The balls of a swan, jumping from a rooster to a donkey, and an angel urinating on your tongue – just some of the bizarre and amusing idioms and phrases from around the world that have been recreated as animations as part of London College of Communication’s Graduate Residency Programme.

Ermina Takenova, a graduate of LCC’s BA (Hons) Illustration & Visual Media course, developed 15 fun and quirky animations for sayings from Latvia, Armenia, Mexico and more – exploring cultural differences (and similarities).

The project was funded by LCC’s pilot Graduate Residency Programme, supporting LCC graduates in the rapid development of innovative projects which have the potential for significant social change or economic impact – in response to the 2017/18 theme  of ‘Diverse Communities’.

Having already caught up with Ermina at the start of her project a few months back, we sat down with her again to find out about the process behind the project and how she found taking part in LCC’s pilot Graduate Residency Scheme…

What did you want to achieve with your project?

My main motivation was to show the unique sense of humour, quirkiness and the different ways of thinking each language and culture has. One of my goals was to focus on languages that many people don’t even know exist or know very little about. I have also included the idioms written in their original language in the animated film, as I was very keen on showing them in their true form, using the languages’ alphabets.

Latvian saying “To blow little ducks” (“Pūst pīlītes”), meaning to talk nonsense or to lie. Animation by Ermina Takenova.

I wanted to create a piece of work that is humorous and educational at the same time, so people could have fun watching it and learn something new. I think this project has a potential to offer a lot of new perspectives and shows the way different cultures think. I also wanted to show the beauty of each language and I think each idiom shows the cultural wisdom and sense of humour in a nutshell.

I’m hoping this project will spark a further interest in the languages and cultures included in the animation and will encourage people to learn more about them and other cultures in general. I was also very happy to work on a project which promotes cultural diversity and spreads a positive message. I believe learning about each other’s cultures will help humanity erase the pointless boundaries. Our cultural differences are here to make our world more colourful, vibrant and exciting, not to divide us.

How did you find the process of researching the idioms and phrases? Did anything take you by surprise?

The research process to find all the different idioms and phrases was really fun and interesting. I’m very lucky to have friends from all over the world, who helped me out a lot. It was so difficult to pick the idioms for the final animation, as people have shared so many with me and I found a lot of great ones online too – all of them are brilliant and clever.

Dutch saying “As if an angel pisses on your tongue” (“Alsof er een engeltje over je tong piest”), meaning something tastes very good. Animation by Ermina Takenova.

When making the final selection, I was aiming to have each idiom roughly represent a continent or region, in order to create as wide a variety as possible. I was also trying hard to pick idioms from languages and cultures that are lesser known worldwide, for example, one of my friends gave me an idiom from Namibia in Oshiwambo language. I’m from Kazakhstan myself and naturally I wanted to include an idiom from the Kazakh language.

I’ve been living in very culturally diverse communities since an early age – growing up in Kazakhstan, which is a very multinational country, and later moving to England at the age of 15. Growing up under the influences of 3 cultures– Kazakh, Russian and British – and living together with people of many other different ethnicities, have sparked my interest in the cultures and languages of the world. But while researching for this project, I was still impressed by the vastness of diversity of our planet, there is always so much to learn about the other cultures.

One of the things I enjoyed the most while researching, was finding similarities (even the very subtle ones) in idioms and sayings between different cultures and languages. I found it quite heartwarming, as it shows that despite our differences, we have a lot of similarities. There are also a lot of similarities in the subject matter, for example idioms which describe various human behaviours and emotions – showing that in the end, all people talk and laugh about very similar issues, it’s just the interpretations that are different.

Ermina Takenova, London College of Communication BA (Hons) Illustration & Visual Media graduate

Another thing I thought was very interesting, is how a group of countries can speak the same language, but wouldn’t have the same or even similar idioms. For example, a lot of the idioms used in Australian English, aren’t used in the UK or the USA. It intrigued me how people use languages worldwide in creative ways and a lot of the idioms sound extremely random. However despite a lot of the idioms sounding so bizarre, they do actually (kind of) make sense, once you learn their meanings.

I love the surreal quality of the idioms, it’s perfect for creating very exciting visuals. I’m hoping to make this project ongoing.

What was it like collaborating to make the sound for the video? How did you meet your collaborators?

Andy Davidson, who created the sound design for the animation, works at LCC  as Digital Support Technician in the 3D Workshop and I met him through recommendations from other LCC staff members. It’s been a pleasure collaborating with him. I requested for the sounds to be quite abstract, as the idioms themselves and the animations are funny and strange. I wanted Andy to have a lot of freedom working on the project and he did a great job creating the perfect mood for the animations through the playfulness of sound. I’d like to credit Louise Mason here too, as Andy used some sounds they have worked on together, as well as the drums by Melissa Ulloa and Phil Jenkins.

How did the residency help you achieve your goals?

I had the idea for the project in mind some time before the residency and when I heard about the opportunity, I thought that the theme of the residency for this year, which was Diverse Communities, would fit so perfectly with my project idea. For me personally, having this opportunity gave me a lot of motivation to complete the project. The most helpful thing for my project specifically, was meeting Andy Davidson, the sound designer I’ve worked with. I also found the access to spaces and facilities within LCC very useful and I’ve enjoyed coming to the college to work on the project.

What would you say to others considering taking part in the residency?

It’s a very good opportunity to get to work on a project that can be very personal and enjoyable, with some additional support provided, whether it is equipment, feedback or collaborators. Meeting other graduate residents is a great experience too, as you get to hear their perspective, learn about their practices and their journey after they graduated from LCC. You can make some very good connections too and meet people you can collaborate with in the future.

Egyptian Arabic saying “Take a walk sitting” (“Kona a’deen benetmasha” / كنا قاعدين نتمشى), meaning going for a walk. Animation by Ermina Takenova.

What has the reaction been like from people who have seen them?

I’m very pleased to say that people laughed, and that was the goal of the project – to create something funny and educational at the same time. I have received feedback saying that people have enjoyed learning all those new phrases and would want to use them in their everyday life from now on.

And finally, do you have a favourite phrase and animation – and why?

It’s very difficult to pick a favourite, but I’d say it’s the Thai idiom ‘The hen sees the snake’s feet and snake sees the hen’s boobs’, meaning 2 people who know each other’s secrets. I love how it sounds so non-sensical and surreal at first, but it kind of makes sense when you know what it means. I really enjoyed animating it, it was a lot of fun drawing the hen with boobs.

Found out more about the project and see more animations on Ermina’s Behance.