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Interview: Madeline Sharafian Examines Her Love of Animals, How That Translates on Screen, and Her Short ‘Burrow’

Animated films often allow us a different vehicle to view animals as well as their emotions. In an animated film, we can connect on an entirely different level with another species and attempt to learn what their struggles or feelings may be. Madeline Sharafian is well aware of this, and the young animator, director, and writer utilizes this whenever possible.

Sharafian’s new short Burrow is the perfect example. Following a young rabbit that is attempting to build her dream house, we encounter a myriad of different animals throughout her journey. Each animal has their own personality, and the short feels very human while never losing the animalistic tendencies that make them each unique. I was honored to be able to discuss Burrow with Sharafian, and what ensued was a fun conversation centered on what we love most: animals. Check it out below:

Kendall Tinston: So I wanted to start off by letting you know that I looked you up and we’re the same age! I definitely haven’t done nearly as many cool things as you have though.

Madeline Sharafian: That’s so cool.

KT: Especially considering all of the incredible things you’ve done at such a young age.

MS: You’re also great!

KT: Aw, thank you. But one of those incredible things is Burrow! I’m a big animal person and I loved seeing the variety of animals you included in the short. They also each had their own distinct personality, like the badger being the head honcho and the rabbit being kind of jumpy. But I am curious how you decided which animals to include and did you go into it knowing how you wanted their personalities to translate on screen or did it happen organically?

MS: This is such a great question, no one has asked me this and I so badly want to answer it. Each animal I made character sheets and turn arounds for all of them and each animal grouping had its own personality type that went with it. Like the salamanders are really sort of relaxed, kind of lazy, very comfortable in their own skin, maybe too comfortable. And like you said, the badger is this kind of authoritative figure, no nonsense, but still a kind soul. For the most part—the badger and hedgehog are exceptions—I tried to base them around animals that I saw growing up in the California hills. I would really see little cottontail rabbits dart down into these burrows and if you’re sort of still enough or quiet enough you can sneak up on them pretty close before they duck away. My sister and I would also go out after its been raining and we would see these bright orange salamanders crawling around and sometimes they’re flipped over and they have that really, really bright yellow belly. These are animals that I very much loved and the badger and the hedgehog come from not my experience because those are more European animals, but they came from my sort of childhood like Beatrix Potter, there’s an amazing badger character in Redwall, so they felt like characters that were a part of my childhood cast of animals.

KT: That’s so funny, my sister loved Redwall growing up and we talked about it not long ago and she went to a bookstore and bought a bunch of the books to reread. 

MS: I just reread it, and the badger in Redwall, her name is Constance, and it’s 100% the badger from my short. Everyone assumes the badger is a guy but I’m like, “It’s obviously a lady!”

KT: My cat’s name is Badger, and he also appreciated the authoritative but kind character. And you have animated animals a lot, your first short was Omelette with a dog, then We Bare Bears, and now Burrow. What do you like about using animals in your works?

MS: There are so many reasons. I am an animal lover, obviously. I think sometimes you want to tackle a theme that might feel a little too personal, or it might feel, at least for me, I get nervous about people linking things back to me a little too much. So picking an animal persona to sort of get my feelings out and tackle a theme through for me feels more comfortable and to me also more fun. I can have a little more fun with animals’ fun proportions and pushing their designs. I think they’re just endlessly sweet and entertaining.

KT: I agree. The animation style reminded me almost of a really well done, really intricate doodle that came to life. Was it all created digitally?

MS: Yes, we used a program called TV Paint that is pretty intuitive. I make all my student films in the same program. I like that you think it looks like a doodle because we didn’t want things to be too tight. There are all these tools in TV Paint that you can kind of get lost in the weeds. You can make your animation look really, really perfectly on model and super tied down and perfect but we had such a short time frame to make this in, and also I just really enjoyed that her face could kind of change in every shot to fit the expression that we needed from her, their sizes kind of changed here and there, but I think that just makes things feel more like fun and interesting and alive in a weird way.

KT: I can definitely see that. What is either your favorite part of Burrow or which character is your favorite and why?

MS: Okay, let’s see. My favorite part, my favorite room, and I was very greedy because I did help with some of the backgrounds and I did save this one for myself, was the salamander bathroom. It’s my favorite room, if I could pick one to live in, it would be that one. I’m very jealous that I don’t have these soaking tubs in my real house. I think I will pick the badger for my favorite animal. There was more that I wish I could have gotten from her, I had a whole design for the inside of her house, and it’s something that I wish I could have found time to get in there but it didn’t really make sense and it would’ve just detracted from the moment. I really like her a lot.

KT: Can you give us any insight into what we can expect from you in the future, or any other kinds of animals you hope to portray?

MS: Well, I do like animals, but I can’t tell you too much.

KT: Well, we’re definitely excited to see whatever you do come out with. I wish you the best of luck with Burrow, it really is adorable.

MS: Thank you! Those were great questions, those were really fun to answer.

Both animal and movie lovers will be able to appreciate Burrow. Sharafian has managed to craft a breezy, bright, and energetic short that tells a story without dialogue, only the expressions and actions of animals and how they interact with one another. The six minute short is one that can be watched over and over again without losing viewers interest or admiration. Make sure to head over to Disney+ to watch Burrow for yourself.

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Written by Kendall Tinston

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