Making the most of talented cartoonists, brand-new technologies and state support, studios are ushering in an exciting new era in animation.
A good example is Russia where award winning cartoons have helped its animation sector gain international recognition.
Although many aspects of Soviet Union life were unknown beyond the country’s borders, the world was still often transfixed by the quality of Soviet cinema.
Masterpieces such as “The Battleship Potemkin” bewitched Western viewers and are still loved today. Of all the Soviet Republics, Russian SSR was a leader in the movie industry and also produced excellent and well-respected animation productions.
One of the most famous was the 1979 animated movie “Tale of Tales”, directed by Yuriy Norshteyn and produced by the Moscow-based Soyuzmult film studio which gained international recognition and won several prizes in Lille (1980), Zagreb (1980 and 2002) and Los Angeles(1984).
Fortunately, the historically high tradition of Russian animation survived and, thanks to a combination of favourable factors, cartoon production is not only blossoming but taking a foothold beyond the country’s borders.
One obvious example is the animated series, “Masha and the Bear”, produced by the Animakkord Animation studio, which was a huge success after being translated into 25 languages and broadcast in over 100 countries. Another example is the cartoon “Snow Queen” by Wizart Animation Studio, which has been shown in over 80 countries.
Such creativity was officially recognized last October at “MIPJunior 2016”, the global gathering of TV broadcasters, in Cannes.More than 1,300 children’s programmes competed for a place in the top-30 most popular worldwide and two animated series from Digital Television Russia (DTR) - “Be-be-bears” and “Fantasy Patrol” – were ranked 15th and 27th respectively on the list.
Aleksandr Modestov, who represents television markets in Russia, Ukraine and CIS countries, said the results represents a “turning point” for Russian animation. He said, “Previously, not a single Russian cartoon had ever featured on the list of most watched television content from different countries, which look for the most interesting television projects and assess potential success of the cartoons. Hitting the top-30 at the first attempt is evidence not only of the high quality of “Be-be-bears” and “Fantasy Patrol”, but also proves that DTR has pursued the best marketing strategy in its international promotion”.
Indeed, the success of both animated series can be linked to effective promotional strategies that made them popular in their home country, said Tatyana Zyrareva, main producer of the channel Moolt.
The new series of “Be-be-bears” was regularly the most watched programme not only on Moolt but also on the Carousel channel, while “Fantasy patrol” was also a big hit on TV and Youtube where it was viewed more than 5 million times.
Zyrareva believes that what the viewing public appreciates most in Russian cartoons is the combination of entertainment and educational value of the productions. As they target children, they refuse to make use of violent or controversial scenes and focus on highlighting kindness, friendship and solidarity.For example, the protagonist of “Be-be-bears”, a brown bear named Kesha, is a “tireless scallywag” going through several adventures with his friends, who always support each other and overcome any obstacles they encounter.
“Fantasy Patrol”, meanwhile, takes place in the small and mysterious town of Myshkin, where a group of four young witches guarantee the safety and peace of its inhabitants. Other successful DTR products include “Paper Tales”, “Rolando Locomotov”, “Magic Lantern” and “Leo&Tig”, which have been lauded by international buyers.The worldwide success of “Masha and the Bear” and “Snow Queen” and DTR’s success in Cannes reflect well-established trends in Russian animation, a tradition which dates back to the Soviet era. The prolific productions of that time were technically sophisticated and had a powerful narrative for both kids and adults. Both contemporary Russian and international productions have been strongly influenced by Soviet animation excellence.
There are many reasons for the success of Russian animation.First, Russian animation studios invested in a new generation of talented scriptwriters, producers and animators to strengthen the ranks of the industry in the past fifteen years, hence the resulting creative and original products. The rejuvenation of the industry has gone hand in hand with the development and increasing use of the most advanced technological innovations in the whole industry.
The resurgence of the animation industry is also due to a system of state support which covers about 65% of productions. Government funds have contributed to the increase of the number of animated films produced in Russia – up from 22 in 2000 to 248 in 2014.
Likewise, increasing production is also due to the decreasing costs of producing cartoons in Russia in recent years. Indeed, the economic crisis made the Russia industry extremely appealing and competitive in comparison with its US and European counterparts, where costs for the same high-quality products are far higher.
But even if contemporary Russian animation is rooted in the tradition of Soviet era, it is now moving on a different track.Cartoonists’ talents, the strategy of producers and overall current favourable conditions are paving the way of a brand new golden age of Russian cartoons. While the Cannes success of “Be-be-bears” and “Fantasy Patrols” has opened the door wider for international recognition of Russian excellence, DTR and its fellow animation studios still have much to achieve in the coming years.