For out of winter’s darkness always comes spring’s light.
A gift from the past, to the present
Shchedryk, known by many as the popular holiday song Carol of the Bells, is a traditional Ukrainian folk song heralding the coming of spring.
2022 marks the centennial celebration of the North American premiere of Shchedryk at New York’s Carnegie Hall – a timely opportunity to discover and share its roots of hope and joy with the world through the artistic talent of Ukraine for the holiday season.
Ringing in its true meaning
The original well-wishing lyrics tell the tale of a swallow flying between households, proclaiming the plentiful year that the family will have, serving as inspiration for the tale of Little Wings. Accompanied by the Shchedryk melody, Little Wings is the story of a lonesome swallow’s adventure to guide carol singers to a family in need of renewed hope, brought to life in handcrafted 2D animation.
Mariia Shub, award-winning Ukrainian production designer and artist, who was displaced to the UK with her two daughters, and her brother Rodion Shub, animation director, who was displaced to Canada with his family, worked alongside AKQA to tell the real story of Carol of the Bells as a gift to the world.
Taking inspiration from Ukraine’s rich cultural heritage and historical colours, motifs and symbols, Mariia used a combination of traditional painting and drawing methods with digital techniques to craft every element of Little Wings.
The ultramarine deep blue sky was the starting point, painted by brush with acrylic on canvas in the decorative Petrykivka style defined by its distinctive flower patterns. Upon this, a rich winter scene was built using layers of painted watercolour and pencil-drawn hills with snowflakes falling onto snow-topped trees, inspired by Mariia’s first encounter with carollers singing Shchedryk in the Carpathian Mountains stretching from the Czech Republic through Ukraine to Romania, when she was a child.
The birds and horses are Mariia’s tribute to the late Maria Pryimachenko, a Ukrainian folk art painter who worked in the native style, and the characters’ costumes are representative of the different regions in Ukraine.
The elaborate stars are crafted by pencil on coloured card with each individual element cut out and laid one atop the other to create depth and parallax to the sky. Rodion applied the same meticulous technique to the characters; each was cut out and animated limb by limb to create their movement.
Kyiv Children’s Choir Shchedryk, one of Ukraine’s most recognised youth musical ensembles who performed Shchedryk at the centennial concert at Carnegie Hall, provides the Little Wings soundtrack, led by Artistic Director and Chief Conductor, Marianna Sablina. The film features sound design by composer, producer and international DJ, Damon Baxter.
Reflecting on the creative process, Mariia said: “Little Wings is a beautiful way to share that Shchedryk is a Ukrainian song, and to learn its roots. Few people know that it was composed and performed during a previous time of intense political struggle and social upheaval in Ukraine. It is always sung together in a choir, making the music a connector of people.”
Mariia continues: “Little Wings features powerful Ukrainian motifs of renewal and regeneration, including seeds, the tree of life, mountains and the swallow. The star is Ukraine’s ancient and well-recognised symbol of hope for humanity, for out of winter’s darkness always comes spring’s light. We want viewers to be left with feelings of gratitude, love for the song and hope for the world.”
The Little Wings film poster combines Mariia’s watercolour swallow and decorative Petrykivka inspired floral arch with Kyiv Type Foundry’s Compact typeface that pays tribute to the culture of wooden type, juxtaposing yet complementing each other as one unified statement. The use of vivid blue, bright yellow stars and Cryllic translation set the scene for the story of Little Wings.
Little Wings is presented with typography made by Kyiv Type Foundry (KTF), a Cyrillic first type foundry from Kyiv that works to bridge the gap between generations. Established by designers Yevgeniy Anfalov and Oleś Gergun, KTF’s practice is a long-term homage to Ukraine’s rich history.
KTF Compact is a display typeface that exists on the edge of readability. Its shape drives the idea of display typography to the absolute maximum. KTF Forma is Yevgeniy Anfalov’s and fellow Ukrainian type designer Viktor Kharyk’s interpretation of Aldo Novarese’s Forma (Nebiolo, 1968). Like its origin, it follows the principle of ‘what you see is what you get’, streamlined for a digital world.
An unfolding journey on the wings of hope
Little Wings was shared across AKQA channels, inviting over a quarter of a million people to discover delight in the allegorical handcrafted animation.
Sam Kelly, Chief Marketing Officer, AKQA said: “Meeting Mariia was a serendipitous moment. Initially, we planned to connect her with the UK creative community. Upon seeing the beauty of her handcrafted work, and hearing her story of Shchedryk, we wanted everyone to know that the song you listen to during the holiday season is a story of hope and love from Ukraine.”