Interview: Olga Mashanskaya
A closer look at animation with tips from MOVE Summit 2023

Headshot of Olga MashanskayaHeadshot of Olga Mashanskaya

Animator & Illustrator Olga Mashanskaya shares her learnings from MOVE Summit 2023 and gives us an insight into her work

As part of Animation Week 2023, a series of events to support the animation community in the North of England, we teamed up with Olga Mashanskaya to share some of the knowledge that was exchanged at this year’s MOVE Summit - Scotland’s animation gathering that offers workshops, screenings, receptions, exhibitions, and demos led by an array of world class industry experts and creatives.

Olga is an animator and illustrator who specialises in illustration, animation and 3D design. Find out more about her work, what she gained from the summit, and her favourite animated films in our interview with her below.

How did you get started in animation & illustration?

I always knew I wanted to be an artist. Initially it was fine art, I started on a course at BHSAD in Moscow, then switched to illustration a few months in. I realised fine art demanded too much self analysis from me, and the idea of drawing comics seemed really enticing at the time. It was the best decision I’ve ever made, because the illustration course allowed me to explore a wide range of techniques in image making, which included a few workshops in animation. In my third year I completed a 10 minute short film using stop motion animation, which gave me the confidence to continue developing my animation skills further.

Your work is filled with these fantastical, vibrant, brilliant creatures. Can you tell us about them and the current themes you’re exploring in your work?

I’m always interested in seeing people’s responses to my creatures, some find them genuinely disturbing, some say they’re adorable, but mostly it’s somewhere in between. A creature so ugly it’s cute, or weird and creepy but just appealing enough to be liked. I guess they’re unapologetically strange, which makes them special in my mind.

Themes that seem to be consistent in my work are transparency, big eyes, bony fingers, and being held. Something big is always holding something small, or something small is always juxtaposed against something big. Recently I’ve been thinking more about world building. I want to explore their environments, their history and their evolution. I’m currently in the process of developing a short film about a creature of mine, which is proving to be a great opportunity to not only ask myself these questions, but find answers as well.

What were some of the highlights of this year’s Scotland’s Animation gathering MOVE Summit 2023 for you?

The MOVE animation summit was a chance to meet other artists, get insights on current trends and immerse myself in a creative atmosphere. There was a large variety of talks, workshops and activities that targeted different aspects of the creative industry. It was a powerful reminder of just how many exciting new projects and opportunities are out there, not only professional work and career development but for collaboration and being part of this amazing community. The summit was full of passionate people who were all sharing their experiences and ideas. It was surreal to find myself in this crowd of other young artists, who are all part of the current generation of creators in the UK.

I had a chance to speak to quite a few animation studio representatives, and attend talks by a range of people who all work in animation production. Everyone seemed very open and honest, and I was able to ask genuine questions about how to continue developing my skills or how to apply for competitions and funding.

From presentations by Pixar to deep dives into visual ASMR, there was a lot of exciting work to take in. Can you share some key learnings and resources from the sessions you attended?

Session 1: Visual ASMR by Ivyy Chen

Ivvy Chen is a very talented artist, director and producer, who shared her experience of developing short films as well as working for professional studios. This talk was particularly useful for me as I’m currently in the process of developing a short film, and Ivyy shared great tips on overcoming those inevitable hurdles when trying to wear too many hats at once. When you’re developing your own film, whether it’s a short or a feature, you have to take on different roles which would normally be divided between a whole group of people in a big production or studio. Ivvy emphasised the importance of self discipline and good time management, as well as finding a community to share your ideas with. I had a chance to ask Ivyy a question at the end of the talk:

When working in isolation, do you ever struggle with a lack of scrutiny, or are you overly critical of your work?

To which she responded; find people you trust, practice summarising your story to your creative community and allow yourself to take breaks. This is very important advice, because working independently can be extremely challenging, and Ivvy’s tips can help in avoiding burnout, or hitting a wall in your creative progress.

Session 2: Tirrick – Writing and Developing an Animated Feature by Selina Wagner

Selina Wagner is an experienced artist with a fascinating background. She grew up in a fairly isolated environment, which influenced her work and gave her a unique perspective when it comes to storytelling. Through “Tirrick” Selina explores themes of abandonment, self-acceptance, freedom and migration. It’s a powerful piece fueled by Selina’s childhood experiences, love for birds and stories of small communities.

One of the most interesting aspects of Selinas talk was the process between forming an idea and making it tangible. You have to ground your thoughts through countless sketches, ask yourself questions about your characters in developing their personality, write and rewrite the script countless times, to finally bring it all together to present to a funding body. Same as Ivvy Chen, Selina stressed the importance of finding the right people to support and guide you through the process, as it’s dangerous to embark on such a big venture alone. Developing a feature film is not a straightforward process, small tweaks can have huge knock-on effects, and you can’t be good at every task that connects to the project. However, as daunting as it may seem, by believing in your story and finding the right people to work with, these challenges will be much easier to overcome.

Session 3: The JOURNEY THRU STUDIOS: Culture and Creative Processes talk by Doug Frankel of Pixar

When asked what they want to do in their career, many aspiring animators mention Disney or Pixar, and for good reason. These giants in animation produce projects on a global scale, universal stories loved by billions of people. Getting a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes is a rare and valuable opportunity for any animator, and the theatre hall at MOVE summit was packed to the brim when Doug Frankel was sharing his experience of working on huge animation productions such as WALL-E and Ratatouille. Doug Frankel has worked in the animation industry for 35 years, an unimaginable amount of time for someone in their mid 20’s.

A key takeaway for me was Doug’s approach to storytelling, and the importance of staying honest about joy and pain in character development. These emotions have to be shown through earned moments, which is what makes a story truly relatable to a big audience. You have to know your character, and ask yourself questions about their motivations, their goals and understand their character arc.

Session 4: My Father's Dragon, presented by Fergal Brennan

This was one of my favourite talks. Fergal Brennan explained the process of developing an animation pipeline on a large, full feature film, with all of its intricacies and complex systems. My Father’s Dragon is a visually unique animation, which makes it stand out among fleshed out and established styles of big animation houses such as disney and pixar. When working on my own short film I asked myself why I couldn’t achieve a certain visual style, and realising just how much work is hidden behind the scenes of these beautiful textures made me feel a lot better. It’s important to understand the scope of projects such as My Father’s Dragon, and their value as independent animations. The sheer amount of talent that’s brought together and concentrated within the process of such projects is so inspiring and so powerful. I hope to one day experience it first hand.

With all of this talk about animation, are there any animated films you would recommend for our watch list?

  • Over the Garden Wall (2014): A beautiful series with endless charm and depth. One of my favourites!
  • I Lost My Body (2019): This animated film has stunning visuals and a captivating story.
  • The House (2022): This series is a fascinating stop motion triptych, three stories, three different atmospheres all connected to the same house. If you’re a stop motion lover this is a must watch.
  • Hedgehog in the Fog (1975): This film is a true icon of soviet animation, unique for its time and even more valuable today.

And finally, can you tell us what you are or will be working on next?

The MOVE summit gave me the motivation I needed to continue developing my short film. It's called “Citrus Dream”, and tells the story of a little lemon person, who’s forced to leave his home and face a world he’s never seen before. I’m hoping to share it with you soon! Other than that I have a million passion projects I need to finish, including a music video of singing frogs. Loads of exciting stuff ahead!

Olga Mashanskaya is a Russian animator and illustrator, currently based in the UK. She specialises in illustration, animation and 3D design and started “O.GOOPKA” to showcase her work, and bring all her art together in one space. Find out more about Animation Week 2023

Image credit: all images courtesy of Olga Mashanskaya