Interview with Elena CIOLACU (United Kingdom), illustrator and filmmaker animation


The young Romanian artist from UK has been noted with the short film Remember Me, presented at the last edition Anim’est in the student competition. Elena Ciolacu studied illustration and animation at Coventry University in the UK.

Remember Me is the story of a Romanian soldier on the Eastern Front of the Second World War. He goes to war with homesickness soul and dies on the battlefield thinking oƒ all his family.

Elena won the grand prize at Creative Conscience Awards in the category „Illustration and Animation”.

Currently Elena stays in touch with a recruiter from the well known animation studio Laika, who have enjoyed her work. She aims to develop the portfolio and then to try to hire at Kandor Graphics in Spain, the studio that made animated feature film produced by Antonio Banderas, Justin and the Knights/ Knights of Valour Justin and the Lynx/ El Lince Perdido and the Lady and the Reaper/ La dama y la muerte.

Why did you choose animation?

The field of animation combines perfectly my love for film and storytelling with my passion for drawing. The first time I truly considered the possibility of working in animation was after being introduced to the work of Japanese director an animator Makoto. I was fascinated with his style and the sensibility of his stories, but what really blew my mind was the fact that he had created his debut animations all by himself, and they had exceptional quality! I then realised that my dream of creating stories and the experience of being part of them like he did, was not unattainable…

I saw your animation movie Remember Me. Congratulations! I love it. You put emphasis on directing style and less on animation. Please tell me about your short film. What is it about? What animation techniques did you use? It is a school film? How much money haveyou invested in the film? Did you have a budget for this film? Why did you choose this topic? Your grandparents had fought on the Eastern Front?

“Remember me” presents the story of a Romanian soldier on the Eastern Front of WWII. He is heading for war, dearly missing his home, and dies on the battlefield. But the story has a deeper substrate which speaks about the drama of our soldiers who fought on the Eastern Front and who have been so unjustly forgotten by history.

The animation technique which I’ve used is called rotoscoping. I’ve also used the Adobe softwares: Photoshop, Flash and Premiere Pro.

Yes, it’s a school project, my graduation project more precisely.

All I invested in this project was a lot of time and work. Because I created it alone I did not need to pay other artists or contributors, also being made for academic purposes I did not need to pay for the songs I used.

My grandfathers did not fight in the war (one was too young and the other was an invalid) but their brothers did. From the very beginning I wanted to approach a theme related to our culture or history. The reason was not some desire of mine to satisfy my nationalism before a people who despises us, but an honest passion for history and q wish to explore such a rich source of teachings and inspiration. As I was doing research on the Romanian army in WWII and I was reading past and current testimonies of soldiers and war veterans, I was more and more outraged realising how we’re burying their memory, how history ignores them, understanding that there were so many things I should have known, that we all should know, which should be presented as they fully deserve in school textbooks, but we only find out about if we go digging through archives on our own.

Please tell me about the testimonies of Romanian soldiers and veterans. What have you found? What do you do with the stories discovered during the research for the film?

I did not find out a certain answer or some piece of information, but just countless stories and testimonies from the battlefield, various cases of survival, courage, kindness, which all impressed me greatly and made me see such cruelty in the fact that these men have gone through the worst war, wholeheartedly did their duty for our country and yet we do not even remember them, not even mentioning the injustice of the Stalingrad episode and stigma of shame which is still attached to it. I can’t remember the exact names and information, but if I’m not mistaken not long ago the president of the Association of Romanian War Veterans approached the government to discuss the problem of the small financial support offered to war veterans. When he told the government representative that he himself was a war veteran and the he had fought at Stalingrad his answer was: “Who sent you at Stalingrad ?!”. The war veteran said that neither the prison, nor the communists or poverty had humiliated him as much as those words spoken under the roof of the very institution which represents the country, the same country for which he had fought and his comrades died.

Many of the testimonies which I read impressed me because of the extraordinary nobility of character and the humaneness proved by our soldiers under those unimaginable circumstances. These are the stories that I wish would be told. Maybe I am a bit too subjective in my impressions but I dare say that due to the Romanian peasants, who were the common soldiers, our army had a certain innocence that other armies did not have, one given by the simplicity and kindness of their soul. It wasn’t indoctrinated hatred or fanaticism that which motivated their fight, but the honest belief in the fight to free Basarabia, their duty towards the country and the future of the country which they had to protect from the Bolsheviks. A lieutenant wrote a letter to his mother from Don’s Bend, he was saying how much they were suffering but that they had strength thinking they were fighting for their country, that “we are fighting for the future generations, to make it better for them”… and look what we’ve done of their sacrifice… Some Hungarian women remembered how they were scared of the Russians and the Germans but not of the Romanians, and how three Romanians had helped a girl hide so that the Russian soldiers wouldn’t find her. Another soldier remembered how when he was first sent on the Eastern Front he didn’t want to shoot the Russians but because he didn’t have any choice he then close his eyes and started shooting saying that he “let the bullet choose its Russian”.

The grandfather of one of my friends was a commander or officer on the Eastern Front, I can’t remember for sure, and throughout the entire length of the war his sole purpose was to keep his men alive and kill as few as possible among the enemy’s army. When the Romanian army turned its guns against the Germans, on one occasion he had to take part with the Russians in an ambush where a very large number of German soldiers were to be killed somewhere in the mountains. Together with his men, his had to distract the Germans and at the moment the Russians would fire at them from all sides. When the German convoy of cars was close enough , my friend’s grandfather came out of his hideout and rising his hand he shouted “Halt!”. The German commander was confused knowing that the Romanians weren’t fighting on their side anymore, so he got out of his car and agitated went to see what he wanted. The Romanian simply stopped him, took his own binocular and put it at the German’s eyes and pointed at a place somewhere in the mountains. The German then realised that the mountains were swarming with Russians. He was so impressed and touched by the Romanian’s act of kindness that he ran back to his car, grabbed a pair of golden framed spectacles and a leather strap used of sharpening shaving blades, and gave them to him. Those objects are still in his family’s possession to this day.

I’ve also read many stories whose Romanian-native humour made me endearingly recognize the witty sense of survival of the ever inventive Romanian. There was one soldier who recollected how he and his comrades had disarmed a bunch of Russians who had attacked them using baked potatoes instead of grenades (it s well known how poorly the Romanian army was equipped).

There are countless other such stories which I have read. The Germans were very impressed with the Romanian soldiers saying that they could have been a great army had it not been for their incapable commanders.

I am not saying that our army was perfect and I do agree that in every army there must have been such incredible acts of courage, but… our soldiers don’t even have graves, they have been forgotten. Somewhere, in a corner of a German cemetery close to the former Stalingrad, there are a few graves of some unknown Romanian soldiers and a big cross. That is all. Apart from this, there is the sad fate of so many Romanian cemeteries from across the land of former USSR, which have been completely destroyed and had buildings built on top without even the bodies being taken out of the graves. These facts are so heartbreakingly sad and it is so unjust that we do not even know about them and we limit ourselves to reading only the few lines in the history text-books which present dates, places and defeats but not the individual stories of so many extraordinary Romanian soldiers.

Sadly, right now I cannot do much about these stories apart from just passing them on myself, orally and through my art, through a comic strip and hopefully even an animation one day. But I do wish that this subject would be approached in our cinematographic industry as it fully deserves. We have to educate ourselves about these facts through such other means as well. We’ve had many films dealing with the communist time but I would like us to go back to what was before of it as well, I would like for all those stories to be told, to have the Romanian soul presented as it was before its “great mutilation”, to have it shown to all of us what kind of extraordinary people we descend from…

What is your next project?

I am currently developing the story for a comic strip – a personal project.

What are your future plans? Do you want to go back to the country or do you want to stay in the UK?

I want to live in Romania. At the moment I will of course follow the path of opportunities, but I will definitely not stay abroad for ever. I am convinced that one can make animation in Romania as well, we only need people and passion and I am sure we have plenty of both as well. Let’s take the example of our brothers across the Prut: the Simplas Studios from Moldova are currently working on a 3D animated feature film which has sparked the interest of Disney, and everything started from a very small team and a few short films they created.

How’s a young illustrator in UK?

For now I only have to make a living here for 2 more weeks. I am currently doing an internship for a design company company in London but then I’ll see if I am to stay here and for how long. As an illustrator I can work from anywhere, my location is not as important as my portfolio and skills, especially today when the internet does the advertising job.

How would you describe your artwork?

For me my work is something necessary, I’ve been doing it for so long that is a part of me now. At the moment it’s a continuous search of my own style of expression but generally it’s a way for me to tell my own stories and a possibility to help people thusly. One of the projects dearest to me is a comic strip which I created for a competition in the UK, called Creative Conscience Awards, and which also won first prize in the Illustration and Animation category. The competition aims to encourage artists from various creative industries – film, illustration, graphic design, fashion, product design etc. – to create a work through which they approach an ethical subject or a cause they stand up for and try offer a solution or a form of help. The reason why this project is more special to me is the fact that my work actually managed to bring a bit of help and hope to those whom I tried to help, the bullied children. This phenomenon known as “bullying” is causing ravaging damages among teenagers abroad, who often commit suicide or grow up with acute psychological problems. I’ve published my comic strip on the internet here:

Where can the art lovers see you?