Слободкина Ольга
Animated Tales: Shakespeare

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  • © Copyright Слободкина Ольга (olga_slobodkina@mail.ru)
  • Обновлено: 04/12/2018. 20k. Статистика.
  • Статья: Публицистика
  • Аннотация:
    Published by The Dope Sheet The ASIFA UK Newsletter: issue 3-1995,issue 2-1996,issue 3-1996.

  •    Shakespeare: Animated tales
       by Olga Slobodkina-von Bromssen
       Shakespeare's tragedies and comedies have been playing for centuries throughout the world stages in many languages, although Shakespeare wrote in Middle English and seems to be untranslatable. The 20th century created quite a number of screen versions of his eternal plays. At the end of the 20th century animated versions appeared. Christmas Films studio in Moscow together with S4C Channel in England did 2 series of Shakespeare tales. I was lucky to see this amazing creative process as I worked at Christmas Films as an interpreter and a translator. Here is the story I wrote.
       The studio's first project was the series of Animated Shakespeare tales: HAMLET (directed by Natalia Orlova), A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (Robert Saakiants), THE TEMPEST (Stanislav Sokolov), TWELFTH NIGHT (Maria Muat), MACBETH (Nicolai Serebryakov) and ROMEO AND JULIET (Yefim Gamburg). The first Shakespeare series, premiered in Britain in 1992, has been sold to more than 50 countries including almost the whole of Europe, the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, The Philippines, Kenya, Zimbabwe and other exotic lands such as Taiwan, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Bothuthatswana and Bahrain.
       "Nobody in this country would have dared to animate Shakespeare," says Natalia Orlova, director of HAMLET, which won the Gold Award for best animation at the New York TV Festival in 1993, two prime time Emmys and other major awards. "Doing Shakespeare was out of the question," continues Orlova. "The very idea was confronted by skepticism." The Russian press was also skeptical, but the studio, together with S4C, pushed ahead with their plans and two completed Shakespeare series, each consisting of six films, is the result. Both the series, a collaboration of Christmas Films in Russia and S4C Television in Wales, underwent the post-production period in Britain where the Russian visuals and music were matched to the English dialogue and special effects. The second series comprised RICHARD III (Natalia Orlova), AS YOU LIKE IT (Alexsei Karayev), THE TAMING OF THE SHREW (Aida Zyblikova), THE WINTER'S TALE (Stanislav Sokolov), OTHELLO (Nikolai Serebryakov) and JULIUS CAESAR (Yuri Kulakov).
       At the very beginning all the directors faced a problem - how to squeeze a four to five act play into a 26 minute film. UK writer Leon Garfield wrote condensed scripts for both series which the Russian animators then worked with. He did - all the directors agreed - an excellent job. "Both Hamlet and Richard III follow the same direction", says Natalia Orlova. Richard III was not her random choice after Hamlet. The British asked her, "why a tragedy again?" "Because in a tragedy the world's problems are expressed in the sharpest way," explains Natalia.
       "The difference between Hamlet and Richard is all about the fact that Hamlet is torn between good and evil: ("To be or not to be?" To kill or not to kill? To reconcile oneself or to act?) while Richard has already taken the path of evil: ("I am determined to prove a villain"). And the end of this path is ruin. The image of Richard was very interesting for me," continues Orlova, "he personifies evil on a cosmic scale, evil as such, quite conscious, stopping at nothing. And its end is ruin - that's the most important thing. I'm absolutely sure that evil is the loser, regardless of its intermediary quasi victories."
       The director also needed to create the atmosphere of that time, that epoch. Realizing that one could not put all the depth, all of Shakespeare's philosophy into a 26 minute film, she nevertheless created the atmosphere that made the film sound Shakespearean, drove it home to the audience. To achieve this goal, Orlova has used the so-called painting on glass technique instead of the conventional cartoon filming technique involving celluloid animation where all the key and in-between pictures are painted on transparent celluloid sheets and then set against background sheets - a whole factory of a process. In painting on glass two to four glass layers are painted, stacked and photographed frame by frame. The painter must wipe part of the painting clean of previous details in order to portray the next set of movements, so what is left on the rostrum stand by the end of the film is only the painting for one last shot. The background is painted on one or two layers which allows one to imitate depth while the characters come to life on the remaining layers. At first all the backgrounds and movements are painted on a glass table illuminated from below by electric lamps, then they are fixed one by one on the rostrum stand for the cameraman to shoot a frame. The technique is called multilevel shooting. This extremely complicated work requires a crew of 10: art director, designer (who makes the sketches and works out the characters), two animators (who work out the characters' movements), three painters working on the rostrum stand (who actually move the characters), two camera operators and an editor. "Painstaking scrupulous work that absorbs all your energy," complains Orlova, although she rather looks like a magnificent Egyptian sphinx, "but this process is in your hands all the time. In celluloid filming mistakes may happen at the clean-up stage or during the inbetweening and your character is somewhat changed after going through so many hands, while with this painting on glass technique I am responsible for everything that goes from my hands. Although there are several people working on my film I can always change or improve what I need. This is real creativity."
       Orlova's crew managed to finish HAMLET within an eye-blink of just one year and it took them 13 more months to complete RICHARD III. The painting on glass technique gives one enormous fields of opportunities, although it had been used quite formally by animators in many countries. Orlova has made her characters move realistically.
       Another animation breakthrough is Alexsei Karayev's film AS YOU LIKE IT. Although he was making it in harder-than-Moscow conditions at the Sverdlovsk Animation Studio in the Urals, he evolved a style and technique that has no analogy in past or present animation history. Unable to use the painting on glass technique because of the time limits, the director turned to cel animation, but made it work in a very unusual way. In some scenes he scratched the characters' outlines onto cel with a needle and then rubbed them over with paint to make them smooth while the characters themselves were painted in oil and the final touches were put in oil pastel. These characters, with no pronounced contours, are merged with rougher backgrounds. In other scenes Karayev also scratched the characters' contours with a needle but instead of rubbing them over with paint he etched them, which made the characters look like animated old prints on wood. Thus in his film the director has created two different worlds - a mild one of subtle sensibility and a rigid one of severe style. Another priority was to create smooth movements, which required lots of in-between pictures, but made the animation look similar to the expressive painting on glass. Although he had ten painters working on his film, Alexsei was supervising every single shot. He also kept an eye on the characters' articulation. Karayev used multilevel shooting as well; the cel animation occupied the upper layer of the rostrum stand while different parts of backgrounds sat on the remaining glass layers - transparent water, flickering bonfires at night (made of goffered filters), a mirror intensifying the moonlight, glittering jewellery (broken Christmas tree decorations), a piece of glass refracting the frame by half, special illumination (side lights and spot sources of light) - all this created an illusion of air, space and volume.
       In his miraculous film Karayev not only worked magic with movements, lights and space, but also revealed an individual sensibility and a romantic insight into the world of nature, the world of beauty. His AS YOU LIKE IT is a pure, aesthetic delight. "In the play there's no plot as such - just the development of personal relationships, a love triangle, and the action takes place in the bosom of nature," says the director. "My film is a pastoral. Through our work we are learning about ourselves and the world. On the one hand I wanted to be true to Shakespeare's spirit, on the other hand I wanted to talk about my soul - one cannot flee from oneself." To be true to Shakespeare's spirit Alexsei went to Stratford on Avon to study original materials: portraits of Shakespeare, old prints, English paintings, architecture, landscapes and the like. This marvelous opportunity was given to all the Russian directors by the British side. We sit in a video room at Christmas Films Studio as Alexsei shows his documentary which might be called "How I Created my Film AS YOU LIKE IT." On the screen there flash Shakespearean sights: the house of Anne Hathaway, the Forest of Arden in North Warwickshire - prototypes of different backgrounds in the film.
       A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, Robert Saakiants' cartoon film from the first Shakespeare series was begun in Armenia, but hostilities broke out between the Azerbaijani and the Armenians and one of the problems was the lack of electricity; just two hours a day! The film lagged behind in production and in the Winter of 1992 Christmas Films took the whole animation group over to Moscow renting them hotel rooms and giving them the studio's shooting space. "It was a matter of honour for me to complete the film on time," confesses Robert, "not because of myself - there were so many people behind the project, their salaries and bonuses." Talent won through and now Saakiants' elegant comedy is a cause for rejoicing. According to the director he improvised from beginning to end having no idea what the final film would look like. "I did most of the storyboard on the plane to Moscow and when I arrived in England for the first time I had no sketches at all." During his meeting with Leon Garfield, who adapted the text for the series, Robert started to draw pictures on scraps of paper and Leon exclaimed, "That's the thing!" Although Saakiants claims that Shakespeare for him was only a pretext to talk in his own individual screen language, his distinct and sustained style looks very Shakespearian: light, natural, full of humor and magic tricks. The film's coloring is also very evocative. Robert, who was not only the director but designer, animator and painter in his film, found the 26 minute framework quite spacious for creativity. "One can create supernatural creatures regardless of the script. I was inventing my characters according to my opportunities," explains Robert, evidently avoiding the word "talent". "It was a pleasure to work with Christmas Films, the Director of Animation from the Welsh television channel S4C Chris Grace and series director and producer Dave Edwards. They made me feel like an artistic director both in Moscow and in Britain. I started to respect my profession."
       19 August 1991, the first day of the infamous coup, turned out to be the house-warming for Christmas Films. When tanks were rolling in to surround the Russian Parliament, Eliza Babakhina, the studio's producer, went to the Mayor's office to get the lease for the premises the studio was renting. "What do you need? A lease!" she was asked. "There are tanks in the streets! Are you crazy!" "Maybe I am," answered Babakhina. Shortly after she left the office with a signed document. Even on that day spirits were soaring in the studio. The Welsh Television Channel, S4C, which put a great deal of faith in Christmas Films, persuaded the panic-stricken Western companies not to withdraw their money, which backed up the project. Three days later democracy won, the money for the redecoration of the premises came from Renat Zinnurov, the Russian-American founding father of Christmas Films, and the studio was established. The creative process went on with the second Shakespeare series:
      "A pair of stocks, you rogue!" cries a woman's vexed voice and a drunken Sly flies out of the inn and lands on the ground with a thud, his fat naked belly sticking out of his jacket. He scratches his right leg with the toes of his left foot that pops out of his torn sock and falls asleep. A minute later he is picked up by a lord and his huntsmen who decide to play a practical joke on him. This scene opens the prologue to "The Taming Of The Shrew", a brilliant, funny, intellectual puppet comedy directed by Aida Zyablikova. "Directing is like a game of chess that I play with myself," says Aida. "At first I do all the mathematical calculations and then fill them up with sensuality." So, after Leon Garfield abridged the play to a purely semantic flow and introduced a narrator's voice to make up for the cut text, Aida, who was afraid that the narration would distract the audience's attention, decided to introduce the narrator as a character in the play, putting him into the shape of a Velazquez type dwarf. "He should differ from the rest of the characters, because his lines are not written by Shakespeare," she explains. The second problem was how to develop the characters' relationships within the abridged dialogue. The answer was to invent a sign that would express their relationship, maybe a dance. In the scene of the protagonists' first meeting each dance step of Katherine (the Shrew) and Petruchio (her tamer) is followed by a character's line, building the tension between them to a climax. The next question was how to reveal Katherine's bright, sensual character. Although the puppets are quite sophisticated, with flexible joints, moving eyes and mouths, their faces are immovable. The Shrew should evidently play by gestures, but that is not enough. The signs of Katherine's shrewishness are the red snakes of her hair, which shoot up in a hilarious way when she is struggling with her emotions.
       How could one justify the puppet animated version of this big play? Who is the film for? Adults? No, it is too short, too simple. So if it is for children, the puppets should resemble children. The proportions are shortened, but harmoniously, and they have large heads. Their feelings are somewhat childish too - bright, open and spontaneous. Another question concerned the puppets' costumes. To avoid a jumble of color on screen, Aida and her designer decided upon a precise color arrangement: Katherine's red dress and hair contrast with Petruchio's black velvet, while the clothes of the rest of the characters, grouped by twos according to their relationships, are all in pastel shades. The narrator wears dark bluish tints and the only person whose elaborate garments stand out against everyone else's is Kate's father. There are two scenes, in which Kate and Petruchio ride horseback. Animating horses is notoriously difficult in puppet animation, but Aida was keen to use these scenes to change the rhythms of the film. To avoid pointing up the absence of muscle movement on model horses, the director decided to shoot them in close up as much as possible, their legs outside the screen's frame. And to distract from the horses' legs when they do appear, Aida animated trees flashing by and the Shrew's waving scarf. At the end credits run against the background of a tapestry with stylized portraits of Katherine and Petruchio mounted on a black horse.
       Other vivid examples of puppetry in the series are Stanislav Sokolov's films "The Tempest" and "The Winter's Tale". "I picked these tales because tragi-comedy is my favorite genre," says Stanislav. "These two plays have some typical features of an animated cartoon and their world of images is interesting for me." In his films a wonderful fairy-tale combined with a depth of images goes far beyond the usual animated film where images and characters are simplified and limited. Sokolov's animated tales are like great literature. At the same time they have exotic elements and reveal a wealth of texture. Stanislav also has good memories of the English actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company who did the sound-track. He feels that the success of the series was natural, because it chose the right audience: school children and because the films are not a reproduction of an epoch, but colorful shows that can be interesting for adults and smaller children. The fairy-tale aspect of the play creates a special world where real human feelings exist side by side with incredible creatures. "But since the tale is for children the plot should be very clear," says the director. In the play there are lots of lines, parallel actions, sweethearts, villains, conspiracies both serious and funny. In the animated film the texture should not distract attention from the main action. Stanislav, working in creative co-operation with Leon Garfield, found the right balance. "To achieve more clarity," confesses the director, "we had to omit a lot of Shakespeare's linguistic sophistication, but one cannot introduce a character without giving him a chance to play." So both director and writer had to construct the action from start to finish.
       "The Tempest" won first prize at the Espinho Animation Festival in Portugal in 1993.
       The variety of styles, techniques, artistic visions and devices used in both the Shakespeare series is astonishing. "Julius Caesar", a cartoon film created by director Yuri Kulakov, is further evidence. "Shakespeare is so deep that it is pointless to treat him in your own way," says the director. "I have just picked out one or two sides of life and its problems. There is a Latin saying - the causes equal the consequences. Brutus and Cassius brought the consequence of their deeds upon themselves. Evil can bring forth only evil and violence will sooner or later come back to the one who did it. The desire to change the world by violence will founder. It is a law of the Universe. It is useless to go against it. And this desire to change the world by violence arises when a person cannot change himself, which is the most difficult thing in life." In his film the director made Brutus and Cassius face the ghost of the assassinated Caesar. The ghost, however, does not come by itself, but is conjured up by the tormented minds of the murderers. It appears to Brutus before the battle when the conspirator is in his tent; the swinging curtain gradually turns into Caesar's cloak and Brutus is overwhelmed by the towering image of the ruler he helped to kill. To Cassius, the ghost appears as he commits suicide. Through the eyes of Cassius we see his raised hand about to stab him while the sky opens and the image of Caesar from the beginning of the film - mounted on a white horse - advances and fills the entire screen. After his suicide Cassius finds himself in another dimension as he delivers his final line, "Caesar, thou art reveng'd, even with the sword that killed thee." The director believes that this line is basic to the film, serving its main idea. Brutus has a similar line: "Caesar, now be still, I killed not thee with half so good a will." The death of Brutus is a symbolic full stop in the film. Although Kulakov has made his film in the traditional Disney style animation technique, he placed his backgrounds on several layers of glass to create a 3-dimensional space and also used a theatrical method of lighting. Each glass layer of the rostrum stand had its own set of lamps making some areas expressively lighter while others were deliberately shaded. "I needed to make the spectator experience the mood of the play otherwise the whole work is for nothing, just an account of the adapted tale and not a work of art," concludes the director.
       Six beautifully illustrated plays, abridged by Leon Garfield and illustrated by the artists of Christmas Films, Moscow, are published by Heinemann at 4.99 pounds each or as a Gift Edition of the 6 plays at 15.00 pounds.

  • © Copyright Слободкина Ольга (olga_slobodkina@mail.ru)
  • Обновлено: 04/12/2018. 20k. Статистика.
  • Статья: Публицистика

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