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Animatsiya in English

Russia Risks Being Left with No Animation of Its Own

Russia Risks Being Left with No Animation of Its Own

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drawing, old man
This article originally appeared in OG.ru on Feb. 6, 2009. I translated it because people in the know say that it is a pretty good summation of what's been happening over the past while. Almost all animated projects have been shut down, including some very worthy ones, such as Pilot Studio's feature film Mad Hair and their "Mountain of Gems" series.

After several years of comfort, our animation has found itself on the brink of a new terrifying crisis. Projects are frozen, studios are closing, directors are looking for jobs outside of the profession and thinking about going abroad. This crisis could become fatal for our animation - if today we take «Oscar» nominations for granted, then in a couple of years we will be talking about the good traditions of our school and the victories of our animated films at prestigious film festivals in the past tense. A conversation about how to avoid this catastrophe was held recently at a "round table" called "State policy to support animation".

In recent years - and even until very recently - our fellow citizens have become accustomed to the idea that a lot of animated films are made in Russia, and that these animated films are highly valued worldwide. Oscar laureate Aleksandr Petrov with his «animated paintings» has been the subject of national pride, STV Film studio and Melnitsa Animation Studio with their «Bogatyr trilogy» have learned how to fill seats in cinemas, and Pilot Animation Studio's huge project "The Mountain of Gems" has won a collection of prizes from all film festivals of the world.

But soon these glorious times will be left in the past. For animation, the economic crisis began earlier than for other industries, and hit harder. The first freezing of funds coincided with the presidential election of 2008, after which public funding for animated films was suspended for a time. The difficulties were explained as being caused by reorganizations in the Ministry of Culture and it was promised that they would end very, very soon, but this situation lasted for the entire year.

All this time, for better or for worse, the studios continued to work, and may have been able to keep afloat for a long time yet, but, alas, the world financial crisis added more heat.

The strongest blow came to big studios making auteur films. Today, almost all of them have either suspended work, or stopped it altogether. Thus, Pilot Animation Studio is on the verge of closure. While the general public celebrated the 20th anniversary of the first independent, and today, the most important Russian studio, Pilot's film directors were already not being paid, and were gradually gathering their belongings, preparing to leave their jobs. After the New Year, most of the rooms had been cleared for rent to other organizations, and Pilot's staff is now looking for work on other projects.

Unfortunately, these searches are almost doomed to failure. Most animated productions are now frozen. The situation is so tragic that, in making forecasts for the year ahead, experts are sure: even if government funding were to resume immediately, there would still be only 10-20 applications to the 2010 Open Russian Festival for Animated Film (compared to 100-150 works in the last few years) .

If the money does not appear, the only option for people in the animation profession would be a change of profession or endemic emigration. The risk of massive departures of directors and animators has also existed in previous years, as good professionals are in far more demand abroad. Suffice it to say that while our government gives studios 8.5 thousand dollars per minute of animation, Western series ("South Park", "The Simpsons") are made for 30-50 thousand dollars a minute. Wages correspond to this reality - even on modest projects abroad, good specialists are paid 3-5 thousand dollars a month, while in our studios, directors with names known around the world make do with 1 thousand.

Now that even this modest amount of money is out of reach, and opportunities to earn money on advertising have been reduced to a minimum, going abroad becomes for many an obvious step. Feeling this, Western producers, who now have the possibility of attracting Russian specialists "on the cheap", have begun to act - and the directors have recently begun to receive armfuls of invitations from foreign countries with promises of a salary of 5 thousand dollars a month.

The new wave of animation emigration will be comparable in strength to that seen in the 1990s, when dozens of fine specialists left for America, Hungary, France and Canada (among them, actually, was Aleksander Petrov, who then returned home only due to his personal patriotism and the government's offer of public funding). Alas, the results of the current emigration will be even more devastating. Back then, the masters left in the country were able to patch the gaps and educate a new generation of animators. Today, many masters of the Soviet past have left us, while others are losing their strengths before our eyes. If the younger generation were to emigrate now, the traditions of Russian animation would be disrupted, and the glorious Russian school would become a scorched field.

This past Wednesday's "round table" was an emergency measure - a desperate attempt by the animation community to break the stalemate. After much debate, directors, producers and film critics have crafted a proposal for the Russian government, to save our animation from almost imminent death. Its main idea is to restore worthy government funding.

COMMENTS

Aleksander Petrov, Oscar-winning director: - I am still not feeling the crisis myself, because I'm not working yet; I'm living on the last of my previously-earned money. But I do not doubt that I, too, will have to face difficulties. I receive much of the money for my films from the government, and I think that this is a gift of fate, that there remains government funding in Russia. For experimental, auteur animation, this is a necessary condition. If there were to be no state support, many projects would die. I am always, in such cases, citing the example of Canada, where the government is very sensitive to auteur animation. There exists a remarkable organization called The National Film Board of Canada. This studio not only gives money to films, but also follows their further fate: it makes sure that the films are shown at festivals, awarded prizes and eventually make their way to Los Angeles. And it is rare for the films of this studio to not be nominated for an Oscar.

Sergey Selyanov, producer of the «Bogatyr trilogy»: - If we are to talk about the world financial crisis, it is difficult to say whether it brought more good or bad things. Because before the crisis, animated feature films had "inflated" budgets. Lets say, a budget for a 3D project could amount to 5 million dollars - the price was clearly too high in relation to our market, and arose because of the costs for advertising, and through looking at the U.S. (even modest American feature films have budgets in the region of 50 million dollars) . In this sense, the crisis can put everything in its place. But at the same time, unfortunately, government support is a requirement for animation. We have a small market, and it is very difficult to return an investment on movies. Individual projects can break through, but this is two or three films a year at most (counting both live-action and animated films). If you make a movie that is a little more serious, a little more lyrical than it is comical, your chances of getting into this tiny percentage of projects successful with audiences become much smaller. And public funding becomes the only hope. If were to be removed, the number of feature-length animation projects would be drastically reduced. It may even be reduced to zero.

Yuriy Norshteyn, director of «Hedgehog in the Fog», «Tale of Tales»: It has always been difficult for an artist, but today is doubly difficult. Always difficult, because the artist, in general, is a person who finds it difficult to live with himself. Today is doubly hard, because the lack of money and the constant attention to the question of "how to get money" kills art by half. But it is also obvious that it is very difficult without a community. If we lose each other, then we will all be worth one kopek, and it is unlikely that we are individually worth something and can do something. I, of course, am talking about my own experiences at «Soyuzmultfilm». And although we did not have ideal relations, though we argued with each other, we were still a community, and our only desire, emotional and mental, was to make a film be as good as possible. The last thing we thought about was the market, what would sell ... If you remember, say, the Renaissance, an artist back then sought primarily to make something. This is why the artist must be at the head of everything.
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