Of sea, sky and human spirit

July 24, 2012

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

    A finger-painted, animated “expression of dabs”

    July 6, 2012

    Russian animator Alexander Petrov works a lot  like a children’s book illustrator to make his films, though his films hardly rate as children’s fare. In the previous post we saw his mesmerizing film The Mermaid based on a Pushkin tale and the Slavic legend of the rusalka. It’s a tragic telling definitely not for children. In this […]

  • 3

    Moving pictures on glass

    June 25, 2012

    Alexander Petrov creates his animations the home-made way, scribbling on layered panes of glass with oil pastels. He paints with his fingers, small brushes, rags — anything handy to help him push and smear his pigments — and wipe them away when it’s time to re-paint for the next shot In a process evocative of sand-painting He prefers […]

  • 0

    Disney’s last cartoon

    June 18, 2012

    A children’s book artist and really any illustrator is taught to think of the human or animal figure’s action in the moments before and after the pose. Animators don’t merely think about the action, they include every bit and use it to define the souls of their characters. An exquisite example of this, often thought […]

  • 2

    De-foresting Kipling’s dark jungle

    June 4, 2012

    Rudyard Kipling, who had been born in Bombay and was happier in the Punjab and India than he ever was in England, actually wrote most of The Jungle Book stories in Vermont. He, his wife Carrie and their new baby daughter Josephine were wintering there on a farm, in a tiny cottage “with snow up to the windowsills,” he […]