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Russian Cinema: Toon Boom Echoes, But Not Far Enough

Productions rise but exports are flat

The russian animation sector is booming. Some 30 toon studios operate in the country, including Melnitsa Animation Studio, Riki Productions and Wizart Animation, and there are a range of high-quality animated features in the pipeline.

The government is a major source of funding, with up to 900 million rubles ($25 million) allocated to the sector a year, of which $14.5 million is assigned to features. The television channel 2×2, which is dedicated to animated shows, is another major source of funding.

Much of the output is for TV, with 15 Russian toon series on air last year, such as “Masha and the Bear,” “Space Dogs: Family” and “Lucky.” Some of these, like SKA St. Petersburg’s “Kikoriki,” have then been spun off as feature films. The second “Kikoriki” movie, “Kikoriki: Legend of the Golden Dragon,” is now in production, with a theatrical release set for autumn 2015. Like the first pic, it will be shot in stereoscopic 3D.

Between three and five Russian animated feature films are released in theaters a year, and there are usually one or two releases of compilations of animated shorts in theaters also. Box office for Russian animated features has doubled over the past five years. Much of this rise can be attributed to the success of Melnitsa, whose film “Three Heroes on Distant Shores” earned a record $26 million last year.

This was followed by the studio’s “Prince Ivan and the Gray Wolf 2,” which took $22 million after it opened in late December. Wizart’s “Snow Queen” took $8.5 million, and the sequel, “The Snow Queen 2,” is in production, as is the studio’s “Sheep and Wolves.” Both projects have been pre-sold to multiple international markets, and they too are being made in stereoscopic 3D.

Christophe Erbes, a consultant who specializes in children’s entertainment product, has seen a steady improvement in the quality and range of animation coming out of Russia in the past five years. However, the vast majority of its output is produced for the local market, and the Russian biz is only gradually making inroads into the international market, he says.

But Russian producers are increasingly keen to find international partners, with 15 Russian studios attending the Annecy Intl. Animated Film Festival’s market, MIFA, this year.

“In terms of commercial development, they are at the beginning, but they are looking for ways to sell, to co-produce and co-operate, and they are getting better and better at it every year,” Erbes says.

The desire to export and the influence of U.S. imports is leading some Russian animators to adopt a more edgy, urban style rather than the fairytale adventures favored in the past.

“They know ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘SpongeBob,’ so it’s having an influence on how they are developing,” he says.

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