In July of last year, having become one of the most influential and beloved figures of the Russian animation community, Tatarskiy died, triggering many reactions from his colleagues. Back then, I wrote two entries summarizing his life (click on the first link to see some of his most famous films, which are discussed in the article). I also began work on translating that 1986 article into English, but my studies took precedence. Now, however, the translation is finally finished! It is a wonderful, lively article, and I think that there are many points raised in it that are just as valid today as they were 22 years ago (while in some cases, interestingly, the situation now is the opposite of what it was then). Tatarskiy's words have unique authority; he was not only a very successful director of both popular and auteur animation, but he also founded a successful studio, today perhaps Russia's biggest and certainly its most award-winning, and kept it alive despite the tough financial times of the 1990s and despite his refusal to be reduced to doing mindless commercial work.
Anyway, that was later. This article was written in a completely different time period, but it already shows the early vision that would lead him to co-found (with Igor Kovalyov) the Soviet Union's first independent animation studio just two years later.
Left: Igor Kovalyov, Right: Aleksandr Tatarskiy
Aleksandr Tatarskiy is a director and artist at the studio "Multtelefilm". His works have received top awards at international film festivals in Zagreb, Gabrovo and London, and at national film festivals.
Instead of an Explanation
That which I will talk about is under no circumstances meant to be objective. Quite the opposite; it is meant to be subjective to the fullest degree. Of course, I'm only sitting on my own bell tower. I sit and I judge...
It is possible that in reality it all looks different, especially as a famous humourist says: "In reality everything looks different than it really is."
Now, to business. Almost...
Instead of a Preface
At the end of the 1960s, when we older schoolboys were already allowed to wear long hair like the "Beatles" (but only after classes), when the weather hadn't yet gone mad and winter was winter, spring was spring, and fall was almost summer, the warmed pavement of the city of Kiev, littered with chestnuts, was trodden on by big, ankle-length, winter boots.
Above these boots was a fine, carefully groomed, velvet overcoat, and above that - an old winter hat, so worn that it was good for summer wearing. This warmly-dressed gentleman would stop a surprised pedestrian and tell him in perfect Ukrainian (which one can yet find only in schoolbooks) that he had killed a man...
As the passer-by went into a state of shock, the warmed gentleman would calmly continue: he had killed him not today, but seven years ago when he had accidentally hit a drunk man with his car, and now, having been let out of prison, he can't get home because of a lack of twenty cents. After digesting this complicated information, the passer-by would count out twenty cents and, with relief, continue on his way...
This descendant of the Children of Lieutenant Schmidt was a psychologist of some skill - I, in any case, managed to materially help him twice. But really, forty cents is not such a high price to pay for a practical lesson of directing: it is preferable to surprise and interest a viewer at the very beginning, and his attention will then be at your disposal for what follows. This is something that I have tried to use in all of my films.
Don't Get in Line
Not long ago, in Kiev, I called my friend Mikhail Titov. Currently, he's starting work on his new animated film. The chronological number of his film is 2. Yet he will soon be forty...
Misha said that circumstances at the studio have changed for the better. "They've begun to trust us young people more", he said. Into the telephone. It is unfortunate that we couldn't see each other at that moment.
I told him: "Misha, let's look at ourselves in a mirror..." and we went to look at our mirrors...
Our generation, our "company", as we called ourselves, came to the studio "Kievnauchfilm" at a trully young age. Alik Viken, Misha Titov and Natasha Marchenkova started the animation artist courses in 1967 (at such specialized courses studios train artists, actors and animators for themselves). I and my future co-director Igor Kovalyov came to the studio a little later.
I admit that until age 17 I dreamed only of the circus. I was lucky enough to grow up surrounded by clowns: my father wrote sketches, reprises and clownades for them. I would lose myself for days at a time at the circus rehearsals, and would poke my nose into the "kitchen" of the circus. I would ask the horse trainers to let me walk the horses and would peek from a hiding spot at how Yuriy Nikulin would "shape" himself a nose in the changing room (I could write a whole story about this nose - as Nikulin became a better and better clown, the nose which he made for himself grew smaller and smaller, until finally he rejected it altogether).
And after finishing school, I went to work - naturally - into the circus, as a uniformist. At first I did everything wrong and late. I tired terribly, especially on Sundays, when the circus had three shows. By the third, I no longer had the strength to run into the tent with the stand which I placed under the sitting elephant, which weighed only 16 kg. Although, I did once manage to erroneously roll up and carry away a 50-kg mat during an important part of the show. Unfortunately, at the entrance exams to the Government Institute of Theatric Arts (GITIS), this "Herculean feat" did not do much to bolster the chances of the young uniformist - they did not see a circus director in him. And here, on the horizon of the spurned mat-roller, animation appeared...
I was lucky enough to start off by seeing (my father took me with him to the old Kiev House of Cinema) several stupendous animated films: "The Story of a Crime" by Fyodor Khitruk, the 1961 French film "Villa mon rêve", and selected short films from Disney...
On the next day, I rushed to the film studio and got to know a wonderful young person who... walked on all fours. He shook his head as he did it, too. They called him Zhan, and he was taking the animation artist courses. He was walking on all fours because he was asked to do a scene called "the walk of a bear", and he had to get the feel of the order in which a bear moves his paws (or maybe he doesn't move them in any order?).
Ready to accept any type of work that I would be given, I waited my turn to be accepted into these courses and became good friends with him. We would be drawn together by a genuine love of animation and a pure Kievian temperament.
No, we did not walk reservedly along the studio corridor (neither there, nor back) and had an objectionable habit of laughing loudly (at either end of the corridor). Finally, we irreversibly ruined our biographies by organising our own musical ensemble and playing suspiciously loudly.
And after handing in each film we would all come together and analyze it to the smallest frame (today, I think, these "artistic councils" have become the best school for us). Gradually, without stopping work, everyone finished their higher education, which, combined with constant crunch-time during production was not so easy. But for those upon whom our future fate rested, we hadn't yet earned the right to wear long pants. In "real" artistic councils, our opinion would not be asked, nor were we considered "adults".
Though the concept of "adulthood" can be defined variously. A few years ago, when I came to Kiev for a banquet dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the studio, its former Chief Editor sat next to me. I was already a young director from Moscow and had returned to my native studio in the unusual role of being a guest. The former Chief Editor, thankfully, no longer worked in animation. He said: "You wanted to be a director, yet you were always 'denigrading yourself'."
"What do you mean, 'denigrading myself'?"
"Well now, you wore jeans, for example! How could anyone trust you to direct?"
To the credit of the Chief Editor, he was consistent and knew jeans as well as he knew animation. In fact, I had worn mostly velvet pants. But my own head was occupied with animation, and his head - with my legwear. So which one of us was the "adult"?
Back then, we were all engaged in directing and everyone really wanted to try out their skills. We thought that the level of films which were released in those years was somewhat mediocre (today, I think that our ratings were rather inflated). And we really wanted to believe that we could work much more professionally.
In those years, everyone's attention was attracted to working with the artistic youth. I saved a folder with newspaper clippings and documents from those years, including a directive from Goskino of the Ukrainian SSR which specifically mentioned our names as possible debut directors. Many leading directors and artists believed in us, and appealed to management with suggestions of coproductions, where the master would walk the debuting artist through all of the artistic and technical obstacles of filmmaking. A compilation of small films was even suggested, where fourteen people could debut simultaneously. This compilation was even included in the plan. But from the 1975 plan, it slowly crawled into the 1976 plan, then the 1977 and so on.
Filled with hope, we searched for and wrote scenarios, and made concept art. Alas, I finally had to put it all into that folder. The Artistic Directress and the Chief Editor did not believe in us and they stubbornly forced their lack of belief onto the managers of Kievnauchfilm.
For now, we were asked to avoid getting in line to be directors...
In order to prove our competence in the role of director, we had to helm at least one film, even a small one. In order to helm at least one film, even a small one, we had to be directors...
The circle was complete. Unless... perhaps one should helm a film in one's spare time?
Sometimes it is healthy to retreat a few steps and look around. For example, to get off the pavement and onto the road (only very carefully!), in order to better see the facade. This experiment is not new. The author Jaroslav Hašek, whom I deeply love, has the following character: Colonel Friedrich Kraus von Zillergut (Zillergut is the name of a little village in Salzburg which the colonel's ancestors drank to ruin back in the XVIII century) who was a wonderful scoundrel... He suffered from a mania of needing to explain everything, and did this with the exaltation of an inventor explaining his own invention... Officers who saw him in the distance would hurriedly turn the corner, to save themselves the trouble of hearing truths such as how the street consists of a roadlane and pavement, with the pavement being raised above the street along the facade of a house. And the facade of a house is that part which can be seen from the roadlane or the pavement. The back part of a house can't actually be seen from the pavement, which one can readily prove by backing out into the roadlane. One day he was ready to demonstrate this intriguing proposition, but was fortunately run over. After that, he became even dumber...
In proposing to stop and look around, I wish to have nothing in common with Zillergut. But the thing is, I shall have to say things which are, to my mind, very obvious. This is already too close to the stupid colonel for my taste. But they will have to be said because, judging by a whole row of animated films, not everything which is obvious (however unlikely this may seem) is, as yet, obvious.
This group of young people adamantly wanted to engage in animation. But is this a serious thing, animation, and is it a true art? This concern can still be heard frequently. It is fed by numerous primitively-instructive films which lack artistic form and sharpness of thought.
One author (I don't remember his name, unfortunately) published several parodies about the scripts of primitive animated films several years ago in the 16th "Literature Gazette". I think that he undersold himself. Those same scripts (with the word "parody" removed) could have been sold to any film studio.
And yet Chaplin, for example, was of the mind that it is in animation where the artist is completely free in his fantasy.
Animated filmmaking is practically the first art form which is encountered by a child. He can't even read yet; his attention span is insufficient for watching a feature-length live-action children's film, a stage show, or for processing any "long" information at all. Yet it is at this very age that the foundations of his future intellect, artistic taste, ability to receive and analyze information, and many, many other things are formed. Personality is formed.
However, a child who grows up among wolves becomes to some extent a wolf, and one who grows up among tasteless animated films becomes to some extent tasteless.
In one household I observed how a ten-year-old boy watched an irredeemable and endlessly dreary animated film produced by a lackluster local film studio.
"You like it?" I asked the boy, preparing myself for a friendly mutual critique of the film.
But the boy answered:
"Yes, I like it!"
"What for?" I asked, surprised.
"I like any cartoons!"
That momentous conversation took place long ago. The boy grew up but, as far as I know, has not yet learned to think.
And, remembering this seemingly microscopic example, I'm not afraid to look like Zillergut, walk into the roadlane and shout out the simplest truths:
"Comrades, who are responsible for creating and showing such films!!!
Understand that if you feed a child food which need not be chewed and which is too easily digested, his stomach will atrophy! And if you feed him primitive sham-cartoons which require no mental efforts, which revel in their lack of understanding of the true intellectual and emotional capacities of a little person, and lack a clear, identifiable artistic form, another very important organ could atrophy - the head."
The Availability of Deficiency
One time in Kiev, the skeleton of an old X-ray apparatus was stolen from a scrapyard in the bright of day. It was useless to everyone else, but was quite essential to myself and Igor Kovalyov (we had already made the discovery that we complement each other quite nicely based on the principle of the interaction of two gears). The caretakers of the scrapyard found several other metallic things missing as well. And all of these objects, in a mystifying fashion, made their way into our possession. The design and creation of the animation stand took more than two years.
When I was small, my mother gave me a small tool set as a gift. Other mothers usually hide pointy and sharp objects from their kids, but their kids still manage to cut and scrape themselves with anything one can think of; meanwhile, I was getting some benefit out of doing this. And this ability to craft now became very useful.
The stand turned out glorious; it was big and very metallic. From the top, attached to a camera rig, hung a trunk-like but diligently-repaired "Rodina" film camera which was older than either of us. In a typical live-action shoot, it was an unsurpassed "salad-maker" (a "salad", among cameramen, means the resulting mess when film gets tangled inside of a camera). But for our "menu", no "salad" was in order.
Because the "firm" consisted of just the two of us, we were forced to be the scriptwriters, the directors, the cinematographers, the editors, the sound technicians, the administrators and the cleaners. I write "forced", but that's not correct. The chance to learn these professions was simply a huge boon for us. In those happy years we sometimes forgot the existence of free evenings and weekends.
Our maximalism existed side-by-side with our adventurism. It would have been realistic to film a two-to-three-minute animated film (such a "trifle" would have a staff of 10-15 people at the studio). But we planned a film serial of 40 minutes, with each segment using a different technique.
The Chief Editor, having found out about our work, patronizingly looked down at us and smiled. The Artistic Directress took our work seriously - she was mainly concerned with making sure that we not steal any equipment from the studio, or if we did (and she had no doubts that we would), that it not become public knowledge.
But there were also people who treated us differently. The directors D. Cherkasskiy and Yevgeniy Sivokon, cinematographers Yu. Lemeshev and A. Mukhin and sound operator V. Shchigol helped us a lot. Part of the animatic (the drawn acting) was made for us by Misha Titov. Later, one world-famous director would call his segment a "masterpiece". But that would be later. Back then...
Back then, our main worry was finding film and obtaining the official right to develop it. 90% of our energy was directed at this, 5% at creating, and 5% at the intersection of the first two things. We were taken "under the wing" of a whole consecutive line of film clubs which had access to film and to its development. But after finding out that we planned to film for no less than three years, and that until that time "the chick would not leave the egg", they dumped that "egg" like cuckoos... After innumerable times moving our stand, we came to bitterly regret that metal is heavier than foam rubber.
Gradually, pieces of the film began to come together. By the way, its main characters were birds. And, by the way, that was its name: "By the Way, About Birds".
Once, after yet another move, we found ourselves in one of the rooms of the Central Pioneer Palace. But in order to use this wonderful room, we had to work with kids. At first, only girls signed up into the studio, and each was named "Lena". We became a kind of "Mini Lenfilm". After a while, boys appeared as well. Their names were, as a rule, different.
We thought up all kinds of educational games, and finally we began playing with the kids themselves. And it is still unclear who was teaching whom. The result of this collaborative learning was the three-minute film "About Paintings", based on the song which was granted to us by the young composer Grigoriy Gladkov. It was a period of fortune. It was from that very association and from the little animated film "About Pictures" that "Plasticine Crow" was later born.
We also managed to finish two of the four films from the "Birds" serial. And then, a faculty for directors and artists of animation opened at the Highest Courses of Goskino USSR. Getting into it became our biggest dream. Was it a joke, to become the pupils of Fyodor Khitruk and Yuriy Norshteyn? It was no laughing matter!
In order to take the entrance exams, we had to obtain the approval of our studio. But in this, we were categorically denied. What only didn't occur around our desire to learn! First, they tried to convince us that there were no places alloted for Ukraine, then they simply tried to convince us not to go, then... Meanwhile, at the Courses, they became familiar with our works - nobody except us had any finished films at the time of their application. They obviously wanted to admit us, and they sent a request to Kiev to give us approval. Our studio replied: "we won't give our approval; they have no skills." The Courses tried proving to them that we had them. The studio was prepared to stand to the finish: no!
The dialogue lasted a year. As a result, Igor was given the approval (though on the condition that he take the exams first, with the hope that he won't be approved to take them anyway). But he was approved. And taken. I, as the oldest, and by necessity the ringleader, was given nothing. But what did come was an invitation from the studio "Multtelefilm", of the TV studio "Ecran", to work for them - first as an artist, and then with the promise of being a director. I immediately took the first train (wagon No 2, seat No 17) and never regretted it.
After the first screening of "Plasticine Crow", one well-known scientist came to me and praised our group for following the latest developments of psychology (we, unfortunately, did not follow them, or if we did it was intuitive). He said that their institute was presently designing a system for finding candidates for executive roles. The very first requirement was a developed ability for spatial thinking and a rich fantasy.
And here is the opinion of the well-known sociologist and doctor of philosophy Y. N. Shubkin: "...I think that our pedagogy has not yet realized the meaning of the discovery of functional assymetry in the human brain (the left hemisphere being the centre of logical discursive operations, and the right - of spatial, intuitive, and emotional thinking); it has not yet noticed that for decades, schooling has focused on developing the left hemisphere, which has led to the predictable atrophying of spatial thought in young people."
Any articulate psychologist or pedagogist will tell you that personality is created not from formal memorization, but primarily from occupational activity. And that the most important occupation of a child is play. Treat child-play as seriously as possible, say psychologists, and take warning if a child does not play. The act of playing, they say, is to a child what work is to an adult. But specialists in the field of child-play have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that while, say, in the 50s/60s unsupervised children were capable of playing for 40-60 minutes, today such play loses steam after just 8-10 minutes!
I believed the psychologists' claims that it was necessary to sound the alarm about children's "lack of play", but I did not believe the numbers. So, having created a "blind" on my balcony, I spent a whole day watching children play with a timer in my hand. The scientists, unfortunately, were not mistaken. Girls ended a game after 8-15 minutes, and boys after 4-10. A game of "hide and seek" lasted 20 minutes, but it operated in shifts, with new players entering the field.
Is anyone who is unable to play well able to work well?! Mayday! Where will we find managerial candidates?
The International Animated Film Association (ASIFA) held a symposium in 1983 in France called "The Animated Film - Tommorow's Pedagogy?".
Here's a look at a fragment from the introduction:
"During the last 10 years, the art of drawn-on-film animation from experimental studios has spontaneously spread through schools around the world. As far as can be seen, the widespread dissemination of these types of experiments is no accident. These studios grow from a substantive need to develop the spatial mental skills of modern children at the time of their school education, in order that they may orient themselves in the modern visually-packed world.
The founders of this experiment have realized that in the sphere of cinematography, the displaying capacities of animation are the most natural for the child and teenager age range: they stimulate their artistic, and fortify their mental activities.
They think that communicating with the help of movement and images is easier than traditional verbal communication. They also think that the learning of visual language is a pressing need. The child - and tommorow's adult - must not "swallow" the stream of visual imagery surrounding him without analysis and selection.
And finally, they think that the sparse audiences of serious films are explained by a lack of education; a lack of the experience needed to digest information of that sort, which should have been provided in school."
But here's the tragedy: our animation, on one hand, and artistic criticism, pedagogy, psychology and sociology, on the other, seem to move through completely different spacetime boundaries, and they never meet...
And the blame on this does not fall on the scientists...
Having made this unpleasant verdict, let us come back onto the pavement. Do you still remember what the pavement is?
The pavement was covered with snow up to the knee, and then disappeared altogether. We trudged through snow heaps and sidestepped around a suspicious trench (in the summer we found out that it was a pond, filled to the brim with frogs). Igor climbed up onto his enormous suitcate, peered forward through his foggy glasses and yelled: "Land!!!" "Land" turned out to be a house on the outskirts of Moscow, where we rented a very empty apartment. Its furniture was missing, but on the bright side, we soon got companionship in the persons of Grisha Gladkov, who joined us with a big, contrabass-like guitar (I still wonder, maybe it really was a contrabass?) and the arranger Slava, who was able to arrange music "in his head" with no instrument, but who wrote the notes so small that it was almost impossible to see them (I still wonder, maybe he didn't write them at all?).
A small miracle took place. The studio "Multtelefilm" trusted us to make an independent production. The studio's plan called for a film based on childrens' drawings. Nobody was about to do it. We came up to the plate. Of course, this was not exactly what we wanted to premiere with, but we decided to do all that we could with this opportunity.
The film was divided into three parts. For the first, we used that well-known song by Gladkov, "About Pictures". It was made from children's gauche drawings. For the second part we picked out poems and children's drawings in pencil crayon. In search of the third part, we contacted the famous children's writer Eduard Uspenskiy, who believed in us and supported us in many ways. At first it seemed that he wasn't interested in our "order", but suddenly after several days he brought us his poem "About the Crow". Before I'd read half of it, I had realized that we must do it and that it must be done in some very unusual technique. Since the first two parts used pencil crayons and paints, the idea came that in the third we should use plasticine.
Skeptics were there from the beginning.
"Nothing good can come from our plasticine - only the Americans know how to do this!"
"The plasticine will melt underneath the projectors!"
We did not know of these murmurings then. We did our work calmly, or to be honest, under a sort of passion. And we finished it in record time. In the spring, when the snow melted (and not the plasticine), the film was ready.
We had practically no team back then. The main "force" consisted of the 18-year-old Lena Kosareva, who had just finished art school. Miniscule toys, which she made from pins and dried paint, stood on her desk. A notice was written in my notebook: "don't forget to take little Lena, with the toys on her table, to work on the film".
It is good that I didn't forget - a year later Lena had already served as the artist of the interstitial for "Goodnight, Children!", had done a decisive amount of work for the film "Last Year's Snow Was Falling" and, finally as an "official" art director, did the artwork for "The Dark Side of the Moon" in a unique gauche technique - the film which won the studio the most awards.
But this was later. Back then, "Plasticine Crow", which was made for the sole purpose of proving our artistic worth, brought us unexpected success (the Moscow CID soon apprehended a specialist in stealing bags and suitcases under the street name "Plasticine Crow" - such was the film's obvious triumph!).
This did not mean at all that from that point everything went "smoothly". Our films, in their technique, artistic form, temperament and abundance of action, were very unusual, and the relationship of the studio's management to them was not at all simple. Even today, handing in a film is a difficult stage for us. Most difficult for us were the production periods. Each film was worked on by a substantially smaller number of artists than was the norm in other teams. Those who risked working with us were burdened with a monstrous load; the films were technically-difficult and action-filled.
The success of the "Crow" needed verification. Skeptics thought that it was accidental and attributed it to a fortunate technique.
And so in two years, Igor and I went to the  World Animated Film Festival in Varna. Igor was there as a tourist and supporter; he did not take part in the film "Last Year's Snow Was Falling". Those who did take part, including the writer Sergey Ivanov, with whom we had worked on this rather odd scenario for a whole year, and the actor Stanislav Sadalskiy, who provided the interesting narration, stayed in Moscow "on sick leave". Actually, there was no time at all for the group to be "on sick leave" - work on "The Dark Side of the Moon" was in full swing.
Our first international trip! Our first festival! Our first press conference. The international showcase opened with our film. Knowledgeable people said that this was a good sign.
I was already happy for the fact that the film was allowed into the competition - this honour was bestowed upon just one out of five-six films by the special selection comittee. Igor was happy because I was happy. We were both happy because we were surrounded by the leaders of world animation, whom we knew only by their photographs. The famous (but unknown to us) Japanese Yoji Kuri was sitting on a chair and handing out Japanese autographs. The famous and beloved by us Yugoslavian director Borivoj Dovnikovic, whose films we had watched countless times during our education, was standing in line for coffee. Igor explained how much we knew and adored his works. From giddy worrying, he messed up, and instead of saying that we considered ourselves his students, said: "We consider ourselves your teachers". Dovnikovic was very surprised. He had not known this before.
"Our student" brought along a new, astonishingly funny film called "Jedan dan života" [A Day in the Life]. This film later received the Gold Prize. And our film "Last Year's Snow Was Falling" received the Silver Prize.
The iron-like "Silver Cooker" (that is the name of the award) traveled in my droopy bag through all of Bulgaria. The Chief Editor of our studio flew to Moscow a week earlier and had offered to take the award, but I, in the name of conversational aesthetics, had said:
"I wouldn't mind carrying this thing with me every day!"
Even conversational aesthetics can be good. At the airport, the Editor lost her suitcase forever (was this again the work of "Plasticine Crow"?). But the Cooker lies safe and whole in my house.
Later came other films and other awards, but this one success was decisive for us - we began to believe in ourselves.
And still, the best thing that we have done in animation so far have been the courses for animation artists. A year and a half ago we became fired up with the idea to create these courses, wishing to "rev-up" young, promising directors. This idea also had to be fought for, but in the end it was considered objectively.
And so we began to work with five diligently-chosen candidates. The generally-accepted educational program was designed to last 2-3 years. Our pupils could work as animators after just half a year. Specialists were surprised by this. But there is no big secret. We simply gave them a workload four times higher than the usual one (naturally, we said nothing about this to our students). And they had time to learn a lot, especially from Igor - he's an animator of very high class. But they still have much to learn, most importantly patience and orderliness. Our filming group is now filled with fine, like-minded fellows.
It is now possible to make both more complex and more serious films. In other words, we are ready to advance.
When there appears, in our line of work, a person whose main goal is his own tranquility, expect films similar to those which have been done time and time again and which have never given any "discomfort" to anyone. That is how everything stereotypical and average makes its way to the viewer.
And how, behind this grey flood, are we to notice the animated trilogy which boldly attempts to penetrate the inner world of Pushkin (director A. Khrzhanovskiy), or the film based on the works of García Lorca (director I. Garanina)? Can we see behind the neat lines of bustling flies, cats and rabbits the delicately irony-laden and smartly original works of E. Nazarov ("The Voyage of an Ant", for example) or the singular, inventive reels of the masters of the Estonian school?
Are the films that flit by on television sometime at 8 o'clock in the morning by the young Armenian director R. Saakyants, films that in an astoundingly playful and bright manner teach children to look carefully and think quickly, worse than the reels where your eyes need only be half-open to contemplate the sugary animals, drawn "in the soap-wrapper style", who teach children the lesson of friendship (Squirrel didn't share his nut with Hare, and nobody gave him anything either, but Monkey gave Elephant a banana and in return got a pineapple). You give something to me, I give something to you. Friendship! And at the end the film, Wise Hedgehog sings a song about the very thing that was just thoroughly discussed.
And while he sings, you will not hear the rare symphony of the world in which a completely different hedgehog lives - the "Hedgehog in the Fog" (director Y. Norshteyn). Nor will you see the third of the film which some television bureaucrat according to his "taste" cut out of the great "Tale of Tales" from the same artist - a film which, to be blunt, has been in every instance authenticated and accepted and which has given our animation truly worldwide fame.
"In today's production of animation a strange, yet characteristic trait is readily noticeable: a gaping chasm between the forays of select seekers and the routine production of most others," writes pedagogue M. Gurevich in the journal "Children's Literature" [Detskaya literatura], "between the flood and the works which are marked with the stamp of individuality. This has occurred always and everywhere, but here the chasm is more noticeable. It is as if two different arts exist under the same roof and only share the same name due to a misunderstanding. And the watershed runs not along the border between 'kid' and 'adult', as one may think it would. But always - along the level of the seriousness of the artistic challenges which the artists place before themselves."
The reason is that our animation has, over the course of many years, developed a completely averaged "cartoony" style. A character made in this "style" looks like this: a big head, two fat cheeks, a small mouth, a button-nose, huge eyelashes and eyes. And always a light reflection in the pupil. That's the hero of your "cartoon" (it doesn't matter whether he's a child, a hare, a mouse...).
I foresee the protests: "but we like those cute creatures!" Well, I will once again hide behind the smart backs of scientists. Scientists explain that the reason for a feeling of love toward such pictures, which suffer, according to a pointed observation by Rolan Bykov, from "all the charm of a naked baby doll", is amazingly simple.
A human, being a mammal, has a precise reaction to the difference in appearance between an adult and a child. Childish facial features and bodies (and those are the proportions that these "cartoony babies" have) evoke from an adult gentleness and the need to feed the child - these are purely instinctive needs. (Humans naturally lean toward having the same feelings for certain animals; those who have big eyes, a round head and a small jaw. Cats, rabbits and squirrels are for a human instinctively charming and deserving of kindness and care, even though this has no justification from the standpoint of evolution.)
But the task of true art is to appeal to the artistic emotions of a person, not to his instincts. And I wish, taking a page from the extensive experience of zoos, to hang the following sign by the animation desk:
"The feeding of cute, naked baby dolls is absolutely prohibited!
But the administration doesn't always hang up such signs. It sometimes happens that the familiar cats and mice, which obviously have relatives beyond our borders, are proclaimed to be authentic examples of our animation school, and characters which are drawn in a sharp, grotesque manner, inspired by our distinctive book illustrations, are proclaimed to be the products of Western influence, little-understood by our public.
The depictive problems are accompanied by rhythmic ones. There exists a relatively stable opinion that the pre-teen audience is unable to digest fast-tempo films which are filled with activity. It is difficult for me to say what this belief is founded upon. But it is possible with no great difficulty to cite diametrically opposite opinions by such authoritative figures as Korney Chukovskiy and Sergey Mikhalkov, who understand that audience very well.
Also, we ourselves know and remember very well from children's folk tales that one of the traits of the folk tale form is the maximal concentration of events and dynamic action. And we can easily confirm (without even leaving the pavement!) that any typical cheeky three-year-old is characterised by the ability to take in information with fantastic speed and instant reaction time, existing on a base of limitless curiosity. In his first few years, a little person learns and processes more information than during his whole subsequent life.
Today, our motto is "acceleration"! We will work, build, cultivate and instill faster. Yes! But we must also learn to think faster. To analyze information and make decisions faster. Acceleration depends on the speed of our decisions. Science today is discussing the possibility of prenatal education - of a baby not yet born! - while we are still skeptical that a five-year-old viewer has the ability to "cope" with a fast-tempo cartoon. If he is never shown them, then he naturally does not. Not even when he grows up...
Once again, I wish to emphasize that many outstanding masters work at "Soyuzmultfilm" and "Multtelefilm" in Kiev, Sverdlovsk and Tbilisi, the Baltic states, Kazakhstan and Yerevan. The international prestige of our animation is very great. A whole Pleiade of young, talented artists has appeared, meaning that our kin endures.
Yet it is still important to not let animation's best works of art be diluted into a small concentration by the mediocre works and... left behind as sediment.
Our era demands the creation of an animation studio specializing in the release of feature films for children and adults; here we could easily compete with the Japanese, yet for unexplainable reasons we do not do this. Our era likewise demands the creation of a studio which would create animated films for video tapes - right now we have nothing to counter the foreign and commercialised series of cartoons which are being exchanged today by an already sufficiently large number of videocassette player owners. One can only sigh at the fact that to this day, no decision has been made on creating an ongoing TV program dedicated to the art of animation - something like an animated Kinopanorama [Soviet widescreen film format]...
Not all problems can be solved immediately. But to escape from these problems by acting like an ostrich and burying one's head in the sand is unacceptable today.
What surprised me when I first stepped over the doorstep of "Kievnauchfilm", alongside the "bear-man", was that the 33-35-year-old "misters" (that was the age of many directors and artists back then) did not seem to be "misters" to me. Other people I knew of that age were "misters" and "missuses" to me. But not these.
The famous French circus historian Tristan Rémy writes the following about clowns:
"The arena is a spring of childhood which maintains eternal youth for clowns. To prepare for each new circus season, they clean their old clothes, once again sew onto their costume the sparkles which had fallen during their head-over-heel jumps, and patch their silk shoes. But they never change their make-up or masks. And in our memory, which is often mistaken, the clown always seems to be the same one which had, by the will of fate, amazed us in childhood."
I think that animators, like clowns, stay ageless for a long time. How else can one work for children? Or for those wonderful adults who manage to retain the best qualities of childhood in themselves? Never mind that everything is best in childhood.
Now I myself am 35 years old. I don't feel like a "mister".
But at 35 years old, the cinematographer "drifts away" from the circle of young cinematographers. And leaving "official" youth behind, here is what I want to tell those who are starting on their way and, of course, bumping into various obstacles and difficulties. Never, ever throw up your hands; be persistent and cool-headed. Persevere to the very end. And you will see that your failures ended up being only temporary.
And, as we all know, temporary failures are better than temporary successes.
And with this, I climb down from my bell tower...
P.S. (secretly, only for young Kievians) at the Republican Young Pioneer and Schoolchildren's Palace stands a complete and quite metallic animation stand. Are anyone's hands itching for work?
Some of my own thoughts:
The "Lyrical Retreat" section especially is as relevant as ever, both in the West and in Russia. By contrast, Tatarskiy's plea for accelerating the tempo of films in "Lyrical Advance" sounds positively baffling today in an age where most cartoons have non-stop chatter and mindless action, reflecting the rising percentage of children with ADHD. What is more necessary today is a radical slowing down of the pace and teaching children to think and reflect. We need more films like "The Tree and the Cat", "Spring Melodies", and "The Lodgers of an Old House" (links go to videos).