Watch 5 famous and funky Soviet cartoons on iconic studio's 80th anniversary
Animation existed in Russia as early as in the first decade of the 20th century, when a renowned choreographer and ballet dancer from the Mariinsky theater, Aleksandr Shiryaev, made papier-mache dolls and filmed them on camera while staging ballet performances. The author of the first internationally recognized puppet-animated film, Ladislas Starevich, was born in Russia to Polish parents and worked in the country in the 1910s. The first hand-drawn animated short films appeared in the country in the mid 1920s, but it was the creation of the state Soyuzmultfilm animation studio in 1936 that really brought the nationally-adored cartoons to audiences of millions.
Seventy percent of the studio's productions are drawn animation. Many are based on international children's books, and animators often even outplayed the original literary characters. Karlsson-on-the-Roof, who was from a series of children's books by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren became a real hit in the USSR when Soyuzmultfilm released its Karlsson animation in 1968. The short man with a propeller on his back is mischievous, yet charming.
The Soyuzmultilm version of Winnie-the-Pooh is the image that immediately comes to the minds of Russian people when they hear the name of the teddy bear from the English books by A. A. Milne. However, not so many Americans would recognize Christopher Robin's friend in the Soviet cartoon character, who was quite different from Disney's adaptation.
What probably most strikes some of the international audience in the "Nu, pogodi!" ("Just you wait") series, is how much smoking its "bad" character, the Wolf – often mistaken for a dog – does. The Wolf pursued the Hare in many adventures from 1969 onward, with the final episode having been released in 2006. Dozens of artists worked on the creation of the first episodes, as each second of the film required 12 various drawings in different phases of action. To make one episode of "Nu, pogodi!" some 7,500 sheets of special cel had to be drawn.
The 1975 cartoon "Hedgehog in the Fog", directed by Yury Norshtein, is considered to be one of the best cartoons in the history of animation. Having received over 30 international awards, the animation was created at the Soviet studios using a special technique involving drawn paper puppets and multiple glassy layers.
Soyuzmultfilm is also highly acclaimed for its puppet animated films, which make up some 20 percent of the studio's projects. The puppet branch appeared in 1953, and since then the production process of such films hardly changed. After one frame is filmed, the puppets' positions are changed – a process which has to be repeated several thousand times to make a film.
One of the biggest in terms of its fame, the character of Cheburashka was created with a puppet of only seven centimeters (2.7 inches) tall. The fictional character is neither a dog nor a hare nor a bear, but rather "an animal unknown to science." With its large ears, cute little Cheburashka, a friend of accordion-wielding Crocodile Gena, is the one who apparently confuses most international viewers, but in Russia it's grown to be one of Soyuzmultfilm main symbols.