Sabrina Stoll’s animated short Snowflakes is a heartwarming short about a five-year-old cancer paint who rediscovers the power of her imagination and her positive attitude thank to a magical friendship in a children’s hospital. The short, which is co-written and produced by Tiziana Giammarino (Zoua, Elisa), has been appearing at the festival circuit for the past few months. Stoll was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about her creative process and charming project:
Can you tell us about the origins and inspirations behind your new short?
The stories I’m most passionate about sit at the intersection of entertainment and social impact, which is what drew me to co-writing and directing Snowflakes. It was important to me that this wasn’t just a story showing two girls going through a difficult time, but for the film to be a reminder that there are moments of hope, joy, and magic when we least expect to find them.
We contacted Disney’s Make-A-Wish foundation in the U.S., Germany and Switzerland to collaborate with us on this film to enable Wish Kids, ambassadors, and survivors to lend their voices to some of these characters. For the English version, we were lucky enough to work with 10-year-old cancer survivor Violet Spataro and three-time double-lung transplant recipient, Travis Flores, who made this an incredibly authentic experience. Violet had a lot of similarities with Lana, since she also actively hands out toys and cheers up other children battling cancer.
In Switzerland, we worked with an 8-year-old girl and her younger sister, who has been fighting cancer since birth. Just like our character Charly, she was stuck inside for weeks on-end while receiving chemotherapy, wishing that she could play outside in the snow. In Germany, we worked with two 7-year-old girls with Muscular Dystrophy, who were incredibly excited to be part of a film that reflected their experiences in the hospital. The children brought life and authenticity to the story, and their parents gave invaluable feedback and perspectives.
When did you start working on Snowflakes and how long did it take to complete?
I wrote the first version of Snowflakes in 2017 and then didn’t touch the script until I mentioned the story to writer Tiziana Giammarino a year later. She had just written and produced a beautifully animated short film called Zoua with kids suffering from Leukemia and was passionate about the overall ethos of this film. The script went through several rewrites before we eventually started fundraising in April 2021. It took us over a year to complete six minutes of animation and eventually completed the film in July 2022. Our wonderful director of animation, Sean Erwin Santia, is located in the Philippines and deserves special recognition for taking on the lion’s share of the work, as we unfortunately lost some team members to larger projects during production. Our team was usually working in two or three different time zones, which meant a lot of coordination and often unusually early or late hours for someone. Luckily, everybody who was involved in the project was determined to see the project through to completion, and we couldn’t be happier with the final result.
Which animation tools were used to create it?
We used Adobe Photoshop for character design and backgrounds, Adobe Animate for the character rigging and animation, and Adobe After Effects for the mood (lighting & shadows), visual effects, camera movement, and color compositions.
Can you talk about the visual style and overall look of the short?
We wanted to keep the overall visual style of the film childlike and innocent to emphasize that this is a story of hope and not despair. Hospital settings can have a very cold and dire atmosphere, which is why it was very important to me to bring a softness and warmth into this particular children’s hospital. We stuck to bright colors and playful shapes for the exteriors; and warm, wooden rooms and hallways for the interiors. We added a grainy texture to the animation whenever the characters moved to make the 2D look a bit more dynamic. The characters were developed in tandem with our animation director, Sean, with whom we spent many hours on Zoom coming up with the final looks for the film.
Who are your some of your animation idols?
One of my all-time favorite films is Wolfwalkers, which was produced by the Ireland-based studio, Cartoon Saloon. The magical, lush, hand-drawn animation of Wolfwalkers, paired with its themes of empathy and protecting nature (instead of dominating it), checks all of the boxes in my book. Their ability to tell meaningful stories, build complex characters, and create worlds that are both fantastical and deeply relatable are really inspiring to me.
What were the most memorable responses to your short?
The most touching responses came from the parents whose children had gone through similar experiences as Charly and Lana. One mother got very emotional after a screening, expressing to us how much it meant to her to see this story represented on-screen in a sensitive and authentic way. Many people expressed their admiration for involving children who are actively facing illnesses in the making of the film. They saw it as a meaningful way to bring awareness to their struggles and honor their bravery. It was humbling to see how our story resonated with so many people, and it served as a reminder of the power of storytelling to connect us all.
What do you hope audiences will get out of the short?
We wanted to create a film that shows audiences that even in an unfathomably difficult situation, there is room for levity and play to co-exist. While “Snowflakes” depicts two little girls fighting for their life, it was crucial to us that the story didn’t become too bleak or heavy. Instead, we wanted the film to serve as a source of hope and positivity. Our aim is for audiences to leave the theater feeling uplifted and inspired by the resilience and strength of these young characters, and inspired by the magical power of the imagination to create new realities.
Do you have any tips or advice for young animators who want to create their own shorts?
The most important advice anybody ever gave me was to pick stories you are passionate about and surround yourself with people you love working with. Animation is a long and expensive process, so we might as well try and have as much fun as possible while we’re in it. It’s possible to make animated short films all by yourself, but filmmaking in general is mostly a collaborative sport. Be mindful about the people you bring on-board, treat them with respect and kindness, and always remember why you’re making the film in the first place. For me, making shorts is about creating community and telling compelling stories that can inspire and move audiences around the world.
Watch the trailer below: