INTRODUCTION In this dissertation, I intend to explore how East European drawing and animation styles can be successfully incorporated into Western cinema, as there have not been too many animations or live-action movies that liberate themselves from the conventions of Hollywood. The ones that do subvert Hollywood conventions may either stand out with praise from critics or alienate the audience.
This dissertation will examine a few of the most influential European animation artists, including Pyetrovich Ivanov–Vano, a Soviet animator and Russian animation director, sometimes called the “patriarch of Soviet animation”; and Lev Konstantinovich Atamanov, one of the foremost Soviet animation film directors and one of the founders of Soviet animation art.
I will be discussing how these animators’ artistic styles translate into animations different to what Western culture is used to seeing and how this difference enriches the look and feel of the characters and landscape and how this different look can add to or take away from the storytelling of the animation. To see how East European art styles in animation have had an impact in Western cinema, I have chosen to examine the works of Western writer and director Tim Burton. At first glance his animations seem very different to those of East European artists. His movies have been heavily focused on darkness and shadows.
The characters are deformed and much of the time even scary. Therefore his style seems to present a contrast to the calm and gentle feel of Russian cartoons and stop-motion. However, on closer examination, the similarities start to appear. I intend to explore these similarities and show how subverting the norms of Western cinema can be done successfully. “… animation in these formerly Communist nations is often not aimed at children – the Fountainhead screening featured selections with the usual childish goofiness, as well as an unsettling anti-Communism protest about freedom of expression. (Snider, 2001) This dissertation will focus on two set pieces of work created by East European animators: “Seasons” by Ivan Pyetrovich Ivanov-Vano, and “Ballerina on the Boat” by Lev Konstantinovich Atamanov. When comparing the style of these pieces of work to that of Tim Burton, I will be focusing on the stop-motion animations “Vincent”, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Corpse Bride”, as these animations are closest to and showcase Tim Burton’s drawings and sketches that relate the most to East European animation.
I will also examine a few specific scenes and characters from several of his early live-action movies that essentially mirror his animation pieces. All of these directors have art styles very different from those of the Hollywood movies that follow the usual conventions. From the backgrounds to the main characters that stand out as individual entities, they have a dark tone to them on the surface while at the same time giving the audience a sense of magic and fantasy. These characters and locations that would be horrifying in real life are seen by the audience as friendly and gentle.
However, with the more child-friendly movies, for example, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, directed by Tim Burton, with the morning daylight and the colourful sets in the factory, the movie still conveys a sense of the “spooky” because of the shapes and strongly contrasting colours seen on the screen in every scene. When comparing the East European animation styles with Tim Burton’s, the balance between the scary and the magical will be a focal point, as this is where these styles subvert the Western conventions the most. Themes of “Seasons” by Ivan Pyetrovich Ivanov-Vano:
In this section I will be exploring how the background and character designs of the short animation “Seasons” by Ivan Pyetrovich Ivanov-Vano create a unique atmosphere for the audience, and discussing how the set, which was created by setting up layers of glass like a shelf under a camera and filmed with the fabrics and models moved on the shelves, uses these elements and combines them to create a magical fairytale feel with a hint of eeriness. Ivan Pyetrovich Ivanov-Vano was born on February 8th, 1900 in Moscow and died on March 25th, 1987.
A Soviet animator and a Russian animation director, and also laureate of numerous festivals, he was deemed worthy of the greatest honour and distinction in Russian animation, sometimes being referred to as the “patriarch of Soviet animation”. In 1923 he graduated from Vkhutemas, a Russian state art and technical school, and he began working at the State Film Technicum in 1929. From 1939 he taught at VGIK, the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography, a film school in Moscow, where he was made a professor in 1952. It was at VGIK that he taught Bulgarian animator Todor Dinov, among many other famous animators.
In 1962 he joined the board of directors of ASIFA, the International Animated Film Association. In 1970 he won the People’s Artist of the USSR award, also known as National Artist of the USSR. “Seasons” also known as “The Seasons of the Year”, is a nine-minute stop-motion animation created in 1969 and based on Tchaikovsky’s “The Seasons” (Troika and Fall). This animation actually comprises twelve shorter pieces, each representing a month of the year, with different themes and different characters. The twelve pieces are tied together by the main characters, travelling through all four seasons.
His style seen in this piece of animation is heavily influenced by “Russian avant-garde”, an influential wave of modern art that impacted from as early as around 1850 up to 1960. This type of art uses strong colours to create a lot of contrast, and everything within the painting is abstract. Tim Burton’s animation also uses contrast heavily, with strong colours, heavy shadows and abstract character designs. The co-director of this piece of animation, Yuriy Borisovich Norshteyn, uses a special technique to animate in which he uses different layers of glass panels to give a three-dimensional look.
The camera is placed above, looking down at these glass panels, which can be moved horizontally as well as up and down relative to the camera. This is to give the effect of a character moving towards or away from the camera. This style gives the animation layers, allowing objects to stand out from the sets. Despite the use of flat surfaces like fabrics to create the environment, the audience can still feel that different elements are on different levels; that mountains are in the distance and not immediately behind characters in the foreground.
This approach is used successfully to give the animation a depth of field. The animation was created using multiple layers, one on top of another. Working with Ivan Ivanov-Vano, Yuriy B. Norshteyn used the glass panels technique described above, called multilayered lining, to film the set pieces that give the visual effect of a three-dimensional image because in reality the pieces do have some distance between them. As the main characters ride in their carriage through Russian wilderness and towns, they pass though the seasons of the year.
Each season has its own unique style: in autumn, leaves fall in a circular motion towards the ground; in winter, hundreds of soft, white snowflakes fly around the set; in spring, there is the growth of plants and a heavy focus on colours; and lastly, in summer, the colours are strong and vibrant. Yet the styles of all the seasons have the same feeling running through them. The scenery feels as if it was created using fabric, the trees in the foreground are cut-outs made of what looks as though it might be material used to make curtains.
The designs of the buildings are heavily influenced by Russian art of the time; each building has a heavy outline and is placed randomly on a dome-shaped hill, like a toothpick pushed randomly into it. “… the Soviet government with its transformative designs could be said to occupy a position somewhere between the extremes established by the avant-garde… Russian avant-garde were producing not objects of aesthetic consumption but projects or models for a total restructuring of the world on new principles… … highly geometrical, monumental, utopian architecture… (Bowlt, 1999) What the quote means is that the artists wanted to do something different, to create something that represents the world but in a different manner. The people in the background are like the buildings, cut-outs placed randomly on the hills; so one can say that the people are also “highly geometrical”. The trees look crooked and drowsy. The brightness level and colour of the set are dark and gloomy; even during the winter segment of the short animation, the white set designs and colours that dominate the camera shot supposed to represent snow have a grey look to them.
All of this makes for a haunting atmosphere, complemented by the soft and slow piano music of Tchaikovsky. There is also a mysterious feel given to the animation; the layers of scenery produce shadows pointing in different directions, conveying the feeling of something moving behind the hills and buildings. The colours of the trees are usually dark or even black, whereas the sky is always a clear colour and bright. The contrast between sky and trees is very strong, and this creates a distinct division between the sky and the land.
With the bright sky above and the dark landscape beneath it, objects are hidden from the audience; things are moving without the audience noticing. Not being able to see the land clearly, the audience’s imagination is given free rein, and since most people relate darkness to evil, there is a sense of foreboding about what may be hiding within the trees, and yet the music is calm and the characters are cheerful. The white horse shines through the dark foliage. This prevents the darkness from becoming truly scary. But the audience is still left with a hint of anxiety.
During the winter part of the animation, random snowflakes can be seen flying on the surface of the screen. If you look more closely and pay attention to these snowflakes, they are in the shapes and patterns of different types of leaves and strange-shaped animals. Even in the cold, the snow, something inanimate, is dancing all over the screen and swirling about, giving the scene a lively image and feel. With their shapes of animals and leaves, the snowflakes are personified; they are waving happily and are cheerful. This fits perfectly with the music here, as the piano is played with a soft and fast tone.
The characters of the animation short have the look of Russian dolls, and it would not be surprising if that was what they were. The characters in the video have limited movement and lack emotion or any change of facial expression. The clothes they are wearing and their overall appearance are very traditional and have a strong feel of Eastern Europe. “… the soviet style always looked conventional and traditional, strict in form and lacking innovation… ” (Beumers, 2005) By using only one head or face for each character, time and money is saved.
However, the single face that the director has chosen to give each of the main characters is one with a smile, so the only emotion the characters can portray is a happy one, and when the characters turn their heads to smile at each other, the scene seems somewhat romantic, as these are two characters who have been travelling with each other through the seasons throughout the animation. It is noted that “The Seasons” by Tchaikovsky contains Romantic traits and that the opening of the musical piece shows a certain kinship in its declarative narrative, which can be considered why the single expression given to the characters is a happy one.
There is what many will consider an exaggerated notation used to give the music an air of expressive significance. In the short animated piece, this is reflected in the two main characters travelling together through all the seasons from hot to cold. When one is happy the other is also shown smiling. The pacing of gentle and cheerful characters among the dark forests is very similar to how the main characters of Tim Burton’s animations, also pleasant characters, are living in a world of crooked trees and Halloween-themed gothic horror buildings.
The images were created with the full intention of capturing the feelings generated by the music, and they complement it well. While the classic animation style sets the tone of a mysterious atmosphere, at the same time it also possesses a calming, soft and delicate character. Combining the mysterious and the calming creates a dream-like presentation that successfully allows the audience to be drawn into the emotional world of the music. Reading comments written by many viewers who have seen the piece of animation on the video website “http://www. outube. com” and comments of people who have bought or seen the DVD, many people after watching the video agree that the piece does feel like a fairytale and that modern technology would not be able to replicate the style of the video and give the audience the same mood and emotions. Something that is “real” and beautiful – that is one of the things said about the stop-motion movies that Tim Burton directs, as his animations also live in the world of fairytales and he uses a limited amount of computer-generated graphics in telling his stories.
Despite the designs of the landscape and characters being obscure, they still feel real and alive to the audience. Themes of “Ballerina on the Boat,” by Lev Konstantinovich Atamanov: In this section, I will explore how the background and character designs of the short animation “Ballerina on the Boat”, by Lev Konstantinovich Atamanov, create for the audience an atmosphere in tune with the soft dancing rhythm of the ballerina and the hard exterior of the sailors. This is a very classic and traditional piece of animation, as it is a hand-drawn cartoon short.
It is about a ballerina who is travelling on a ship. She decides to start dancing and in a way to flirt with the men on the ship. The sailors start to copy her as she teases them and they cause themselves to have accidents in the process in comedic fashion. They start to dislike her, until the ship runs into a storm. The animation’s atmosphere changes drastically as the music becomes louder and stronger. The light and bright colours are replaced with dark and black. The overall atmosphere becomes frightening.
It is at this point that the ballerina’s cheerfulness and dancing eases the mood of the sailors. Her white dress and flowing motions contrast with the dark atmosphere; and in their lightened mood the sailors are able to secure the ship and sail on to their destination. They arrive safely and are grateful to her. Russian animator Lev Konstantinovich Atamanov was born on February 21, 1905 in Moscow and died on February 12, 1981 in the same city. He was one of the foremost Soviet animation film directors and one of the founders of Soviet animation art.
His many famous works include the prize-winning fairytale “The Yellow Stork”, released in 1950, and the full-length animation “The Snow Queen”, released in 1957. In his animations, “various notions of happiness are opposed to each other. In his works Lev Atamanov subtly conveys the national colouring of fairy tales and combines romantic elation in images of positive characters with warm and kind humor” (http://russia-ic. com/people/general/a/307) In the short animation being discussed, the ballerina’s joy is expressed through her dance, and the sailors clumsy and accident-prone imitation contrasts with her smooth and fluid movement.
This piece of animation combines the director’s passions for ballet and for the French impressionist art of Raoul Dufy, who developed a colourful, decorative style that suited ceramics, textiles and public buildings. His paintings are filled with bright colours and dark outlines. The colours do not always stay within the outlines and much of the time seem to have been thrown randomly onto the drawing. A lot of his paintings feature large rooms or vast landscapes or seascapes; and so just as the sea is huge in the short animation, beyond the towns of the seaports the land extends away to distant hills. What I wish to show when I paint is the way I see things with my eyes and in my heart. ” (Raoul Dufy, 3 June 1877 – 23 March 1953) All the characters in the animation are drawn in a heavily exaggerated way. The sailors are all large and wide, the captain is short and square and the ballerina is very thin and tall. With the ballerina as the focus, Lev Konstantinovich Atamanov cleverly uses a different style in drawing her to distinguish her from the rest of the people in the animated picture.
The passengers and crew of the ship are drawn with thick lines and the feet are always turned inward. The ballerina is very elongated and is drawn with thin and light strokes. As she moves around the boat, it is always in ballet steps. She is also painted in much paler water colours. All this allows the ballerina to stand out, and allows the audience to focus on her. Just as the sailors float into a dreamy state and start to imitate her, so the audience may also pay so much more attention to her soft steps and turns that they will also be “hypnotized” by her elegance.
The smooth and light colours of the ballerina are a direct contrast to those of the rest of the characters, and produce a calming effect. Her image balances the darker tones of the ship and the sea. Just like the character designs of the animation, the backgrounds and scenery are also quite abstract. They are created by using only the most basic familiar shapes – squares, triangles, trapeziums – and the buildings are placed at different angles on the mountains and hills as if they were toothpicks stuck into the surface, with no apparent regard for gravity.
The thick pencil lines of the backgrounds are also always drawn out of true, popping out of the corners and edges. Again, all of this contrasts with the ballerina and asks the audience to focus on her character. Comparable to this is the gentle nature of the main characters in Tim Burton’s animations: they are placed within horrifying set pieces and can often be seen as misfits, allowing the audience to empathize more with the characters. “… the colours aren’t within the lines. At times they’re way out. But we don’t get confused by this – indeed, we don’t even register it at first. Prof.
Livingstone’s hypothesis is that the resolution of colour is so rough that Dufy doesn’t need to colour within the lines – the brain is continually fitting rough colours to the shapes… ” (West, 2010, http://wongablog. co. uk) For most of its duration this piece of animation is peaceful and has a wonderful dreamy fairytale atmosphere. However, when the storm hits, everything goes dark and black. With the change to fast and heavy music, the animation becomes scary. The dark land and dead trees are reminiscent of nightmares. The images are very powerful and strong, providing a sense of dread.
This succeeds in again placing more focus on the ballerina, as it is her dance that clears the mood. As she starts to dance the music changes and the darkness in the background starts to fade away, drawing the audience more towards the character. Her white dress and smooth lines soften the darkness around her. Just like the sailors, the audience will tend to cling to her presence for safety and comfort. This is a very useful way of engaging the audience with the narrative of the animation. Themes of “Vincent” by Tim Burton: In this section, I will be exploring the character designs of the animation hort “Vincent” by Tim Burton and considering its similarities to the East European animations discussed earlier to see how the style of East European animation has successfully influenced the style of this short to make it stand out from the rest of Western cinema and enhance the telling of the story for the audience. As Tim Burton’s first original animated short, this is a good place to start examining how his drawing style differs from Western conventions; how he chooses to create a dark atmosphere with shadows and contrast. Another aspect to note is that being shot in black and white on 16mm film highlights the contrast of the sets.
This short video is about a boy daydreaming of being various horror-related people and characters – “he’s considerate and nice, But he wants to be just like Vincent Price… ” – taking the audience to different set pieces, from the London fog to being buried alive. The animation acts out a piece of poetry written by the director himself and read by Vincent Price. “Burton has proved himself a maverick visionary bent on pushing the boundaries of weirdness, whose appeal has stemmed from his keen ability to make the cheap and cheesy appealing. (White, 1989) “Vincent” was Tim Burton’s directorial debut and saw limited commercial release at various film festivals. It was also one of Tim Burton’s first ever animations. It is heavily styled after his drawings and art pieces. The shadowy deep eyes and sharp chins focus attention on the expressions of the characters, making them seem more alive. Choosing to film the short in black and white heightened the contrast, including the contrast on the faces of the characters. The expressions on the faces thereby become more intense and even scary.
This is very similar to the sailors on the ship and the storm in “Ballerina on the Boat”, where the sailors and the storm are all drawn using thick black lines to make them seem stronger and bolder. All this is effective in creating a dark and horrifying atmosphere in the short piece of animation, provoking anxiety in the audience as “Vincent” lives out his nightmarish dreams, sharing his emotions with the audience. The video starts with a shot of a brick wall, a crooked tree and a black cat. Right from the beginning we are shown certain horror conventions which appear in most of the director’s later movies.
The tree swirls towards the top and the branches point out in all directions, with fearsome-looking sharp ends and corners. The cat walking in the scene is somewhat abstract and out of proportion – big round eyes, pointy ears and a small body, with very thin legs and neck and a very long tail. Just as the “ballerina” is smooth and elongated, this allows the cat to move with a wavy motion that seems smooth and magical. Even with all the pointy shapes on the cat, it still manages to move through the air as though swimming or dancing. Despite the horror conventions of crooked trees and black cats, this black cat is not terrifying at all.
As it moves softly through the scene, the audience can feel comfortable, understanding that this creature is not evil but merely a normal cat. In the following scene, the room of the main character at first seems bare and just like any other child’s room, with white walls and a window with curtains. It is only when the character Vincent’s imagination takes over that the set pieces become chaotic and magical. As his home is transformed into the dark lab of a mad scientist, the walls become black and white check squares, tilted to the side and slightly wavy, similar to an optical illusion.
As the audience focuses on the main character, the pattern of the wall starts to play tricks on the imagination, as if one were seeing something moving out of the corner of one’s eye, creating atmosphere. As the short movie continues, one starts to see more and more “creepy” contraptions and creatures. An important scene to point out is that where Vincent is painting a portrait of a woman dressed in what looks like Victorian clothing. The painting is a drawing of none other than Tim Burton. As this drawing is placed next to the stop-motion puppet, the audience can clearly see how the art style was translated from two to three dimensions.
The drawing has the eye lines heavily highlighted, and this shows the audience that even as a two-dimensional drawing the strong dark lines are already successful in creating a look in which the emotions and expressions of the character are strong and powerful. As for the rest of the painting, the Victorian dress shows clearly the influence of European art on Tim Burton’s movies. Another scene worth highlighting is the long staircase that leads up to the main character’s room. This and many other shots bear a strong resemblance to old horror movies such as the German movie from 1920 titled “The Cabinet of Dr.
Caligari”. In the European horror movie, a lot of the sets are built to suggest complete insanity: doors are anything but straight, trees point in all directions and buildings lean to one side. There are even shadows painted on the floor. Nothing in the movie is vertical; everything seems to be at an angle. The writers of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”, Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, were both enthusiastic about the works of Paul Wegener, who was known for his pioneering role in German expressionist cinema.
This is the style in Germany that peaked in 1920, a style that uses symbolism and mise en scene to add mood and deeper meanings. The style concentrates on the dark fringes of human experience. “Watching the movie is like going into a dream world and up till then, movies usually depicted a setting in reality. ” (Rolfe, 2007) The visual style in “Vincent” feels very similar to the style of German expressionists, as the set pieces in the short are also rarely upright and are always out of proportion. “Vincent” ends on a zoom out from the main character in the middle of the room, with a single light shining down on him.
The shadows on his face and body are dark and clear, his facial expression is highlighted. Even without movement, the audience can feel his emotions coming off the screen, as the camera is so close to the character that all attention is focused on him. The audience has no choice but to feel his sadness. Some might relate this technique to the famous shower stabbing scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”, where the camera is also focused on the murdered woman’s eyes as the camera zooms out. The audience is located parallel to the character and it is an effective way to draw complete attention. The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Corpse Bride” – Design: This section will examine the designs of the main characters and the landscapes of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Corpse Bride” in relation to the East European animations looked at previously. The two main characters, ‘Jack’ from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and ‘the bride’ from “Corpse Bride”, both have large round eyes, a big round head and a slim body. The strong eye shadows have already become a trademark in Tim Burton’s movies. Being the ‘Pumpkin King’, Jack’s head is designed to look like a pumpkin, much like the pumpkin faces carved for Halloween.
With empty eye sockets, he should come across as a horrifying creature; however, his facial expressions and his smile are completely friendly and gentle, subverting the idea that pumpkins are scary. Though fitting the theme of Halloween, he still comes across as a part of Christmas when he dresses up as Santa, all because he is a cheerful character. His thin, twig-like body allows him to look like tree roots and move freely through the set. This also makes him look tall and powerful, yet not too menacing as he is still thin and small. ‘The bride’ from “Corpse Bride” again has a round head with big round eyes.
Unlike ‘Jack Skellington’, she actually has eyeballs instead of two dark round sockets, and the shadow lining around the eyes is heavily coloured in a deep dark blue. This allows all of her facial expressions to stand out and her emotions to appear stronger. This allows the audience to empathize with the character. This is very important, as it makes it less easy for the audience to stop suspending disbelief and be reminded that the character on the screen is just a puppet. As an ‘undead’ character, her skin is blue and her hair is rough and looks like rags.
This is in keeping with the atmosphere of the movie. As with “Seasons” by Ivan Pyetrovich Ivanov-Vano, there is a heavy focus on fabric in the design. The bride’s white dress and blue skin project a sense of coldness, like the winter section of “Seasons”, where everything is white as snow. The feeling of cold permeates the scene, the trees look dead and the backgrounds feel distant. However, even with her cold outer appearance, we very soon learn that ‘the bride’ may be dead, but she is a warm and loving person, just like Victor, the main character of the movie.
When we first see her in the movie, the impression she gives is that of a dead, heartless, zombiesque being, but like Victor, as he slowly gets to know her, the audience also comes to see that her personality completely subverts the conventions of her exterior. The landscape in both “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Corpse Bride” is aggressively atmospheric and fits well with the emotions of the storylines. As with the East European animations, the hills are dome-shaped and the trees and buildings sitting both on top of them and down their sides create a magical feel.
The trees in the two pieces of animation are again crooked, and each fork in the branches is sharp. Most of the trees are leafless and spiky. The trees that do have leaves are dark in colour, suggestive of poison and evil. Much like the trees in “Seasons”, they are used to mark the separation of land and sky. The buildings are early Victorian in design and style. The ceilings are much higher than would be expected, making the characters seem small and isolated when seen in the rooms. Sometimes, in sad moments, the additional space around a character can emphasize how alone they feel.
However, during close-ups the strong emotions of the characters can overcome the emptiness of the rooms. By using European-influenced interior designs, the rooms can effectively be made to feel lively or bare, depending on the camera angle. References Masters of Russian Animation – Volume 2 (1978), Image Entertainment, USA, 2000 Burton, Tim, The Nightmare Before Christmas (Special Edition), Touchstone Home Video, USA, 2006 Beck, Jerry, The Animation Movie Guide, Chicago Review Press, USA, 2005 Beckerman, Howard, Animation: The Whole Story, Allworth Press, USA, 2003 Beumers, Birgit, Pop Culture Russia! media, arts and lifestyle, ABC-CLIO, USA, 2005 Bowlt, John E, Matich, Olga, Laboratory of Dreams: The Russian Avant-Garde and Cultural Experiment, Stanford University Press, USA, 1999 http://www. rottentomatoes. com http://www. wikipedia. com http://www. ask. com http://www. imdb. com http://www. mubi. com http://cartoontoy. blogspot. com/search/label/Seasons