Education Animation

Carl Robinette

Thu August 28, 2014 10:12am

With blonde hair below her shoulder and a beaming smile, local artist and children’s book author Marie Zhivago was easy to spot despite her small stature. Even from across the food pavilion at Otay Ranch Town Center where we met up recently to talk about her work.
Since her recent role as guest speaker at Comic-Con, Zhivago’s work has been getting a lot of attention and new opportunities are opening up for her, she said. “Comic-Con really pushed me to that public forum.”
Her brand, Enviro-Babies, uses cartoon versions of endangered animals to raise awareness about environmental issues. Imagine anime pandas and manatees that look something like Hello Kitty.
Zhivago, pen named Dr. Zhivago, created Enviro-Babies in 1996. The characters are featured in videos and environmentally friendly merchandise for businesses, and now she is in talks with SeaWorld to work on an environmental awareness art project.
“My love of art started in second grade. We were working on a project and my teacher looked at my drawing and said I was doing it wrong. She said I was drawing lollipop heads, and I got an F,” Zhivago said. Determined to improve, she started to draw Snoopy and the Incredible Hulk over and over until her skills with a pencil developed. “Then in third and fourth grade I was voted best artist.”
Eventually she would go to college at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandasing. Then after a brief stint in a $3.75-per-hour job with a clothing manufacturer she went back to school and became a surgical assistant. 
She earned the nickname Dr. Zhivago working surgeries, but eventually she would turn her back on the operating room and find her way back to art. Now she said it has also become a tribute to fellow illustrator-author Dr. Seuss. 
She currently volunteers teaching animation at Eastlake Elementary as well as local libraries and will soon be working as a teaching consultant to help the district bring digital art instruction into the school day curriculum.
“With all the budget cuts in schools and everything, the school system started treating art like it was an unwanted stepchild,” Zhivago said. “We can’t afford you. Bye-bye.”
She has been teaching animation to elementary school kids as a volunteer since the 1990s, even while she was studying and working in the medical field.
Zhivago has watched the world of animation change dramatically since then. She still uses pencil and paper in her instruction, but now she also comes equipped with an iPad, a laptop and software like iDraw and Adobe Illustrator.
 “Some of the students don’t even have a computer at home or an iPad,” Zhivago said. “So to see the kids use college level software in elementary is amazing.”
Teaching students to use animation software re-enforces science, technology, engineering and math skills which the school system values above all other skills, Zhivago said. 
“They come up with their own characters and create them on the iPad using geometric shapes and colors,” Zhivago said, adding that everyone from artists and graphic designers to Pixar uses the software that she uses to teach. “So they aren’t just learning about art they are learning how to be entrepreneurs.”