Of sea, sky and human spirit

So here it is: Alluded to in the videos in the previous post, the first animated film done for the IMAX format and camera. Alex Petrov’s The Old Man and the Sea also happens to be a marvel of illustration and painting.


Petrov crafts his treatment of Ernest Hemingway’s Pulitzer Prize winning fiction not too differently from the way he creates his other films.

Traditionally animated sequences are hand painted on layered sheets of glass.

Foreground images are rendered in oil pigment glazes (by brushes, swabs, sticks and Petrov’s own thumb and fingers), photographed and wiped clean so the next shot can be created.

Except this time he used a much larger camera. Canadian, Japanese and Russian companies provided the funding for the 20 minute movie that went on to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film and other grand prizes, including at the Cinanima Festival (Espinho, Portugal), WorldFest-Flagstaff (Texas, USA), the Youth Animation Festival (Moscow, Russia) and the Krok Animation Festival (Kiev, Ukraine.)

Here are some of the 29,000 images — oil paintings, really — that make up this film. First is of a thumbnail story board (not actually for The Old Man and the Sea, but for an earlier film, The Mermaid. But these give us a glimpse of his planning process.  “Any animation (and not only animation) cinema begins with a storyboard,” he has said in a video interview. “the storyboard is a scenario in pictures. The scenario could be named ‘sketch’, ‘plan’, or ‘project’ of the future film.

“This is a very important element of the picture,” he says. “It is not a frozen rule for me, which couldn’t be touched and should be fulfilled.

“The storyboard is a live organism for me. Every time I start to plan anew, I begin with storyboard. I’m trying to find new perspectives, new points of view on this plan.”

And that’s how in this sparest of Hemingway’s spare stories, Petrove holds us.

On those storyboards he works out all of those director’s storytelling and pacing tricks. He pulls back, zooms in, pans across — and satisfies our curiosity with rich establishing shots.  He rivets us with original and unexpected “camera views.” Except in his case, there’s no movie camera tracking an actor in a boat for the IMAX screen.

His “camera shots” are drawings and paintings simulating the best sort of cinematography.

Alexander Petrov and one of his storyboards.

Alexander Petrov and one of his storyboards.

“The fish is my brother, but I must kill him,” says Santiago, the old fisherman at the start of this contest that will test every last ounce of his stamina, strength and wisdom.

As those fabulous 19th century Russian novelists could do so well, Petrov adds the visual poetry and a few cosmic flourishes to Hemingway’s terse prose and blunt dialogue. (Oh, how the Russians love their clouds!) He catches the dynamic of a fixed sky juxtaposed against a moving sea. He gives us a ballet of waves and birds and fish — and characters in the boy and the old man that we’ll remember for a long time.

On your mouse, get set…go!

Austin SCBWI’s Digital Symposium II: Nuts and Bolts of Success is a hands-on technology workshop for illustrators and authors of all techie levels. Be it blogging or beveling, tweeting or technique sharing, hyperlinking or hashtagging, the intention of this symposium set for October 6 at St. Edward’s University is for the participants to leave with new skills to add their technological tool belts. You can download the full packet here, which includes conference info and an off-line registration sheet.

Author-illustrator Jeff Crosby

Creating some wolf-wild mischief

Author-illustrator Jeff Crosby asked some young students at an Austin district-wide school library event to help him dream up a sequel for his popular picture book  Wiener Wolf (Disney-Hyperion.)

They’d suggest the scenes while he sketched them on the spot.

You can see a slide-show of what turned out to be a delightful, co-creative and rather wild and woolly presentation here.

* * * * *

See Parts 1 and 2 of this blog’s series on the Petrov animations.


  1. Enoch :

    Jul 26, 2012 1:21 am |

    WOW! Alex Petrov is a true master of storyteller and really takes animation to new artistic highs. This is what I would imagine how the great Renaissance painters would animate! Beautiful. What is your view from an Illustration stand point? Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. admin :

    Jul 31, 2012 3:12 pm |

    Thank you so much for the comment, Enoch! Like you, I’m blown away by his painterly Old World — even Rembrandt-style animation. From an illustrator’s standpoint, I’m impressed how he uses thumbnails and storyboards to create different, interesting, plausible points of views. So this planning/creating step keeps him from composing scenes in a tired, repetitive, cliche kind of way. This is how he keeps his storytelling fresh. I think it’s a great take-away for illustrators of every genre. Because they have to be storytellers — directors, if you will — as much as the really good animators, like Petrov, are.
    Thanks again for the good discussion, Enoch! 😀

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