In this chronology we’ve edged into the living memories of contemporary, internet-using folk who enjoyed the Saturday morning cartoon show and tea-time TV, and who can now revisit childhood pleasures courtesy of Youtube and the like. I used to soak it up, we all did. Whilst we enjoyed Scooby Doo, Bugs Bunny, The Pink Panther, Disney shorts and the output of the exemplary Smallfilms (aimed at a slightly younger audience), in still-Soviet Russia, young eager eyes were less animation-saturated on a daily basis, with lengthier work released at wider intervals and tending towards the feature/featurette format. A treat then. Witness the likes of: Nu Pagodi, Cheburashka, Karlson Who Lives on the Roof (beautifully rendered) and Three from Buttermilk Village (Uncle Fyodor).
Animation over here was decidedly children’s entertainment with the TV output continually stoked by input from the American Hanna-Barbera studios. Great, iconic characterisations, but without the production budgets/values that features allowed. Something had happened to the limited-animation style. Whilst in Russia; it’s still art whether limited or not. Here the word “limited” translated ever more to cost-cutting, with flat, scrolling backgrounds populated by characters whose motion was resolved down to the fewest drawn frames per second. It wasn’t “art” for children, it was simply cheap. Certainly retrograde to the hand drawn excellence of the likes of Tom and Jerry, originally created twenty years before.
I’m digressing here, but in fairness, Hanna-Barbera could and did produce quality feature work; they just couldn’t compete in the feature market with Disney (animated features were Disney), so TV with its lower budgets and production values inevitably beckoned.
Meanwhile in Russia, something bizarre happened in 1968 with possibly the first instance of computer-assisted animation ever. OK, that’s in any narrative form, parallel to that which we know today. In 1967, American Charles A. Csuri started creating computer animated 2D motion art, with comparisons to modern morphing techniques. It resulted in the milestone work Hummingbird (1968, with James Shaffer). The Russian mathematician and physicist N. Konstantinov, along with his team created a feline character in the remarkable, equally ‘milestone’ “Kitty” or “Kitten”.
Whilst American Hummingbird disintegrates into 2D animated line elements, the solid-filled Russian cat walks across-frame and peers about in what looks like isometric 3D! This is 3D character animation in Soviet 1968! Amazing. The catch is that whilst Hummingbird was computer generated and rendered, the Kitty graphics were printed out frame-by-frame onto paper which was then photographed and sequenced onto film.
Whilst not pure CG animation then, this approach makes it somehow more unique. Wouldn’t you agree?
(Photo by clarita)