“The Envelope Story” — behind the scenes of the first Moldovan anti-corruption cartoon
“The Envelope Story” — the first anti-corruption cartoon produced in the Republic of Moldova with the support of UNDP was launched in December 2021 at the “Spiru Haret” high school in Chișinău.
The students as well as their teachers participated at the screening with great interest, being captivated by the subject of the story. How much work the production process involved, and which were the challenges for the creative team, we learned from the cartoon’s authors — UNDP Moldova team, screenwriter Leontina Vatamanu and creative director of Pixtoon Animation Studio, Denis Simonov.
Victoria Popa, project coordinator, UNDP Moldova: “We needed an attractive format, through which to convey the message of integrity to children”
How did the idea of making a cartoon on the anti-corruption topic come?
The idea of producing a cartoon about corruption and integrity came from the National Anticorruption Center, which had conducted several information campaigns until that time, including in schools, and was looking for a topical teaching tool for children. The mission of such a tool was to visualize the phenomenon of corruption and integrity as a value, in a way which is understandable to students, to captivate them and generate discussions after the screening, including in their families, but at the same time to be easy to use for teachers. Discussions on the concept of the cartoon began in the summer of 2020 and within a few months the screenwriter presented the first versions of the story.
To whom is this cartoon addressed to?
“The Envelope Story” is addressed primarily to gymnasium students, as it was designed as an interactive teaching tool for lessons on anti-corruption and integrity, but it is also for preschool children. I think the story has an important and very topical message for every citizen, of any age and occupation. That is why it can be watched not only at school, but also with the family, together with the parents and grandparents.
What message does the cartoon convey to children?
The cartoon illustrates how corruption occurs and conveys the message that every member of the society, from young to older, decides not to get involved in corruption and how to use a regular envelope.
We can all contribute to that great change which we strive for, through our own example of integrity and intolerance to any form of corruption. And young people have the mission to contribute to the creation of a strong society and institutions, based on integrity.
How will this tool continue to be used in schools?
The cartoon will be shown at civic education lessons, as well as other relevant subjects, in all schools in the country. It will also be disseminated on social networks and screened by anti-corruption volunteers during the activities they conduct in the institutions they study — schools and universities. And last but not least, we believe that children will be the ones who will encourage their parents to watch this cartoon with them.
Leontina Vatamanu, screenwriter: “The most complicated thing is to turn the anti-corruption theme into a form easily understood by children”
To write the script of a children’s cartoon on the topic of corruption is a creative challenge. How did you accept it?
Yes, indeed, writing a script about fighting corruption is a challenge, because the most complicated thing is to turn this theme into a form that is easily understood by children and is not rigid but is interesting. I thought for a few days about what might interest children, and chose this Postman character, because the postman can witness many life situations. A postman is the one who collects envelopes, different kinds of envelopes.
Why is it important for children to know what corruption is and what its effects are?
Children empathize a lot. They are so clean, open and innocent. I was thinking that I should create some recognizable situations for them, so that they could put themselves in the shoes of the cartoon’s characters and make this distinction between right and wrong. I believe that today’s children are very well informed and know very well what problems the society is facing. This cartoon is a subject of reflection for them, a topic for them to assimilate. Eventually, we would like them to discuss this topic at home with their parents and grandparents. To know it and also to know its consequences. Two realities are shown in the cartoon — a bad one and a good one. And they of course want to live in a good reality, that is without corruption.
Why did you choose the title “The Envelope Story”?
“The Envelope Story” is about two kinds of envelopes which people can pass on and which can have different consequences — happy and sad. The latter are the envelopes of corruption, with bribes, which turn people from honest people into dishonest people and means breaking the law. And the happy ones are the envelopes with wishes and dreams, which children send to Santa Claus.
How was the cartoon received by children and teachers?
We had an extraordinary pleasure to screen this film at “Spiru Haret” high school, to some fifth graders who were very active and very involved in the discussion after the screening.
I was nervous and worried about how they would react and if they would understand the message and if I did the right thing. However, by their reaction I realized the cartoon had reached their hearts. We hope that the story will remain somewhere in their consciousness, and when they grow up, they will remember that it is not good to give bribes.
We understand that this goal might sound too ambitious, but you never know. Sometimes a book or a cartoon impresses you and somehow shapes you in a certain way.
Do you think the cartoon has achieved its goal and can be continued?
By the reaction that I saw in children, I think the cartoon has achieved its goal. Where there are more complicated moments for them, the National Anticorruption Center volunteers will come, have lectures, and explain to them. I believe this topic should be continued, especially in everyday life. It would be good for parents to watch this cartoon with their children and hear their reactions. And I think that parents, who are role models for their children, will react differently. Just because they have seen so much innocence, so much openness, and so much altruism in their children, I think they would be ashamed to commit dishonest deeds.
Denis Simonov, creative director at Pixtoon Animation Studio: “Everything takes place as if by magic — you dream, see the images and give them life”
Pixtoon Animation Studio literally “gave life” to this animated film. Is it the first creation on the topic of anti-corruption?
“The Envelope Story” is the first cartoon produced by Pixtoon Studio on the anti-corruption topic, but we previously had animation attempts and various social spots on these topics.
Was it complicated to craft the characters, to find the visual version of what was on paper, so that it could be understood by children?
We have been creating cartoons and characters since 2006. This work is pleasure for us. That is why, it is not difficult for us to illustrate any themes. It all starts with the script. In it, each word has its own weight and its own tone, and this determines the style in which the cartoon will be produced.
Usually, everything takes place as if by magic — you dream, see the images and give them life. Our work, in fact, is a compilation of the technical part and creation. I usually associate the project with a ship going to a destination.
A cartoon always involves teamwork which should have a captain. This is the director; he/she sees the direction and leads to the expected result.
How much did it take you to draw the scenes from “The Envelope Story” and how many painters and animators were involved?
We made the cartoon for about three months. During that time, we worked on the concept, script, illustrations, etc. About ten specialists were involved in the production process. Together we produced 168 scene illustrations and 15 characters, to finally have a five-minute story. It is neither little, nor a lot, because it takes time to conceive such a story and to reveal the world of the characters. That’s why we tried to make sure that during those five minutes, the audience got emotionally involved and understood the message of the story.
Which were the most difficult scenes to illustrate?
In general, the technique we used in “The Envelope Story” — 2D animation — is a two-dimensional technique that limits the movement of the characters; it is a flat world if we compare it with the 3D world, in which the famous contemporary drawings are made. In such cases, the most complicated is to make a detailed, action-rich scene. And, of course, not to lose the emotion, the narrative, so that it reaches the viewers in the end.
Did it turn out the way you wanted?
Yes. We believe that corruption is a problem in our country; it is a root cause of many evils in the society and must be curbed. We addressed a young audience and made the story understandable to everyone, and I think we succeeded. The children’s reaction during the story screening was sincere; I saw the message had remained in their souls.
The cartoon “The Envelope Story” was produced within the project “Curbing corruption by building sustainable integrity in the Republic of Moldova,” implemented by UNDP Moldova, with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway.