Grow­ing Pains

Rus­sian an­i­ma­tion pro­duc­tion is boom­ing thanks to govern­ment spend­ing and strong de­mand while shorts dom­i­nate the cre­ative end abroad. By Tom McLean.

Animation Magazine - - International -

An­i­ma­tion has long been pop­u­lar in Rus­sia, where the first ef­forts at the art form date back to the time of the czars. The tu­mul­tuous his­tory of an­i­ma­tion pro­duc­tion in Rus­sia, how­ever, has been on the up­swing the past few years as govern­ment sup­port and grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of the art form have seen rapid growth — and a few grow­ing pains.

The growth is eas­ily told in the num­bers. Ac­cord­ing to the Rus­sian An­i­mated Film As­so­ci­a­tion, formed in 2012 to pro­mote the growth of Rus­sian an­i­ma­tion, there are about 30 stu­dios, the largest be­ing Riki Pro­duc­tion Cen­tre and Mel­nitsa Stu­dio.

In the fea­ture realm, a hand­ful of Rus­sian­made fea­tures are re­leased to the­aters each year, achiev­ing a mod­est level of suc­cess and bring­ing in grow­ing of box of­fice rev­enues.

Over­all, box-of­fice re­ceipts have more than dou­bled over the past five years, fu­eled largely by suc­cess­ful re­leases from Mel­nitsa. Last year’s Three He­roes on Dis­tant Shores, the most-re­cent en­try in Mel­nitsa’s pop­u­lar se­ries, set a box-of­fice record for an an­i­mated fea­ture with an es­ti­mated $31.5 mil­lion in ticket sales.

Sev­eral re­cent fea­tures have grossed in a mid-range of $6 mil­lion to $7.5 mil­lion, with some films at the lower end gross­ing in the $1 mil­lion to $2 mil­lion range.

Crit­i­cal re­cep­tion to Rus­sian fea­tures has been mixed — within Rus­sia, there ap­pears to be an el­e­ment of lo­cal pride in­volved. “People in Rus­sia to­day go to the­aters to watch Rus­sian an­i­mated films more will­ingly than 15 years ago,” says Kon­stantin Bronzit, a Mel­nitsa an­i­ma­tor whose 2007 short film Lava­tory Lovestory was nom­i­nated for an Os­car.

Ge­orge Goloviznin, brand man­ager for Marme­lad Me­dia, Riki Group, says it’s com­mon for stu­dios to have one es­tab­lished brand and he ex­pacts that to grow. “In the fu­ture, we ex­pect that the com­pany will have a port­fo­lio of brands, and there will be a few key ma­jors,” he says. “Also in the fu­ture there will be tougher com­pe­ti­tion.”

Other films have found mar­kets abroad more suc­cess­ful, such as Wizart, whose fairy tale fea­tures like The Snow Queen and its se­quel have done big busi­ness over­seas. “One­hun­dred per­cent of our con­tent is made for the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket, but it works in the Rus­sian mar­ket as well,” says Diana Yuri­nova, head of in­ter­na­tional dis­tri­bu­tion.

As the num­ber of films has grown, so too has pro­duc­tion bud­gets. RAFA says bud­gets have nearly dou­bled in the past five years — much of it com­ing straight from the govern­ment. In re­cent years, around $25 mil­lion has been al­lo­cated to Rus­sian stu­dios, with slightly more than half go­ing to fea­tures and the rest to de­but an­i­ma­tions, shorts and se­ries.

“With­out this sup­port, Rus­sian cin­ema would be dead,” says Bronzit.

Pri­vate in­vest­ments do ex­ist, though the num­bers are less clear. RAFA places it at any­where from 35 per­cent to 50 per­cent of an­i­mated bud­gets. Pri­vate fund­ing is harder to come by for the artis­tic shorts.

Tele­vi­sion an­i­ma­tion also has seen ro­bust growth, with about 15 Rus­sian an­i­ma­tion se­ries — mostly aimed at chil­dren — beam­ing to the na­tion’s tele­vi­sions, up from about five in 2008. Among them are: The Poosh­ers (Mel­nitsa Stu­dio), Space Dogs Fam­ily (Ki­noatis Stu­dio), Lucky (Metronom­film Stu­dio), Qumi Qumi (Toon­box Stu­dio), Fly­ing An­i­mals (Da Stu­dio), Masha and the Bear (An­i­mac­cord Stu­dio) and Kiko­riki (SKA St. Peters­burg).

Rus­sia’s more artis­tic an­i­ma­tors and shorts con­tinue to be well-re­garded and cel­e­brated, as at the just-con­cluded Car­toons on the Bay fes­ti­val in Venice. Among the guests was Leonid Sh­melkov, whose short film My Own Per­sonal Moose was among the fest’s nom­i­nated films. “The au­di­ence for my films is larger in for­eign coun­tries,” he says. “Be­cause the net­work of short film and an­i­ma­tion fes­ti­vals is more de­vel­oped, there are more dis­trib­u­tors of short films.”

He de­scribes Rus­sian an­i­ma­tion as a tad in­su­lar. “From one side, it is good: We have our own tra­di­tions!” he says. “But from the other side, each year I see Rus­sian films that could have been made 20, 30 or 40 years ago.”

While the in­dus­try is grow­ing thanks to govern­ment fund­ing, those qual­ity is­sues re­main a con­cern es­pe­cially as the Rus­sian fare in­creas­ingly has to com­pete with movies made by more ex­pe­ri­enced film­mak­ers abroad. Some stu­dios, like Wizart, train their own an­i­ma­tors and, when needed, hire free­lancers from abroad, says Wizart pro­ducer Yuri Moskvin.

Sh­melkov says he ex­pects the talent pool to grow. “It seems, if ev­ery­thing goes in the right di­rec­tion, our commercial an­i­ma­tion will be much bet­ter,” he says.

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