February 26th, 2009

drawing, old man

Alice's Birthday: Designs from 2004 and 2005

In a February 18 interview, director Sergei Seryogin said that when they were just beginning to make their feature film, they posted their art designs on an "Alice Seleznyova" fan site.

"They caused a commotion. A lot of criticism came my way. [...] This project has been open from the outset; we read and listened with interest to what people thought about it. [...] After discussions about the sketches, changes were made to the appearance of at least one of the main characters. The arguments of our opponents were so convincing that I said to our artist Sergei Gavrilov, that I had nothing to add to them - Professor Rrr can not stay the way we drew him. He agreed, and something changed thanks solely to the online audience."

Those early discussions and concept art from 5 (!) years ago can still be found online over at Mielofon.ru and the accompanying forum. The main discussion (15 pages long) is here. There are also two "announcements from the director", on June 27, 2005 and September 18, 2005.

In case the website ever goes offline, I'm reposting the images here. They're all drawn by the film's art director Sergei Gavrilov. "Alice's Birthday" is his first credit in this role.
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drawing, old man

Igor Kovalyov

If I may, I would just like talk about Igor Kovalyov for a bit.

I recently finished watching all of the films in which he was the real director; meaning not co-director with Aleksandr Tatarskiy in the 1980s, and not working on dreary corporate properties such as his commercial work in the 1990s and 2000s.

I will say this: many people don't like Kovalyov's films because they don't understand them. Also, many people (though fewer in number; mostly you see their type at certain film festivals) like Kovalyov's films precisely because they don't understand them. Me personally, I just don't understand them. I generally like the artistic direction and what you might call the "acting", but I have little of intelligence to say one way or the other about the films themselves. I wouldn't know whether an illustrated novel written in Inuktitut was any good, either.

The most understandable of them for me is probably "Bird in the Window", but that's because the entire film is summed up in the first minute. All that follows is the details.

But usually, I'm stuck wondering what is meant to be real and what is meant to be a metaphor, and trying to remember the little details seen for a fraction of a second that must mean something symbolic (because I can't help but notice that those little repeating symbols are very meticulously arranged). Often, I'm just trying to figure out what the heck is REALLY going on. For example, in "Flying Nansen", is there really a woman or is that just Nansen's delirium? And why are there planes flying overhead? In "His Wife is a Hen", what is the caterpillar-like pet with the face of the main character supposed to represent? And what exactly is the man with the black mask? In Andrey Svislotskiy, what exactly is the film about? At the very end, there is text that says "This all happened within 30km of the city of Kiev in the town of Bucha. I was the only witness of these events. - Andrey Svislotskiy". Andrey Svislotskiy was actually a coworker of Kovalyov at Pilot Studio. He made a brilliant surreal film in 1992 called Hypnerotomachia (based on Francesco Colonna's 1499 Romance Hypnerotomachia Poliphili), before leaving with Kovalyov for America to work at Klasky Csupo and never directing another film again.

The contrast between these films and the rest of Kovalyov's work is striking. The films that he co-directed with Aleksandr Tatarskiy in the 1970s and 1980s (such as Plasticine Crow and The Koloboks Investigate) are very different in tone. I frankly cannot find Kovalyov's stamp in them. They are very much like the films that Tatarskiy later directed solo; full of quick-thinking clownery.

The commercial work that Kovalyov worked (and works) on in America, also, seems to have no distinguishing features; it seems to generally be untarnished by vision or artistic skill, and could have been made by anyone. His latest work on The Drinky Crow Show is a good example. Probably it pays in Hollywood to be so subservient to those who hire you that none of your own personality shows in the work that you do. In "The Rugrats Movie" for example, Kovalyov said in an interview that he basically had no creative freedom. But I wonder how he can stand it, and whether he likes any of his commercial work.

Chris Robinson wrote a long article about Igor Kovalyov a while ago. If you can get past the sometimes vulgar language, it is a pretty informative read (though for interest, compare Kovalyov's version of his beginning in the 1970s and 1980s with his colleague Tatarskiy's. Kovalyov mentions hating every minute of working at "Ecran" studio, while Tatarskiy writes nothing of the sort). The films "His Wife is a Hen" and "Bird in the Window" are explained better in the article, while the explanations of "Andrey Svislotskiy" and "Flying Nansen" make it seem like the films don't really HAVE a clear point.

Kovalyov's latest film, Milch, is the only one that I actually dislike (though the incomprehensible and aimless "Flying Nansen" comes close). I watched it once but got nothing from it except a bad feeling. The art direction and animation, which in Kovalyov's earlier films is ugly but also interesting, here is just ugly, being more sharp and angular and less organic than his earlier work. The story was, to me, completely incomprehensible. And yet, this film has won some big festival awards, beginning with winning the Grand Prix at KROK (the story behind that is that the whole jury except for Yuriy Norshteyn, who was the head of the jury that year, wanted to give the Grand Prix to another American film. But Norshteyn argued for a long time that "Milch" deserved the award, and eventually brought the others around. In the audience rating, however, "Milch" didn't enter the top 10)

Most of Kovalyov's movies can be seen on Youtube, while "Flying Nansen" I think can only be seen on Global Tantrum.

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