Aleksandr Tatarskiy has received scant mention in this series so far. It’s time to correct this omission. Although his extensive filmography dates back to 1974, by the time the Soviet Union ceased to exist he had already envisaged and seized the future of Russian animation by founding Russia’s first independent studio: Pilot, based in Moscow. This was in 1988, when the union was officially still in existence, although the ongoing disintegration was gathering momentum.
It’s worth stating here that whilst we may think of the ‘end’ as an absolute, decisive act – locked synchronously and erroneously in our Western minds with TV news reports showing the fall of the Berlin wall – the truth is far more complex. There were 2 more years of Soviet crumbling to endure until the era was officially over in December 1991, which was approximately 6 years after the first real warning shocks were felt that would ultimately herald the Soviet demise. In all, a truly protracted and messy business that took as long as World War 2!
So, there was Tatarskiy, setting up his new studio as the condition of his (adoptive) country veered into critical. That takes true vision and strength of character to pursue, let alone achieve. He had already achieved much however; initially through years of academia at the Kiev Institute of Theatre and Cinema, and then in Goskino USSR where he studied animation.
He then worked through the ranks at Kievnauchfilm studio in his native Ukraine before moving to Studio Ekran in Moscow to take up the role of animation director. Often achieving multiple simultaneous credits of director, producer and writer, his studio work was notable for embracing both cel methodology as well as the intriguing technique of Claymation.
Here in the UK, most of us became familiar with Claymation via the character Morph who featured in various Tony Hart programmes from 1977 onwards. Tatarskiy’s elaborate, seminal Plasticine Crow appeared in 1981, though the American Max Fleischer had utilised the technique before either of them, in Modeling, released in 1921!
In essence it is stop-motion with animated clay characters/objects, achieved with or without armatures (internal possible skeletons). Devoid of rigid constraints (armatures notwithstanding), the animator is allowed freedom beyond the limits of any fixed-joint puppet, achieving the same same level of fluidity in 3D as drawn 2D work. The plasticity of the medium is often expressed through the work, in the form of morphing as we have come to understand it, though with real-world materials as opposed to CG.
So it is with Tatarskiy’s Plasticine Crow; an exuberant piece featuring both foreground characters and background scenics rendered via morphing claymation. The main character transforms rapidly between crow, dog, cow, fox and ostrich whilst the scenery liquefies, transforms and solidifies around him (or her?). Other characters appear and the environment undergoes multiple shifts in location. The whole spectacle is presented in a ‘flat’ 3D, or 2 1/2D as it is sometimes known, with the various elements having some physical depth, although positioned side-on against the (presumably top-down) animation table. Interestingly, the animation often fights against the shallow visual depth of the work by incorporating elements that are thrown-out towards the viewer – reminiscent of early 3D cinema tricks.
It’s an ambitious piece, presented in three ‘acts’ and accompanied in song throughout. It troubled the censors with it’s “ideological nonsense” – yes it is quite surreal in sight and sound, but it was ultimately passed and released. Enjoy.