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Eastern European Animation History Essay

The history of Russian animation is the film art produced by Russian animation makers. As most of Russia's production of animation for cinema and television were created during Soviet times, it may also be referred to some extent as the history of Soviet animation. It remains a nearly unexplored field in film theory and history outside Russia.


The first Russian animator was Aleksandr Shiryayev (ru), a principal dancer and choreographer at the Imperial Russian Ballet who made a number of pioneering stop motion and traditionally animated films between 1906 and 1909. He built an improvised studio at his apartment where he carefully recreated various ballets — first by making thousands of sketches and then by staging them using hand-made puppets; he shot them using the 17.5 mm Biokam camera, frame by frame. Shiryaev didn't hold much interest in animation as an art form, but rather saw it as an instrument in studying human plastics, hoping to apply his films for educational purposes.[1][2][3] He only showed them to a few people, and they were mostly forgotten during the Soviet period, although Fyodor Lopukhov mentioned Shiryayev's animation experiments in his memoirs.[3] In 1995 they were re-discovered by a ballet historian Viktor Bocharov who got hold of Shiryayev's archives that had been kept safe by a ballet photographer Daniil Savelyev, a close friend of Shiryayev's family. In 2003 Bocharov released a documentary, Belated Premiere, which included fragments of various films by Aleksandr Shiryayev. Aardman Animations was involved in restoration and digitizing process.[4][5]

The second person to independently discover animation was Ladislas Starevich known in Russia by the name of Vladyslav Starevich. Being a trained biologist, he started to make animation with embalmed insects for educational purposes, but soon realized the possibilities of this medium to become one of the undisputed masters of stop motion later in his life. His first few films, made in 1910, were dark comedies on the family lives of cockroaches, and were so revolutionary that they earned him a decoration from Nicholas II of Russia. He produced a number of other popular animated films with insects at the Aleksandr Khanzhonkov's studio where he also worked as a cinematographer and a director of life-action films, sometimes combining life action with stop motion animation, as in The Night Before Christmas and A Terrible Vengeance (both from 1913). Starevich left Russia after the October Revolution, and for many years the animation industry was paralyzed.

After the revolution[edit]

It was revived in 1924 when Mezhrabpom-Rus released the critically acclaimed Interplanetary Revolution (ru) that satirized Aelita. It utilized cutout animation (called flat marionettes at the time) along with the constructivism art style and was developed independently by three artists — Nikolai Khodataev, Zenon Komissarenko and Yuri Merkulov — who headed the first Soviet animation studio at the All-Union Technicum of Cinematography. In 1925 it was followed by a government-backed China in Flames made by the same team along with Ivan Ivanov-Vano, Vladimir Suteev, Valentina (ru) and Zinaida Brumberg (ru) (known as the Brumberg sisters). With 1000 meters of film and 14 frames per second it ran over 50 minutes at the time, which made it the first Soviet animated feature film and one of the first in the world.[6][7]

Simultaneously animator Aleksandr Bushkin with the help from Dziga Vertov produced a number of agitprop animated shorts, films and sketches with cutout animated sequences for Sovkino such as Soviet Toys (ru), Humoresques and episodes of Kino-Pravda. They were made as editorial cartoons that satirized bourgeoisie, Church and Western countries, drawn and animated in a sketchy manner.[8][9]

During the late 1920s the industry started moving away from agitation. In 1927 Merkulov, Ivanov-Vano and Daniil Cherkes (ru) directed Senka the African (ru) at Mezhrabpom-Rus based on the fairy tale in verse by Korney Chukovsky. Known as the first animated Soviet film aimed at children, it combined traditional animation and some live action scenes.[7][10][11] Same year Ivanov-Vano and Cherkes worked on The Skating Rink (ru), another hand-drawn short that featured a distinguishable art style (white lines against black background).[12]Yuri Zhelyabuzhsky and Nikolai Bartram (ru), founder of the Toy Museum (ru) in Moscow, served as directors and screenwriters; together they also produced Bolvashka's Adventures that combined live action and stop motion animation in a story about a Pinocchio-like wooden boy.[13][14][15] The idea was extended in a spiritual successor — Bratishkin's Adventures, the first Soviet animated series that ran from 1928 to 1931. It was created by Yuri Merkulov and Aleksandr Ptushko at Mosfilm.[16][17][18]

In 1928 Nikolai Khodataev, his sister Olga Khodataeva (ru) and the Brumberg sisters produced a hand-drawn animated short The Samoyed Boy (ru) stylized as traditional Nenets art that followed a dramatic narrative and used an innovative technique of printing on thin celluloid.[6][13] A 24-minute stop motion film The Adventures of the Little Chinese was directed same year by Maria Benderskaya (ru) and could be considered a return to the traditions of Ladislas Starevich.[7][19]

Mikhail Tsekhanovsky's The Post (ru) (1929, cutout/cel animation) was both a return to constructivism traditions and a big step forward: it was successfully exported and widely shown around the world, while in the USSR it changed the perception of animation as an art form. It also became the first colorized Soviet animated film and one of the first to get a musical score by Vladimir Deshevov (ru) and a voiceover by Daniil Kharms in 1930.[13][7][20] He and his wife Vera Tsekhanovskaya led an animation studio at Lenfilm where a number of distinctive hand-drawn and stop motion films were created throughout the 1930s, including the much-praised Dzhyabzha (ru) (1938) by Mstislav Pashchenko (ru).[6][21][22] The team actively applied color using the original dye-transfer process invented by Lenfilm specialists, similar to Technicolor.[23]

In 1933 the couple collaborated with Dmitri Shostakovich and Alexander Vvedensky on the first traditionally animated Soviet feature — The Tale of the Priest and of His Workman Balda, a satirical opera loosely based on the fairy tale in verse by Alexander Pushkin and stylized as Rosta posters. Despite many problems, including the infamous bullying of Shostakovich in press, the film was nearly finished and had been stored at Lenfilm until 1941 when almost all of it was destroyed in fire caused by the bombings of Leningrad.[24] Tsekhanovsky is also credited with inventing of graphical sound along with Arseny Avraamov and Evgeny Sholpo (ru). They were challenged by Aleksandr Ivanov (ru), Nikolai Voinov (ru) and Panteleymon Sazonov (ru) who made a number of animated shorts based on their own idea of "drawing paper sound".[25][26]

In 1935 Aleksandr Ptushko directed The New Gulliver, one of the world's first full-length animated movies that combined detailed stop motion with a live actor (a 15-year-old boy). The film featured from 1,500 to 3,000 different puppets with detachable heads and various facial expressions, as well as camera and technical tricks.[18][27]

The international success of the movie allowed Ptushko to open his own "division of 3D animation" at Mosfilm which also worked as a school for beginning animators. In four years they created a dozen of stop motion shorts; most of them, such as A Fox and a Wolf (ru) (1936), were based around Russian folklore, traditional art (with the involvement of artists from Palekh) and could be watched in full color thanks to the newly invented three-color film process by Pavel Mershin (ru).[23] In 1939 Ptushko directed another feature — The Golden Key (ru) based on the popular Soviet fairy tale; it also combined stop motion with live action, but to a lesser extent.[18]

Simultaneously Alexandre Alexeieff who fled for France during the Russian Civil War developed a pinscreen animation technology that allowed for a wide spectre of special effects achieved through the use of hundreds of thousands of pins that formed different patterns. Despite the status of white émigré in the USSR his films were well-known among Russian professionals and inspired various artists, most famously Yuriy Norshteyn. In the mid-1990s Alexeieff's daughter visited Moscow and presented her father's works to the State Central Museum of Cinema (ru). Today he is commemorated as a patriarch of Russian animation.[28][29]

Soyuzmultfilm, 1936–1960[edit]

Main article: Soyuzmultfilm

In 1933 Viktor Smirnov (ru) who headed the Amkino Corporation, a New York-based company responsible for distribution of Soviet movies in North America, was given task to study the animation processes at Disney and Fleischer Studios. Next year he returned to Moscow and founded an Experimental Animation Workshop under the Main Directorate of the Photo-Cinematographic Industry where he, Alexei Radakov, Vladimir Suteev and Pyotr Nosov (ru) started "developing the Disney style".[13][30] In 1935 Walt Disney himself sent a film reel with Three Little Pigs and Mickey Mouse shorts to the Moscow Film Festival that made a lasting impression on Soviet animators and officials.

On June 10, 1936 the Soyuzdetmultfilm Studio was created in Moscow from the small and relatively independent trickfilm units of Mosfilm, Sovkino, Mezhrabpomfilm and Smirnov's studio. In a year it was renamed to Soyuzmultfilm. Three-months retraining courses were organized by the studio administration where animators studied everything, from drawing and directing movies to the basics of music and acting.[11] For four years some of the leading animators, including Ivan Ivanov-Vano, the Brumberg sisters, Alexandra Snezhko-Blotskaya, Leonid Amalrik, Olga Khodataeva, Vladimir Suteev and Boris Dyozhkin (ru) focused on the creation of Disney-style shorts, exclusively using the cel technique.[13] From 1937 on they also produced films in full color using the three-color film process by Pavel Mershin.[23]

In 1938 the team also mastered rotoscoping, or Eclair as it has been known in Russia since the 1920s (after the Eclair video projector). Not everyone was happy with the chosen direction though, and by 1939 many developed their own styles. Ivanov-Vano directed Moydodyr (ru) based on the fairy tale in verse which he personally praised as an important step from Disney.[11] Suteev and Lamis Bredis presented a distinctive Uncle Styopa adaptation, while Leonid Amalrik and Vladimir Polkovnikov (ru) converted Doctor Aybolit stories into a mini-series that ran from 1939 to 1946, with complex animation and an original "positive human protagonist". At the same time Aleksandr Ivanov and Dmitry Babichenko (ru) made a radical shift towards agitprop and socialist realism with films such as Grandfather Ivan and War Chronicles (ru), respectively.[31]

Soon after Lev Kuleshov, then a professor at VGIK, suggested Ivanov-Vano to open and head a workshop under the Art Faculty which became the first official Russian workshop where students studied the art of animation.[32] Among Ivanov's first students were Lev Milchin, Yevgeniy Migunov and Anatoly Sazonov (ru).

With the start of the Great Patriotic War the studio was evacuated to Samarkand and then — to Almaty, along with some key animators who continued teaching students and producing films, including anti-fascist propaganda. In 1943 they returned to Moscow and released several kids movies such as The Tale of Tsar Saltan (1943) by the Brumberg sisters and The Winter's Tale (ru) (1945) by Ivanov-Vano — the last film that used the Soviet three-color filming process before cinematographers switched to Agfacolor.[23][11] By that time Ptushko's studio at Mosfilm had been shut down and Tsekhanovsky's studio at Lenfilm — destroyed by a bomb, which basically turned Soyuzmultfilm into Russia's animation monopolist.

Yet even after the war its resources were very limited. 19 animators from the relatively small Soyuzmultfilm team were killed in action.[7] A whole generation of Lenigrad animators either disappeared at fronts or died during the Siege of Leningrad.[21] Others returned as war-disabled, such as Boris Dyozhkin and Aleksandr Vinokurov (both lost their left eyes), Boris Butakov (ru) who got a bullet stuck in his head and Vladimir Degtyaryov (ru) who lost his right arm and had to learn to work as left-handed.[33]Vladimir Suteev left the industry on his return.[34]

The rest worked intensively to prepare new animators; between 1945 and 1948 four groups of students graduated from VGIK. They also continued releasing short and feature films that brought them international recognition, such as The Lost Letter (1945) and The Humpbacked Horse (1947) that was used by Walt Disney as a teaching tool for his artists.[11][35] In 1948 The Champion (ru) by Aleksandr Ivanov and art director Yevgeniy Migunov was accused of formalism and anthropomorphism following the cold war anti-Disney campaign. As Migunov remembered, he floutingly drew backgrounds for his next movie as realistic as possible, and suddenly it became "a golden standard" for the next ten years.[30][36] Ironically, he would become one of the leading innovators later on.

From 1950 to 1960 the vast majority of animated films were fairy tale adaptations influenced by the works of Viktor Vasnetsov, Ivan Bilibin, Mikhail Vrubel, Palekh and Fedoskino miniatures and other national styles. The Disney's conveyor method of production with a clear work split was implemented along with a full analog of a multiplane camera. Eclair (rotoscoping) also rose to popularity.[22] According to the 1951 report by Ivan Ivanov-Vano, it was a temporary measure that served as a teaching tool for beginning animators.[37] Many leading actors "played" and voiced the characters, like Mikhail Astangov who appeared as the beast in The Scarlet Flower (1952).[38]

Some directors made excessive use of this method, others mixed it with hand-made animation as in The Snow Queen (1957) by Lev Atamanov, arguably the most famous work of that time.[38] Many focused on animal art with little to no use of rotoscoping. All this allowed for a yearly release of prominent feature films with high production values such as The Night Before Christmas (1951), The Snow Maiden (1952), The Enchanted Boy and The Frog Princess (1954), The Twelve Months (1956) and The Adventures of Buratino (1959).

The Khrushchev Thaw[edit]

First changes happened in 1953 when a puppet division was reopened at Soyuzmultfilm. In 1954 Yevgeniy Migunov along with an engineer Semyon Etlis produced the first Soviet stop motion film since Aleksandr Ptushko: Karandash and Klyaksa — Merry Hunters (ru) about the adventures of the Russian clown Karandash and his dog. According to Migunov, they had to reinvent the whole production process. They organized a technical base, constructed and patented a device for shooting in statics, with a horizontally moving camera and attachable dolls. Also for the first time they used ball-jointed dolls and latext to make puppet faces which led to a variety of emotions.[36][39]

They were followed by Vladimir Degtyaryov who produced many films such as Beloved Beauty (1958) and Who Said Meow? (ru) (1962), Roman Kachanov and Anatoly Karanovich (ru) who directed the award-winning The Cloud in Love (ru) (1959) that combined stop motion, traditional and cutout animation, Vadim Kurchevsky (ru) and Nikolay Serebryakov whose style was marked by extensive aesthetic search for "combination of realism and the baroque".[37]Sergey Obraztsov and his team also produced a number of movies using hand puppets.[40]

In 1957 Migunov directed Familiar Pictures (ru) based on the sketches by a stand-up comedian Arkady Raikin who also appeared in the short. What made it special was a radical style of magazine caricatures, since Raikin's satire didn't fit the "realistic" art direction.[36][41] It wasn't long until other animators started abandoing it. In 1958 Alexandra Snezhko-Blotskaya released an adaptation of Arkady Gaidar's A Tale of Malchish-Kibalchish inspired by ROSTA posters, while Boris Stepantsev and Evgeny Raykovsky directed a postmodernPetya and the Little Red Riding Hood (ru) that leant towards Tex Avery. In 1962 they also made a sequel of sorts, a live-action animated filmNot Just Now (ru).[37][42]

In 1960—1962 a whole line of "formalistic" features hit the screens, such as It Was I Who Drew the Little Man by the Brumberg sisters, The Key by Lev Atamanov, Cipollino by Boris Dyozhkin and The Wild Swans by Mikhail and Vera Tsekhanovsky — the first Soviet widescreen feature that introduced Gothic art style.[43] Ivanov-Vano also broke new grounds with The Flying Proletary (1962), the first widescreen stop motion short based on the poems and art of Vladimir Mayakovsky that made use of bas-relief paper dolls.[40][44] Same year Fyodor Khitruk made a directoral debut with a primitivistic cutout short The Story of a Crime that told a contemporary story and gained international praise.

Soyuzmultfilm, 1964–1991[edit]

In the following years many animators turned away from the conveyor method of production and developed their own distinctive styles and approaches. The number of titles rose through the mid-1960 into the 1970s and 1980s, up to fifty per year.[37] Mini-series and anthologies became common, while the amount of feature films decreased dramatically.

Director Boris Stepantsev was known for experimenting a lot. Among his films was another postmodern comedy Vovka in the Far Far Away Kingdom (1965), the paint-on-glass animationSong of a Falcon (1967), the highly popular Karlsson-on-the-Roof dilogy (1968–1970) that made use of xerography and The Nutcracker adaptation (1973) that presented a familiar story without a single spoken word.[37][42]

Some patriarchs also joined the new wave. Ivanov-Vano was appointed an artistic director of the puppet division where he made a number of stop motion/cutout films inspired by Russian folk art, like Lefty (1964) that addressed lubok, Go There, Don't Know Where (1966) that used elements of rayok and skomorokh theatre, The Seasons (1969) based around Tchaikovsky's two character pieces, presented as a combination of Dymkovo toys and lace, and the award-winning The Battle of Kerzhenets (1971) where frescos and icons came to life.[11]

Another well-respected old-timer Boris Dyozhkin launched a popular series of short comedy films about two teams that competed in various sport disciplines such as football, hockey, skiing, boxing and so on. It ran from 1963 to 1981 and was notable for fast-paced slapstick synchronized with music.[31]

Among the most political animators were Fyodor Khitruk whose satire The Man in the Frame (1966) was cut by censors[45] and Andrei Khrzhanovsky whose surrealist film The Glass Harmonica (ru) (1968) was shelved for many years. On the other hand, Khitruk's Boniface's Holidays (ru) (1965), Film, Film, Film (1968) and the Winnie-the-Pooh trilogy in particular became an instant success among both kids and adults. It was completely different from the Disney adaptation, and for decades these films were hits for East European viewers.[46]

Roman Kachanov made numerous films for children. He started with puppet animation such as A Little Frog Is looking for His Father, The Mitten and, most famously, the Cheburashka series that turned Cheburashka

Scene from Ladislas Starevich's The Cameraman's Revenge (1911) [1]
Interplanetary Revolution (1924)
A scene from Dzhyabzha (1938)
Scene from Grandfather Ivan (1939)
Eastern European Animation refers to Animated Shows from Eastern Europe, to include Russian and the now defunct Soviet Union, as well as most other ex-socialist European countries. Actually, classifying these as "shows" is very inaccurate; some of them are features, some are actual shows; most of them are isolated shorts. In fact, there were no animated shows in Soviet Union; those that look like ones are series of loosely connected shorts, with long (sometimes over 10 years) intervals between "releases". Overall, network and medium seem to matter much less in Eastern European culture, at least to average viewer—in part because there was only one thing to watch for so many years—so not making distinction between features, shorts and series on this page is justified. However, the post-Fall era animation is more westernized in formal aspects, with a proper division into features, shows and shorts. Bear in mind that just because it has the word "East" in the title does not make this trope not part of Western Animation. While cartoons from the former Soviet Block are often significantly different from their West Western counterparts, their stories usually follow similar premises and touch upon closely related subjects. It is the same continent after all.See also Anime and Asian Animation.


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  • 38 Parrots
  • About Sidorov Vova
  • Adventures of Captain Vrungel
  • Adventures of Mowgli: Five Russian shorts based on The Jungle Book.
  • The Adventures Of Buratino
  • The Adventures Of Prince Vladmir
  • The Adventures Of Vasia Kurolesov
  • Armen Film Animated Shorts (Armenian)
  • Breakfast on the Grass (Estonian)
  • The Cameraman's Revenge
  • Captain Pronin
  • The Cat and the Tree
  • Cheburashka
  • Cossacks
  • The Cow
  • The Dog Door, based on the short story Goodbye Ravine
  • Fantadroms (Latvian)
  • Film, Film, Film
  • Firing Range
  • The Frog Princess
  • Gagarin
  • The Goat Musician
  • Gogona da Tovlis Gunda (Georgian)
  • * The Golden Antelope
  • Hedgehog in the Fog
  • His Wife Is a Hen
  • Icarus and Wisemen
  • Interplanetary Revolution
  • Investigation Held by Kolobki
  • I Shall Give You a Star
  • It Was I Who Drew The Little Man (a.k.a. Chelovechka narisoval ya)
  • The Key
  • A Kitten Named Woof
  • Last Year's Snow Was Falling
  • Lavatory-Lovestory
  • Leopold the Cat
  • Little Fox
  • Little Longnose
  • Masha and The Bear
  • Mitten
  • Mother For Little Mammoth
  • Mr Walk
  • My Love
  • The Mystery of the Third Planet
  • Nu, Pogodi!
  • Once Upon a Dog
  • The Old Man and the Sea (1999 animated short film adaptation)
  • Plasticine Crow
  • Qumi-Qumi
  • The Scarlet Flower
  • Smeshariki (also known as GoGoRiki in the English dub)
  • The Snow Queen (1957) (Soviet adaptation)
  • The Snow Queen (2012) (2012 CGI adaptation)
  • Suur Toll (Estonian)
  • The Soviet short and Russian animated film based on The Nutcracker:
  • The animated adaptations of Tales of the Magic Land and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
  • There Lived Kozyavin.
  • A two part adaptation of Treasure Island.
  • Town Musicians of Bremen.
  • Pif - Paf, Oi-Oi-Oi
  • The Return of the Prodigal Parrot
  • Three From the Prostokvashino Village (Prostokvashino can be loosely translated as Buttermilk)
    • Holidays in Prostokvashino
    • Winter in Prostokvashino
  • Welcome: A Soviet adaptation of Dr Seuss' Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose.
  • The Very Blue Beard
  • Vinni Pukh (Soviet Winnie-the-Pooh shorts)
  • Vovka In Far Far Away Kingdom (Vovka v Tridevyatom tsarstve)
  • Five short 1970's cartoons based on Greek Mythology. Remarkably close to the original material, especially considering the heavy Socialistic undertones. Possibly unique in not giving Princess Andromeda a Race Lift. The shorts are "Return from Olympus" (occurring in modern times, with flashback to the Labors of Heracles), "Labyrinth(about Theseus, naturally), "Argonauts", "Perseus", and "Prometheus".
  • The Wolf and the Calf.
  • Tale of Tales
  • A Tale is Told
  • Melnitsa Studio's "3 Bogatyrs" movies
    • Alesha Popovich and Tugarin Zmei
    • Dobrynia Nikitich and the Serpent Gorynych
    • Il'ia Muromets and the Nightingale-Robber
    • and to top the trilogy, Three bogatyrs, featuring all three heroes
      • Three bogatyrs and the horse move
      • Now with a sequel!




    Other Eastern European 

    Western Animation 

  • Spoofed on The Simpsons when Krusty the Clown airs Worker and Parasite in place of Itchy and Scratchy in the Krusty Gets Kancelled episode.
  • Spoofed on The Fast Show with Chanel 9's strange and sadistic animation "Willy Ton Bastardo".

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