Alexander Tatarsky, a dynamic and colorful figures in the Russian perestroika and post-perestroika animation world, died of a heart attack in Moscow July 22. He was 56.

While his own works were widely broadcast on television, he may remain best known for the production studio Pilot that he founded in 1988 — the first private animation outfit of its kind in the former Soviet Union. Pilot went on to train a whole new generation of filmmakers, as well as working internationally and on major projects at home.

He kept the studio going through the lean years of the 1990s, when state support for animation film projects was far from generous. On the international front, he was among the very first to bring foreign work into Russia, and also set up a school that set many on their future paths.

Born in Kiev, Ukraine, Tatarsky graduated from that city’s theatrical institute, and turned to animation in 1969, inspired by the example and work of Soviet animation legends like Yury Norshtein, as well as his teacher David Cherkassky.

Moving later to Moscow, he worked on a number of clay projects. including “Plasticine Crows,” “The Fall of Last Year’s Snow,” “The Reverse Side of the Moon” and “Gone with the Wind”; as well as the claymation titles for the long-running Soviet, and later Russian, childrens’ evening television show “Good Night Children.”

Tatarsky was for many years president of Russia’s annual animation festival, held in Suzdal. His last project, the largest in Russian animation history, was the anthology “Mountain of Gems” which was broadcast over the last two years on national broadcaster Channel One. To date, 30 of a projected 52 13-minute films have been completed, from directors from all around the country, and around the CIS. The fairy-tale stories illustrate the folk heritage of the country and all its different nationalities.

“The first book I remember, a collection of fairytales of the races of the Soviet Union, had the title ‘Mountain of Gems’,” Tatarsky said in an interview two years ago. “Though the project as we made it is certainly a work of art, it also has a clear political standpoint … What is happening in Russia is coming close to a state of ethnic war — and I don’t want to live in such a country. The inspiration was to show that one race doesn’t think itself better than another. I want to live in a country where tolerance reigns — otherwise there’s every risk that we will move towards fascism.”

— Tom Birchenough