A desperate mother with an incurably ill baby ventures into the dark woods long believed to be the home of Baba Yaga, a mystical witch with the power to change fate.

Nicole Sitanski

Nicole Sitanski has always been fascinated with the lasting power of storytelling and the effect certain fables have on cultures all around the world. She believes storytelling transcends not only time but lifestyles and cultures, and is at the core of all forms of art. Inspired by both new and old mediums, she tries her best to tell a story through what she creates in order to immerse herself – and hopefully others – into new worlds.

Cheryl Taam is a Vancouver-based 3D artist who is inspired by early 2000s CG films like Monsters’ Inc and The Incredibles. She is a recent graduate of the Animation program at Emily Carr University.

What inspired your film?

Nicole: The film is inspired by a Polish lullaby my mother would sing to me at night called “Na Wojtusia z popielnika”, which translates to “From the Ashtray of Wojtus”. The lullaby begins with a candle that draws you close with the promise of a story, then briefly begins to tell fairytales but never really goes into depth. To end this children’s song the lullaby finishes abruptly by saying the candle has suddenly blown out, not really ever getting into any of the stories at all. I believe this is just the lullaby’s way of making a child fall asleep, but it has always left me in awe after my mother left my bedroom. My imagination was always running! The film is inspired by the mystery surrounding this song, in particular the lyric that mentions Baba Jaga as one of the tales before it ends. I was inspired by this spontaneity and playfulness of Polish folklore and thought it might be fun to make it into a short.

What was the biggest challenge in making your film?

Nicole: “Baba Yaga” was actually my first real stab at CG animation. Previously I had only dabbled in 2D animation and was immediately overwhelmed by all the technical aspects I had to understand in order to create the film. At times it was a frustrating process because I hadn’t known how to do a lot of things my classmates could (who had been learning 3D animation from the very beginning of their degree) and I was often disappointed with my own results. Luckily I had the support of my professor and classmates who helped me along the way with their critique and encouragement. It was a lot of hard work and many sleepless nights, and I can’t say I’m totally satisfied with the results even now, but the journey was worth it. I’m especially grateful to those who had motivated me when things were particularly difficult. I’m proud that I had ventured out of my comfort zone and took the risk to try something new because I would have never discovered my passion for CG otherwise.

Cheryl: The biggest challenge for me was overcoming technical challenges like learning new software and skills.

What was the best part of the experience for you?

Nicole: The most gratifying aspect of making the film was bouncing my ideas off of others, like my friends and family. It was exciting to add a new shot or twist in the story and see everyone’s reactions and thoughts. I was really pleased with the amount of collaboration the film brought about, everyone pitching their own ideas and getting excited about the process. One of my favorite experiences was recording my mom and my cousin for the voices of the mother, witch and daughter. We would goof around a lot while we recorded and sometimes some of the script would get really jumbled and would make us laugh. It was really cool to be able to bring people I cared about into something I loved to do. Having a group of people with you during the process made it really enjoyable even when the going was tough. I’m really happy we were able to make some great memories, and have something to remember it by too!

Cheryl: The best part of working on this project was getting to see the final film. It was very satisfying to see the product of months and months of work.

What advice would you give inspiring filmmakers?

Nicole: Don’t be afraid to fail! Try to make as many mistakes as you can, because you’ll always wish you failed triple the amount long before you decide to make that ‘masterpiece’ project. That way you can learn those mistakes and lessons beforehand, and avoid them when it really matters. By going through that messy process, embarrassing moments and disappointments the closer you will be getting to exactly where you want to be. There is no avoiding it, so the sooner you start to shamelessly make those experiments and attempts, the better off you’ll be. However it’s important to make sure you finish that ‘thing’, even if you think it’s not worth it. Having a record of all of your attempts is invaluable to your development as an artist, and looking back at old ideas can spark new ones in your future. Just because you weren’t able to do it back then, doesn’t mean you won’t be able to do it now! In fact, just by having it exist in a space that isn’t your head can make it easier for you to see where you want to head next. So get out there!

Cheryl: Some advice I would give to other aspiring filmmakers is to never give up and always finish a project.

What’s next for you?

Nicole: “Baba Yaga” was the first, but certainly not last CG project I will make! Currently I am happily working within the VFX industry but hope to continue my love of storytelling on the side with my own personal projects. Part of the difficulty of making “Baba Yaga” was the amount of different ideas and possibilities that came through during its creation. It was hard to settle with just one idea and see it to its end. I’d now like to explore those different faucets and see where they take me. Hopefully I’ll be able to meet more people through future projects and hear their stories too!

Cheryl: I’m looking forward to working in the VFX industry.