ending with a message of hope and “acknowledgement to the current situation in Ukraine” – “For out of Winter’s darkness always comes Spring’s light”. Every element of the film has been handcrafted by production designer Mariia using traditional and digital methods – though the project also features the combined creative force of multiple practices.

Kyiv Type Foundry – whose main output is Cyrillic fonts – delivers typography on the project. Its Compact typeface, which pays tribute to the culture of wooden typography, is combined with Mariia’s “intricate character designs and decorative Petrykivka-inspired elements”, AKQA creative director Ludvig Pehrson says. “After a phone call with Kyiv Type Foundry co-founder Yevgeniy Anfalov, it became clear that we could shape the Little Wings project together with their fonts, and find an expression that everyone loved,” the creative director adds. KTF Forma, a type from Ukrainian designers Yevgeniy Anfalov and Viktor Kharyk inspired by Aldo Novarese’s Forma (Nebiolo, 1968) also features. The soundtrack, a folk version of the 100-year-old song Shchedryk (Carol of the Bells) sung by Kyiv Children’s Choir Shchedryk, is of particular significance to the film, going beyond an editing choice into a source of inspiration for Mariia.

“Every pre-animation process for me starts with the first image that comes from the music,” says the artist. “With Shchedryk I saw the endless blue sky and the light of warm stars. I wanted the texture of the decorative sky canvas to remain throughout Little Wings to enhance the feeling that everything was crafted by hand.” To complete Little Wings, Mariia worked with her brother Rodion, who built the scenes layer by layer. “Making a 2D animation of this kind is a highly iterative process,” says Laura Minton, AKQA producer. “Mariia and Rodion were in a constant feedback loop together about what was working and what was not. It’s a project of pure craft with a message of love and hope, and it reminds us of the power of connecting passion with purpose.”


Mariia Shub / Rodion Shub / AKQA: Little Wings (Copyright © AKQA, 2022)

Another level of difficulty came from the fact that Rodion and Mariia were working across time zones, with Mariia currently based in the UK and Rodion in Montreal. Together the pair “figured out how to place each layer of paper, build the compositions, and test the movements of each layer, before committing to the animation”, says the artist. AKQA originally met Mariia when she settled in London with her daughter; the idea for Little Wings first arose over a cup of coffee between the artist and agency, when Mariia mentioned that the most traditional song in Ukraine during the holiday season is Shchedryk, with the project building out from there.

Watching Little Wings, viewers can find reference to Ukrainian traditions and historic imagery throughout – realised in a range of mediums, from watercolours to pastels. “It was important to me that Little Wings featured clear and recognisable images from Ukrainian Christmas stories, so the rich colour scheme and the stylisation of the characters’ faces and hands are similar to native folk icons,” says Mariia. The research process saw Mariia reviewing region-specific Ukrainian customs, “photographs of the traditional stars that Ukrainian carollers make each year at Christmas”, and even types of houses and interiors in traditional Ukrainian styles.

On what Mariia hopes audiences will take from the project, the artist shares: “The story of Little Wings teaches us to share joy and music with those near and far, and how good wishes give us hope that the next year will be better than the last.” The short is available to watch above, and will also soon be shared across The Ukraine Ministry for Culture’s social channels.

GalleryMariia Shub / Rodion Shub / AKQA: Little Wings (Copyright © AKQA, 2022)

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Mariia Shub / Rodion Shub / AKQA: Little Wings (Copyright © AKQA, 2022)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. In January 2023, they became associate editor, predominantly working on partnership projects and contributing long-form pieces to It’s Nice That. Contact them about potential partnerships or story leads.

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