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Irina Margolina: The Animated Century

// Featured, Interviews

The Animated Century is the first television documentary about the history of animation and a hit in America on the Bravo! Network. The film features clips from the best animated films of all time and hosted by cartoon characters ‘Professor Elderberry’ and goofy student, ‘Horace’. After meeting the director, Irina Margolina, at Bradford Animation Festival (BAF) I was fortunate to talk with her about The Animated Century and more.

Professor Elderberry and Horace from The Animated Century

Where did you begin your journey into making The Animated Century?

We met with Adam Snyder, my co-producer and co-director at the Zagreb Festival in 1998. This is where I first met Adam Snyder. His father was a well-known animation producer and also a distributer for Zagreb Animation School and a lot of other Eastern European Studios. So for Adam it was possible to get all of those brilliant films right.

I had a lot of documentary material from Russia called Animation from A-Z and works of Ladislav Starevich (stop-motion animator who was known for using insects and other animals as his protagonists). That was 52 episodes and 26 minutes each.  So we sent some of this material for the beginning of production and then we thought how to make it more mainstream. Our vision was to produce a documentary that was not only for the professionals but for everybody who is interested in animation, including the beginners and the students; to explain some animation techniques and for it to be light and not so serious.

How would you describe your style?

This genre in Russia is called “semi-popular film”. We have a whole school for these types of films. It can be a mix of a documentary and whatever else you want or a mix of several genres such as fiction and live-action. Most importantly, it was about exploring ourselves.

How long did it take to make the film and what were your toughest challenges?

It was a long process; the film was finished in 2004 and after all the preparation between the countries and looking for funding, it took 6 years to complete. Bravo! Network gave us some money and the Russian Minister of Culture took part in financing this project.

I still think the film could have been better and there were elements that I was not happy with. We were editing for one year with about 6 months of actually sitting in the editing room trying to make it the best that we could make it. We had to edit every 30 second segment of 160 minutes of footage.

One producer at the very beginning helped us a lot in terms of financing the project. It was Sasha Buchman from Germany. This was a great relief because we couldn’t move forward without the extra financial backing.

We bought the cartoon characters from Bill Plympton.  Constantine Bronzit, genius animator, was the lead animator on the project. Bill Plympton also animated the last 30 seconds of animation, the part when he turns from a stupid man to a clever human being. We realised that something was missing towards the end of production so we found it easier to ask Bill and his studio to make it.

What is the key to making a film that is accessible to a worldwide audience?

The script for animation was discussed so many times. Our scientific advisers in this work were Giannalberto Bendazzi, Jerry Beck and Greg Ford. All these projects are not in the native language so we required direct translation into English. It was very difficult to translate Russian jokes into English and for them still to be funny for an international audience. In hindsight, I feel we should’ve come up with something else that was explaining but still funny.

We wanted the film to target everybody who is interested in Animation. This type of project will always be necessary. From beginning to the end, the film covers almost every meaningful name and event in animation. After being a hit on the Bravo! Network, it was shown worldwide at many major festivals where the first screening was usually The Animated Century. It was shown at Zagreb, Annecy, Buenos Aries, Taiwan, and Hiroshima.

I’m so glad and appreciate that I was invited by BAF for The Animated Century. Even for me, I can forget the number of years spent on this project. So I’m glad that a lot of people came for the screening. Also, I think Bradford (BAF) is one of the highest quality level festivals. The Media Museum was a wonderful place and where The Animated Century was meant to be shown.

Later people asked if I had any DVD’s of the film but I did not have any. Later we will discuss and we will send some DVD’s to the Museum store because this is the particular place where it is should to be sold.

Our distributer is selling it for the libraries and for the universities, but I think all schools should have it available to their students as it is both inspiring and educational. It is also very easy to understand for all ages due to the self-explanatory imagery.

What were your favourite film(s) from BAF?

I loved Arrietty so much. She was adorable and nice. Nullarbor was also such a powerful film. They made such great characters who are so true to life. I also liked The Maker. Most of the films at BAF were shown at Annecy, but not that one.

Does your true passion lie in live-action films or animation?

Firstly, I wrote scripts for live-action films. This is my passion. I have also worked many years in animation, but I love all films in general regardless of the genre. For example, in Russia, we have a retrospective of Spanish director, Pedro Almodovar (Volver). He is one of my favourite contemporary film directors.

How was it to work with Bill Plympton (Animated Century) and Barry Purves (Tchaikovsky)?

Working with Bill Plympton was very nice and easy. He is very kind and organised.

Barry Purves has absolutely no competition.

First of all, he is so intelligent and a great person. When working on Tchaikovsky, it was evident that he loves Tchaikovsky music and knows a lot about his music. When we saw Swan Lake in Moscow, Kremlin Palace, I asked him how many times he had seen Swan Lake and he told me, “Probably the 30th time!”

We talked about working together many times in the past. I wrote a play for theatre and we were discussing from then. Working with Barry was the happiest time. We had a wonderful energy and it was wonderful to work together. We understood each other straight away and that doesn’t happen very often.

Irena Margolina Barry JC Purves and Joanna Quinn

Still from Tchaikovsky by Barry Purves

What does the future hold for Irina Margolina and Studio M.I.R? When is the next project due?

I don’t like to look into the future because you never know what’s around the corner. I am a strong believer in this. Right now we are in production with an animation called Simon which is about a particular animal. It’s a very beautiful film with a lot of great material.

Do you have any advice for animators who want to start their own studio?

  • Don’t be afraid. Be sure of yourself but not too much.
  • Look around as much as possible.
  • And be in love with everything.
  • First, enjoy and everything else comes second because it is a great privilege to do what you love.

In 1000 years, how would you like to be remembered?

In 1000 years, I would appreciate very much if somebody would remember my son because I think he is a wonderful artist. He just finished his film; it’s called Gosha’s Tales.

I would prefer that he is recognised rather than myself.


Studio M.I.R website:

To purchase The Animated Century:

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