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The History of Russian Animation (part 1)

Русская анимация (the Russian animation) is extremely rich and creative. Though студия Союзмультфильм (the Soyuzmultfilms studios) were not created before 1936, the first animations are dated back to 1906.

Soviet animation before the October revolution

The pioneer of Russian animation is Александр Ширяев (Alexandre Shiryayev), a famous ballet dancer from the Imperial Russian Ballet theatre, choreographer and dance teacher, who created a certain number of animations with puppets representing famous ballets between 1906 and 1909.

Around the same time, Владислав Александрович Старевич (Vladislav Starevitch), a biologist fascinated by cinema and theatre, created short animations with insects. He emigrated to France just before the 1917 Revolution.

But those animations were few and only shown in private. Most of them have been forgotten for decades, and some are lost forever.

The post revolution’s animations

In the early 1920s, Дзига Вертов (Dziga Vertov) a documentarist started to take interest in the animation. We owe him the first soviet graphic animation representing a military map with the front line moving according to the move of the different armies. It is strange that Vertov, who was insisting on shooting “life by surprise” in his films took so much interest in animation. He met Александр Бушкин (Alexander Bushkin) with whom he started his first experiments.

From that time on, Vertov and Bushkin with a small group of artists produced a number of animated films in the studio “Kultkino”. The animators worked where they could, in dark, dusty rooms or even at home. The speed of production was possible with new technology, flat puppets, freeing animators from labour-intensive drawings. In 1928 “Самоедский мальчик” (the boy from Camoed) directed by Николай и Ольга Ходатаевы (Nikolai and Olga Khodataev) and сёстры Брумберг (the sisters Brumberg) was released.

Animations in the 1930s

The soviet government was slowly getting convinced to invest money in that field to develop new ideas and experiment new techniques. Artists were allowed small rooms that were part of bigger cinematographic studios. They were mainly working on propaganda animation, but it gave animators like Иван Иванов-Вано (Ivan Ivanov-Vano) nicknamed “The Patriarch of the Soviet Animation”, Михаил Цехановский (Mikhail Tsekhanovsky), Николай Ходатаев (Nikolay Khodatayev) and others the opportunity to search new ways.

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In 1936, the legendary studios Союзмультфильм (Soyuzmultfilm) were created. But that’s another story.