Aleksandr Petrov, Russian paint-on-glass animator.
January 17, 2012 6:13 PM   Subscribe

The gray Cherkassian cow lived alone in a shed attached to a railroad attendant's tiny house on the vast Soviet grasslands. The cow had a calf, and the railroad attendant's son liked the calf very much. Then the calf was taken away and the cow became very melancholy. She never had a chance to tell her story. This is her story. (Contains Russian animation.)

Russian paint-on-glass animator Александр Петров | Aleksandr Petrov has been mentioned several times before, but he's never been the subject of an FPP.

«Корова» (The Cow, 1989), which is linked above, was Petrov's capstone project at the end of a two-year course of professional studies in animation, during which he was instructed by the renowned Soviet animator Фёдор Хитрук | Fyodor Khitruk. Khitruk (b. 1917), a landmark figure in Soviet animation, has had an extroardinarily rich career beginning in the late 1930s and lasting well into the 1990s. He directed the Russian Winnie-the-Pooh, beloved by Mefites, as well as 1968's satirical Film, Film, Film (previously).

Petrov was born in 1957 in a village near Yaroslavl to working-class parents. From a young age he showed an interest in art and photography, reportedly winning his first camera — a Smena — in a drawing contest at the age of ten. Upon graduation, he entered the Yaroslavl vocational art school. In 1982 he began studies at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography in Moscow, working under Ivan Ivanov-Vano (who helmed some of the most prominent Soviet animation projects of the century). Between 1981 and 1987 Petrov worked with Armenfilm in Yerevan, Armenia, and at the Sverdlovsk Film Studio in Yekaterinburg (former Sverdlovsk), contributing to     and several others.

The Cow is, of course, based on the short story of the same name by Андрей Платонов | Andrey Platonov (NYRB, Guardian, Languagehat). An English translation is available as part of the Platonov short story collection Soul.

Petrov's next project was «Сон смешного человека» | The Dream of a Ridiculous Man (1 | 2, 1992), after an eponymous story by Dostoevsky (translated by the inimitable Constance Garnett). Like "The Cow," it won several international awards. The story is a mystical meditation on human nature narrated by a demon-haunted, suicidal man. "Perhaps it was not a dream at all. Hitherto I have concealed it, but now I will tell this part as well. It was I who corrupted them."

In 1996 Petrov completed «Русалка» | The Mermaid, an original story by Marina Vishnevetskaya, who had written for animation since 1983, often with supernatural and folk-mystical themes. A young monk encounters a mermaid, a spirit of the drowned damned. He is saved by his master, who had betrayed the girl in his youth.

Petrov next spent two and a half years in Montreal at work on an animated version of Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea"/"Le Vieil Homme et la Mer." It went on to win the Oscar for best animated short, as well as a string of other awards. It was the first animated film to be shown in the IMAX format. (The first to be shot in IMAX was the depressing More from 1998.) In 2003 Petrov contributed a short to the Winter Days project (previously).

Petrov's most recent milestone is 2006's «Моя любовь» | My Love, based on a novel by the Russian emigré author Ivan Shmelyov. Set in middle-class 19th-century Moscow, the story concerns gymnasium student Anton (Tony) and the consequences of his irresponsible adolescent romances: one with a woman older than him and the other with the family maid. The film received criticism for sentimentality and putting techical accomplishment ahead of artistry.
  • original Russian
  • with quality Spanish subtitles (1 | 2)
  • terrible video quality and awful English subtitles (1 | 2)
Since 2006 Petrov seems to have gone into hiatus, only completing a TV commercial for the Persil manufacturer Henkel's Schwarzkopf line of haircare products. A cohort of students he has recruited since 2007 recently released an inaugural short: «Ещё раз!» | One More Time, a short pastiche of the happy, light-filled Soviet 1930s. (The familiar tune in the background is a popular 30s paso doble called "Für dich, Rio Rita." Here it is with Otto Dobrindt und sein Orchester, and with Marek Weber & His Orchestra. Apparently no connection to the eponymous 1927 musical play.

A word about the animation style: Petrov is one of the few practitioners of "paint on glass" animation. The technique consists in the application of translucent layers of oil paints to a glass plate. A single plate may be used for multiple shots, because the paint remains liquid and may be carefully manipulated using fingers or brushes. Here is a Russian-language interview in which Petrov demonstrates his extremely painstaking method. He shows a few storyboard sketches around 1:05 and begins work on a still around 2:10. The amount of effort spent is literally astounding.
posted by Nomyte (6 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Holy cow.
posted by koeselitz at 6:33 PM on January 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I wish I knew what the little boy said at the end of The Cow...without it, I can't tell whether to be happy or sad. (I suspect sad.) But how beautiful. I watched the interview, and was startled to see him not just painting but fingerpainting on glass, which I assume explains some of the thicker textures in The Cow...but the whole thing is just amazing.

(Also note: Calf eyelashes apparently make me want to cry.)
posted by mittens at 7:49 PM on January 17, 2012

I saw The Cow at a festival in.. 1990, I think.. and remember being astonished by the beauty of the animation. I love the richness of it. Dream of a Ridiculous Man is also absolutely gorgeous.

It's a difficult, painstaking process, but magic is really hard.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:03 PM on January 17, 2012

mittens: Sad.
Here's a rough literal translation from my wife:
We had a cow. When she was alive, we ate her milk: mother, father, me and her son, the calf. There was enough for everyone. Then they sold the calf for food, and the cow started to suffer, and soon died from a train, and we ate her too, because she's beef. The cow gave us everything, milk, her son, meat, skin, insides, and bone. I remember our cow, and I won't forget.
posted by demiurge at 8:34 PM on January 17, 2012

So it's a Soviet Giving Tree, then?
posted by zamboni at 9:13 AM on January 18, 2012

Очень хорошо! Мне нравица «Big time»

(Very good, I like it big time) I think, Russian is a bit rusty.

But as someone who doesn't really "get" animation, this is extraordinary, a window into the Russian soul.
posted by xetere at 12:57 PM on January 18, 2012

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