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Animation auteurs: in the Urals, they still draw cartoons by hand. And the results are thrilling

Animation auteurs: in the Urals, they still draw cartoons by hand. And the results are thrilling

A group of Yekaterinburg animators are eschewing CGI in favour of traditional hand-drawn animations

24 December 2013
Text Evgenia Openko

Name: Dmitry Geller
Age: 42

Geller, a Yekaterinburg-born artist, animator and director, is one of the most acclaimed figures in contemporary Russian animation. He is best known for as one of the first figures in Russia to marry traditional hand-drawn animation to computer technology. Geller’s animations are considered as mysterious as their creator. “While working on a film I don’t try to make everything crystal clear even to myself,” he says. “I just wait for the moment when the key enters the lock.” Geller started out as an artist before moving to animation at the Sverdlovsk studio in the early Nineties. In 1998, he was promoted to animation director.

Key film: The Sparrow Who Kept His Word (2010)
The animation is about a little sparrow who braves the cold, wind and rain in order to uphold a promise he has made. “This is my first puppet film and it has a special meaning for me,” says Geller. “This was my way of saying thank you to the Soviet school of animation and films that shaped me as a creative person.”

Name: Nina Bisyarina
Age: 32

Bisyarina is best known for the delicate and sensitive nature of her animated films, which are hand-drawn on tracing paper. As part of her efforts to introduce contemporary animation to a wider audience, she organises regular screenings in Yekaterinburg. “We did not expect many people to come to our first event,” she says. “It was such as pleasant surprise to see the 400-seat cinema hall fully packed.” Inspired by this experience, Bisyarina is currently working on Auditoria (Audience), a project that includes both screenings and animation workshops.

Key film: A Trip to the Seaside (2008)
Although they are not her target audience, many of Bisyarina’s animations focus on children. A Trip to the Seaside, a seven-minute film about a young girl taking a train journey in Russia, explores the inner world of a child and how it differs to that of an adult. The movie was awarded a special mention at the 2010 International Festival of Animated Film.

Name: Mikhail Dvoryankin
Age: 32

Dvorkyankin’s simplicity of plot, lyricism and wit make his films instantly recognisable. “Animation is my life,” he says. “I believe something unaccomplished and really important is still awaiting me somewhere ahead and little by little, I’m getting there.” Dvorkyankin is known for using outdated animation techniques, which he himself admits is “creative madness” that are unlikely to make him a hit among producers. He is currently working on a film based on the legends and beliefs of the people of the Northern Urals.

Key film: The Women’s Day Gift (2010)
Dvorkyankin’s directorial debut is based on his own experiences at school. The eight-minute, hand-drawn cartoon is set in the early 1990s and follows a shy schoolboy as he deliberates on whether to reveal his feelings for a fellow classmate by giving her a hand-made gift. “Even though many would consider the methods I used absurd, outdated and costly, those were the only techniques interesting to me at that moment and I wanted to test my strengths,” he says. The animation won a number of awards in Russia and abroad.

Name: Olga Chernova
Age: 31

For Chernova, the work of the animator is the most interesting part of the production process. “It is so exciting to see motion being born out of ideas and sketches and to share this magic moment with others,” she says. She mainly focuses on children’s animations and is currently collaborating with Nina Bisyarina on a series called The Children’s World Tales.

Key film: The Little Mouse and the Fox (2007)
A five-and-a-half minute children’s animation, which was created using 2D computer graphics and pencil drawings, The Little Mouse and the Fox is about a small mouse and his unshakeable will to live. The film featured at a variety of international animation festivals including Iran, Japan and Canada. “This is a story of the everyday struggle of a little creature and his steadfast optimism in life,” says Chernova.

Name: Natalia Chernysheva
Age: 29

Although a fan of hand-drawn films Chernysheva experiments with other techniques such as flash animation. A graduate of the Ural State Academy of Architecture and Arts, she is currently studying at animation film school in Valence, France, from where she says, “I want to create animation no matter where and in what conditions. I have to admit that here in France, animation is treated much better and this is very inspiring.”

Key Film: Snowflake (2012)
Chernysheva’s award-winning diploma project, Snowflake (2012), is set in Africa and follows a small boy who imagines what it would be like if the world was covered in snow. The film, which is a little under six minutes long, was financed by the Russian government and produced by Moscow studio Pchela. “I did lots of research for this project,” she says. “I browsed images online and watched West African dance videos at the local library to soak up this rich and beautiful culture. I also went to the local zoo to study animals’ movements.”

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