Renowned film director Yuriy Norstein believes that pure cinematography is animation. “It creates, with no regard to nature, starts with a clean slate, with the initial dot that appears in the white space and gradually turns into a frame”, he once said about this art in an interview (1, p. 18).
These qualities of animation appeal to artists, beckoning them to the land of wondrous adventures, and urging them to find the key to the potentialities that verge on discoveries.
Dmitriy Vlasov is an artist and director of the animated cartoon studio at “Uzbekfilm”. In 1992, having graduated from the Arts Department of the Nizami Tashkent State Pedagogical Institute with a diploma of a drawing teacher, he joined the Animation Association (since 2011, Animation Studio), surely, knowing nothing about the secrets of animation or the job of people engaged in the rare trade of animated cartoon artist – the “enlivener” and “soul-giver”. At that time the profession was not taught in any university, and only with the help of patient mentors and through long practice one could gain experience and professional skill.
The beginner had his luck: he was appointed assistant director and assigned to Mavzur Mahmudov, Art Director of the Animation Association. Vlasov worked as artist on his animated film “The Adventures of Sinbad”, gaining his first experience and honing his skills.
Economic turmoil of the early 1990s affected the Animation Association, too: puppet-animated films were almost completely taken out of production. Without government support, artists were compelled to leave Uzbekistan.
In 1994-1995 Vlasov worked in Moscow, illustrating “The Living Tales” book series, based on animated films. Still, his heart felt the magnetic appeal of animation, of the people whom he used to work with, and of the land where he grew up. In 1997, he returned to his homeland. At that time, the State Joint Stock Company “Uzbekkino” was established, and the Animation Association, having become budget-funded entity, started producing animated cartoons. Inspired by the new developments, Vlasov enthusiastically engaged in the creative process of reorganizing the Uzbek animated film industry.
Time required new ideas and methods, radical creative solutions, and new character types – energetic, practical, and optimistic, with intelligence being their main strength. Vlasov exposed national features through behavior and intonation of his cartoon characters in “Yanchar Quyon” (“Scamper-Rabbit”) (scriptwriter R. Ramazanov, director and artist D. Vlasov, 1997). Allegorically and emotionally, the film shows how the ready-witted Rabbit managed to escape from the strong, evil but foolish Wolf. The action unfolds in a confined space – the beast’s lair; thus the main accent is placed on the characters’ dialogue. For the young audience, the film’s fascinating and short dialogues are easy to understand.
While in “Scamper-Rabbit” action is primary driven by word, in “Mozart” (written by R. Ramazanov, directed by D. Vlasov, artist P. Volovik, 1998) the emphasis is placed on the visual. Moving from verbal to silent animation, from young to adult audience, and communicating thoughts and ideas through pictorial image were the new pursuits of the searching author. Vlasov produced this film (jointly with “Irisfilm”) using computer-aided graphics at a time when the local animated films industry had not yet explored its techniques, and the required equipment had not yet been available at the Animation Association. The successful experiment channelled his art in a new direction.
The parable film to which the Austrian composer gave his name is about self-expression and creative inquiry associated with the power of genius. Its serious subject – creative process requires certain environment – is presented in a light-hearted, humorous way. The character, whose image is created by simple strokes, cannot find a place where he could play his tune to the end. Then, by the author’s will, he climbs to the moon and there, in the void, plays his melody on a reed pipe.
The possibilities of animation are limited, but fantasy has no boundaries. Fantasy elements employed in “Mozart” depict reality through art. Innovations found in making the film are developed by the director in his subsequent works, specifically in the “Potter” intended for adult audience (written by S. Muratkhojaeva, director and artist D. Vlasov, 2002). The film created with computer graphics tells about a potter and misfortunes that befell him when war began. Unexpected, paradoxical turns heighten emotional intensity. Peaceful life is disrupted by disturbing sounds of music and soldiers’ march, warning of the imminent danger. The master has gone to war, and his wife is singing lullaby to their child. The potter returns from the war – the sleeves of his shirt are flapping in the wind, empty. The dramatic suspense is broken by the ray of light – his laughing child is sitting on the spinning potter’s wheel. The master’s grim face softens, lending optimistic sentiment to the whole film. The director’s ingenious find is that one smile of the hero – there is someone to continue the trade…
In 2005, at the International Animated Film Festival in Tehran (Iran), “Potter” won the Golden Prize in the “Best Philosophical Film” nomination.
Vlasov’s art is multifaceted. He creates films for both children and adult audiences. With good knowledge in children psychology, the artist turns to traditional fairy tales and classics that teach them good.
“Ninety percent of animated cartoons should be intended for children. …One has to make them with love”, says Dmitriy Vlasov. According to Vlasov, the maker of children’s films should be sincere as a child, have vivid imagination and child’s perception of the world. “Our amazement with the world, the living nature and its miracles is that of a child”, says he. This is exemplified in his fairytale film “Bor Baraka” (“Come As It May”) (written by M. Mahmudov, director and artist D. Vlasov, 2004) and “Yuz Kop Qor” (“A Hundred Bags of Snow”) (scriptwriter, director and artist D. Vlasov, 2008). The author’s idea is simple and easy to understand. Soft, sometimes neutral shades are replaced by contrasting, vivid colors and images drawn with a firm hand, in black pencil. Amusing stories and unexpected, surprising actions are understandable to a child. Dubbing into Russian language with a light Uzbek accent indicates that the films are made in Uzbekistan. This is yet another Vlasov’s find. Love for the land, the history, culture and traditions of the Uzbek people is in his blood. In the XIX century, his great-grandfather, a military engineer, was seconded from Russia to Central Asia for a bridge construction project. And he chose to stay.
When creating his characters, events, and scenes, Vlasov sources his inspiration from the life of people around him. “It was a mobile phone that prompted the gramophone scene in Come As It May” – he says, recalling the early 2000s. “Mobile phones have only just arrived here. I saw an old man in a tea house, who was holding this novelty and looking at it in total amazement.”
His animated film based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale “What the Old Man Does Is Always Right” keeps the storyteller’s idea, but the action is moved to the Uzbek land. The characters and their lifestyle change accordingly, with additional events introduced; the market-place scenes now take place at the bazaar. Interesting interpretation and colourful local characters captivate.
“Come As It May” is about the magic of a kind word that encourages, makes one feel good, and always leaves a mark. Children and adults alike need this kind of story. Young audience is laughing heartily at funny situations and absurd moves, while the suggestion behind the scene is intended for adults. A childhood story by the XIX century Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen acquired a new powerful sound in the Uzbek animation.
In 2006, “Come As It May” earned a special prize of the Animayovka International Film Festival in Mogilyov (Belarus) and a Diploma of the III Eurasian Festival in Smolensk (Russia).
Vlasov tirelessly keeps up his professional development. He learned a lot from his mentor Mavzur Mahmudov and a famous artist Sergei Alibekov. The “Potter” was produced in parallel with “Echogram” animated film by S. Alibekov, whom Vlasov often consulted. “He is a truly national artist. He knows the life of Uzbek people inside out. After all, he is from Fergana”, says Vlasov about the talented director Sergei Alibekov, who made a worthy contribution to the development of Uzbek animation.
Today Vlasov puts his skill to test in auteur films. Animated films are usually made by a scriptwriter, director and artist. If all the work is done by one person, the film goes into auteur category. Animated cartoon “A Hundred Bags of Snow” inspired by Uzbek folk tales, and a parable “White Chicken” (written by R. Ramazanov and D. Vlasov, director and artist D. Vlasov, 2009) were his debuts in this domain. In his film “A Hundred Bags of Snow” the author’s characteristic expressive style shows in the dialogues, while in the silent “White Chicken” parable for adults – in the sound of a speed train.
“White Chicken” was awarded a special diploma of the 2010 Film Festival held in Hiroshima (Japan). Besides, the film earned the prize of the XIII International Film Festival in Mogilyov (Belarus). The director’s art has been highly appreciated by the Government of Uzbekistan that conferred the Dustlik [Friendship] Order on him.
It is not accidental that animation is compared to poetry. It presents thoughts and ideas boldly and emotionally, through metaphor, irony and humor, concisely, using pictorial images and visual dynamics. From an artist expressing writer’s idea through image, this requires continuous searching. Mavzur Mahmudov, the master of Uzbek animation is right, saying that “…If creative inquiry stops, so will the development of animation.”
Dmitriy Vlasov who was the first to use computer-aided graphics in the Uzbek animation speaks with regret about the fact that sometimes the industry employs people alien to the art, void of new ideas. He believes he owes to those who made history and shaped the traditions of the Uzbek animation, showing respect for them by his ceaseless artistic inquiry and new exciting animated films.
1. Огонек, 1988. № 43.