Following last week’s glimpse at Yuri Norstein’s paint on glass animation, it is worth looking at other exponents of the art. Although Valentina Hizhnyakova’s name is not as familiar as some of his peers and luminaries, it is worth watching an animated featurette he directed for Sverdlovsk Film Studio entitled Welcome! (1986). It’s a fabulous piece executed in a deceptively brisk – almost naive – style depicting the exploits of a moose as he wanders through the forest. He meets various animal acquaintances on the way and they chat and forage for food; a simple enough premise indeed.
The sense of motion, however, is particularly effective, especially in a scene where the animal characters race through the trees having been startled by gunshots. The fluid nature of the paint-on-glass technique even hints at a painterly variation of 2D morphing, as the liquid images are modified from frame to frame to describe motion. Oh yes, it’s also fun too. Quite important, that.
In case you were wondering where Sverdlovsk is located, well you probably won’t find it on any map made after 1991 (although the region Sverdlovsk Oblast still exists). Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has become Ekaterinburg, Russia’ fourth largest city, home to ex-President Boris Yeltsin and also tragically where Tsar Nicholas II and his family were murdered during the revolution.
A leading practitioner of the paint-on-glass technique is Aleksandr Petrov (himself a progeny of Yuri Norstein), who has since come to embrace the technique as his signature style; it’s what he does and what he has become known for globally.
Petrov’s aptitude was acknowledged early in his career, allowing him to perform the role of director – in some form – since 1984. From this point until 1988/89, he worked as art director on several animation projects, until adopting the role of feature director that he maintains to this day. His folio of work includes several animations based upon the writings of authors such as Platonov, Dostoyevsky, Shmelev, Pushkin and Hemingway as well as other projects outside his main canon.
Petrov’s adaptation of the Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea is possibly his most well known and even definitive work, realised via some truly beautiful artistry.
It’s a large-format piece shot on an IMAX camera incorporating a motion-control system. Produced at Pascal Blais Studio, Canada (which also part-financed the project), it was the first animation of this type to utilise such high-res technology. The twenty minute featurette took two years to make before its release in 1999. Similar to Nortstein in his approach, Petrov adopted the multi-layer glass pane approach to enhance depth and enable effective character/object separation. Each stacked pane was A2 in size and painted with oils, manipulated in part by the master’s own fingers!
Literally, Petrov does not mind getting his hands dirty! The result however is far from ‘finger paints’ in its masterful execution, resembling as it does, a continually evolving, living painting. It is as if each frame – and there are over 29,000 of them – is a gallery-print in its own right, with the result being as far from ‘kids stuff’ as is conceivable. A truly remarkable work.
It comes as no surprise to learn that The Old Man and The Sea won both the Grand Prix at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival and the Academy Award for Animated Short Film in the 1999 ceremonies, as well receiving great acclaim from industry figures and viewing public alike. It is surprising however, that Petrov still has space for all his trophies, having received over 20 since 1988 and with no sign that he intends to retire! His last complete feature My Love – another dual award winner – received its theatrical release in 2007. And he recently created Firebird, a 3 minute animation, for the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Games.
It seems that even the greats can fall upon hard times. Incredibly, in 2009 Petrov announced that he was essentially unemployed and broke, having used up his prior earnings, and without further commissions to sustain him. The Sochi commission was no doubt a welcome boost but perhaps too little, too late? In 2010 he expressed a desire to create a feature length animation in his trademark style but was stymied through lack of funds – although he does maintain links with Pascal Blais Studio for commercial work. Animators may not be able to exist on ‘art’ alone?