Brain Pickings

5 Seminal Vintage Russian Animation Short Films

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What dancing ballerinas and hungry kings have to do with the dawn of the digital age.

While Walt Disney was building an animation empire in America, a thriving school of animation mastery was unfolding on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Russian art directors, illustrators, animators and video producers were experimenting with techniques often decades ahead of their time and creating beautifully crafted, visually stunning short films despite the technological limitations of the era. Many of these masterpieces are now available in Masters Of Russian Animation — a remarkable collcection of animated shorts from the 1960s through 1980s in four volumes.

Today, we look at five of these gems, with many thanks to reader Sebastian Waack (@edutechnews) for bringing some of them to our attention.

HEDGEHOG IN THE FOG (1975)

Based on a Russian folk tale, Hedgehog in the Fog, a 1975 gem by master-animator Yuri Norstein, utilized techniques like cutout-animation and stop-motion three decades before they reached creative buzzword status.

Thinking about how these effects were achieved — brilliantly — in the age of manual, analog studio production does give one pause in the face of all the digital tools we take for granted today.

Found on Volume 2.

STORY OF A CRIME (1962)

Director Fyodor Khitruk’s Story of a Crime is part Hanna-Barbera, part Hitchcock, part something else entirely. Using techniques like cutout collages and photo-illustration hybrids long before they had entered the mainstream animation arsenal, the film won the Jury Prize at the prestigious 1980 film festival in Lille, France.

You can catch part 2 here. Found on Volume 1.

THE SINGING TEACHER (1968)

From director Anatoly Petrov comes The Singing Teacher, an eerie, haunting, stunningly illustrated gem from 1968.

Found on Volume 1.

THE KING’S SANDWICH (1985)

Based on the famous A. A. Milne poem The King’s Breakfast, director Andrey Khrzhanovsky’s The King’s Sandwich features intricate line illustration and remarkably expressive characters from the dawn of computer animation.

Found on Volume 3.

BALLERINA ON A BOAT (1969)

With its minimalist lines and intricate play of perspectives, director Lev Atamanov’s Ballerina on a Boat is a lovely exercise in storytelling through grace and simplicity.

Found on Volume 2.

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