Yuri Norstein Inspires NY Artists at SVA

Posted by on Feb 16, 2010 in Industry Events | 5 Comments

still from Hedgehog in the Fog

Article written by Dayna Gonzalez.

Acclaimed Russian animator, Yuri Norstein stopped by the SVA theatre last night, to show his films and have a Q & A with the audience. The animation community here heavily anticipated the evening, and the house was packed. It had been 10 years since Yuri’s last visit. Many well-known NY animators turned out to hear him speak, and it was very inspirational to be listening to such an amazing artist.

Yuri spoke candidly with the audience about his meticulous approach to animation. Yuri’s film’s are painstakingly made, and are much more intricate to make than ordinary cut-out animation. It involves the use of multiple glass planes that are moved in any direction away and toward the camera, allowing Yuri to achieve a unique 3D look to his animation. His films are very autobiographical, and his life experiences have greatly influenced his storytelling and characters. He is very much interested in the psychology of the situations rather than in depicting gags. He laughed and readily admitted no producer would possibly tolerate him. It can be hard to communicate your ideas as a director and he finds it quicker and more efficient to do all the animation and camera work himself. He works with a very small team, consisting of his wife, his cinematographer, and a few others. When asked if he had an apprentice, he spoke of his teaching days and enjoying spreading his knowledge to others. He harbors no secrets.

Yuri screened The Crane and the Heron, The Hedgehog in the Fog, a short film based on a Japanese poem which I missed the name of, and about 10 minutes of The Overcoat. These wonderful, whimsical films are often funny and endearing. Yuri has been working on his latest film, The Overcoat, for well over a decade. I believe most of his films are based on fairy-tales he told his children, and other short stories. They are mostly black and white, which for Yuri, holds a strength and energy that is unique. He is more concerned with the dramatization of the characters, rather than the materials used. It was very interesting to note that all the pieces used in the makeup of the characters were completely unattached to each other. He moves them all separately based on what he needs for the scene. It was also cool to note that the entire film is shot without editing on what is probably an Oxberry fitted for multi-plane use. Very little modern technology is used. A fun quote: “There is a short string from the heart to the hand. You can’t possibly put those feelings into the computer.”

Yuri is very outspoken and fun to listen to. The actual translation of his words proved to be very challenging but I think for the most part, his point came across. When screening The Crane and the Heron, Yuri amusingly yelled “Stop, stop!” It was quite the little commotion, but the film was in the wrong aspect ratio, and it was important that it be correct. I really enjoyed learning more Yuri and his films, and I look forward to seeing The Overcoat in its entirety one day soon.


  1. Michael Sporn
    February 16, 2010

    Hi, A very nice wrap up, Dayna. Two small corrections:
    the film is actually called THE HERON AND THE CRANE (the interpreter got it wrong) and
    THE OVERCOAT has been in production for over 25 years (Reeves Lehmann kept saying it was a “decade” but he had it wrong.)
    The Japanese short is from the feature called, WINTER DAYS, and can be seen on YouTube here:

    • Events Blogger: Dayna
      February 17, 2010

      Thanks so much for the corrections, Michael. I think some of this definitely got lost in the translation.

  2. Rob
    February 16, 2010

    Yuri was great to listen to. Even without translation you get a sense of how personal his films are to him. Parts from the overcoat especially looked like a great combination of frame-by-frame painting and actual physical stop-motion puppetry.
    Some of his cutouts are jointed, though. Here’s a video from a demonstration earlier this month in which he assembles the character from Overcoat. Watch at 2:20 to see the fantastic puppetry of the hand.


  3. Dayna Gonzalez
    February 17, 2010

    Yes, I definitely agree. Thanks for sharing that link with us! I think it helps to get a better sense of how he animates.


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    January 30, 2011

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