Soviet/Socialist Realism descended upon Russia’s creative community as a Stalinist straight-jacket, set to confound and stifle the very essence of what art is so often about: the creative expression and development of the individual. Such notions were out of phase with Stalin’s vision of the USSR as it headed, synchronised and human-powered towards a glorious, harmonious tomorrow somewhere down the line. Or so he thought.
Gone was the celebration of individuality and the simple creative rights that we take for granted without a second thought; the artist’s role as questioner, commentator or inquisitor of the status quo, coupled with the indulgent pursuit of his or her own development and direction. Forget about it!
Stalin, smart enough to realise the power of visual media was determined to make these creative types useful after all; in the production of Soviet glory-works that pointed to tomorrow’s Utopia whilst papering over the cracks of today. Now the artist would be the servant of the state and in his own words: “the engineer of human souls.” Could anything so celebratory as the art of creation be expressed so sinisterly?
So, Stalin’s purges, show trials and denouncements raged against murals and painted backdrops celebrating the nobility of labour and the unity of all under a common cause. All executed within state-approved constraints and censorship, and depicting approved content, of course. Even the methodology of production could be controlled, as many of the early Soviet-era animators found.
The moving image: this newest and most powerful art form was always destined to be stringently controlled from inception to completion. The pioneering, anything-goes spirit of the avante-garde was duly steamrollered flat, to be replaced by rotoscoping as the approved methodology for 2D animation. Gone were free-hand flights of fancy: rotoscoping is a technique that allows the animator to effectively trace the motion of a figure or object that has previously been filmed ‘for real’ on a standard cine-camera. It can be used to great effect, and produces a very fluid, realistic animation that is convincingly ‘locked’ to the constraints of real bodies and real physics – and in this instance: to the constraints of Soviet Realism.
In the second wave of Soviet animation, Soyuzdetmultfilm-Studio became Soyuzmultfilm in 1936 and settled into production-line Cel based animation where a division of labour sees line inkers, colour fillers et al working in standardised form as an animation factory. So began a two-decade long era of production-line animation, centered around children’s cartoons, Soviet myths, propaganda and traditional Russian folk tales. A heady cocktail.
The era saw disillusioned, talented animators abandoning their careers and leaving the animation arena behind, sick of it’s constraints – a sad loss, especially considering the high regard in which the work was/is held. In spite of the creative walk-out, directors such as Lev Atamanov and Ivan Ivanov-Vano still managed to output international prize-winning work (The Snow Queen -1957 and Moydodyr -1954 respectively) whilst colleagues of the era walked away from the field and into other forms of employment. All waited out Stalin’s time as leader, as the Cold War sent the nation into a deep freeze.
(Photo by Maarten)