Disney Looks to Reanimate Russian Cartoon Sector
Published: May 2, 2006 (Issue # 1166)
MOSCOW — Walt Disney Studios and other foreign moviemakers are looking to breathe new life into Russia’s deflated cartoon industry. Their interest has been piqued by booming box-office receipts, a rise in new and renovated movie theaters and, more generally, economic growth, which has created more leisure time for the country’s nascent middle class.
Last year, box-office receipts throughout the former Soviet Union were about $350 million, according to industry estimates. That figure is likely to jump to $415 million this year.
While those numbers pale in comparison to the United States — the Motion Picture Association of America reports that Americans spent $9 billion at the box office in 2005 — they represent a new beginning for Russia.
Shortly after the Soviet collapse, the state’s animation studio, Soyuzmultfilm, more or less dissolved. Technically, Soyuzmultfilm still exists, but for all intents and purposes, it has been long dead.
Andrei Dobrunov, head of the animation studio Solnechny Dom, recalled that under the Soviets, Soyuzmultfilm had as many as 400 animators and other staff on its rolls.
Today, said Akop Kirakosyan, Soyuzmultfilm’s director, the studio employs no full-time animators. Nowadays, everybody is a freelancer, he said.
Dobrunov said it had been his dream since the late 1990s to make a movie about early Slavic history. But at the time, he said, finding the seed money and the people to make his movie a reality was an uphill battle.
He started Solnechny Dom in 1999 without much capital or many animators. Over the next few years, he cobbled together $5 million from a private investor whom he declined to name and 120 artists.
“Persuading people was colossal work,” he said. “I had to recruit people and went to Europe to meet our artists. Not everybody believed we’d get the financing.”
Eventually, Dobrunov was able to piece together a staff from the United States, Britain and Hungary.
Six years later, after much blood, sweat and tears, he completed his first animated film: “Prince Vladimir.”
The film has been a colossal success for a Russian-made animated production, reeling in more than $5 million since it was released in late February.
Today, “Prince Vladimir” is the most successful Russian-made animated film ever. In box-office receipts, it trails only “Madagascar,” the 2005 DreamWorks production that garnered $8 million throughout the former Soviet Union.
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