Homebird: Ewa Smyk's beautiful hand-painted film depicts the power of self-belief

For those of you who left behind a quiet hometown for the bright lights of a big city, a new hand-painted film by Ewa Smyk might resonate. Titled Homebird, the animation is a moving story of the importance of self-belief and the power of embracing your past.

In Homebird, we're introduced to a young artist called Nina, who leaves her tiny home village and moves to a nearby city in search of a career. But struggling to succeed in its creative industry, she soon retreats into the rose-tinted memories of the humble place she left behind.

Created in hand-drawn 2D animation combined with 3D-modelled and hand-drawn backgrounds, the final textural, analogue look was achieved by meticulously painting elements of each frame on acetate sheets using marker pens and acrylic gouaches – Smyk's take on a traditional 100-year-old technique.

It's a style of art that feels appropriate, given that Homebird's story was born from nostalgia and a "longing for a real place in the eastern Poland countryside" where Ewa's father comes from and where a part of her family still lives. "It was therefore important to me to include references to that specific place, which was crucial in shaping my personal, cultural, and artistic identity," Ewa tells Creative Boom. "I believe it made our character's story feel more authentic, as the village she comes from represents an existing culture."

These subtle references, accompanied by Ewa's personal illustration and animation style, include a bold and bright colour palette inspired by the folk embroidery art, the architecture and the interior of the village houses, the landscapes, and the music featuring the folk song performed by the local choir. It's a beautiful combination that perfectly embodies that inevitable homesickness we might get when we've left somewhere so important to us. It was undoubtedly something Ewa experienced during the final year of her studies. "The longing for my family home, which I was unable to visit more than a few days a year, was so overwhelming that it just kept on resurfacing in every story idea I was having, so it became clear that it had to be the core of whatever film I would make," she explains.

The other key theme in Homebird is of an artist searching for their creative voice and falling into pitfalls of self-doubt along the way. "As an artist, you must keep reminding yourself that your unique voice and style are worth not giving up on. Even if it doesn't fit in with what you see in the mainstream, it will eventually find its audience."

Of course, the story's ending reveals another sad truth: that despite missing "home", it will never be the same again. That life changes, we change. And, therefore, we can never go back. "We wanted to show how when our horizons expand, the place we come from may suddenly feel too small and that we'd outgrown it," Ewa explains. "In Homebird, our character feels stuck between two worlds, the city and the village. She doesn't feel like she belongs anywhere – the city feels too big, intimidating, scary. However, when she 'returns' to her village, she realises she doesn't fit there either."

However, there is a happy conclusion as the story's hero eventually learns an important lesson. "She realises that the love, warmth, and beautiful memories she's bringing from home to the city can empower her," says Ewa, "giving her confidence about what she represents as an artist and an individual."

An original score by Ukrainian composer Natalia Tsupryk accompanies the charming visuals. The project took over two years to produce and required thousands of individually hand-painted images to tell Nina's story. "I believe it will resonate with anyone who's left home to make their mark on the world," says Ewa.

A multi-awarded animation director and art director, Ewa Smyk graduated with an MA in Communication Design at Central Saint Martins in 2015 and an MA in Directing Animation at the National Film and Television School in 2020. Homebird is her second short film. Released in 2021, it has already won numerous accolades, included in the Academy Awards and BAFTA longlists, and has won Silver Screen at Young Director Award.

"I gravitate towards stories that have the potential to move the viewers and impact them in a positive, encouraging way. I also have quite a romantic worldview and a high appreciation for tradition and analogue crafts, all things handmade, textured, and physical," she tells us.

"On the other hand, I love silly-looking, funky characters and am currently developing a short that leans more into comedy with a slight slapstick feel to its humour. It’s been a fun challenge!"