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Bulgarian Animation: The Golden Years
A Flashback to the History of Bulgarian Animation
The first attempts in Bulgarian animation were the Vassil Bakardjiev ads, commissioned by various companies and enterprises in the late 1920s. In 1932 the Ministry of Health ordered a film which contained a piece of animation. At the same time, Dimiter Todorov Jarava took to building a device that would show drawn figures in motion. The goal was to project moving drawings printed on paper tape. After the end of World War II, he bought a camera, lighting equipment, magnifying apparatus, constructed a shooting table and installed the equipment in his house, where he studied, frame by frame, the fine details of Walt Disney's films.
In 1945, a group of painters founded a society for trick film production. Using cutout animation, they made a 2-minute film, Sick, for the election campaign. It was followed by the short, The Little Thief.
In 1948, an Animation Film Production Department was founded in Sofia. (It was 100% financed by the government. This is one, but not the only, reason why the Bulgarian animators never fully developed commercially orientated projects.) Having struggled with poor equipment and difficult self-made materials, the department received an Arriflex camera in 1950. Projects began to roll in.
The first Bulgarian puppet animation, The Fearful Bomb, by director Dimo Lingurski, was released in 1951. Master Manol, by the same author, and Event in the Kindergarten by Ognian Danailov followed. Next came Orders of the Pike by Stefan Topaldjikov (1953). The three films utilized the dramatic structure of the typical feature film, and all aimed for maximum realism in depicting both characters and atmosphere.
Todor Dinov, called, "The Father of Bulgarian Animation," started his career with his first film Marko the Hero (1955). High professionalism and impressive animation met with a dramatic storytelling and wonderful action to render a memorable piece of art. (As head of the animation production department, he established the professional standards for producing animation. At that time, he was the only one who had received an animation education /Moscow/.)
In the late 1950s, new artists came to the animation studio to work as animators, designers and directors. Animation production increased to seven films in 1957. Dinov focused on cartoons, while Topaldjikov was the leader in the puppet film arena. In 1958, he made Invisible Mirko, which became the first Bulgarian animation film to win an international prize - an honorary diploma at the XIII Festival in Edinburgh (1959) and the Grand Prize at the Melbourne Festival in 1963. With Prometheus (1959), Dinov combined tradition and innovation in a new animation structure and introduced symbolism in Bulgarian animation.
A New Age
In the 1960s, Bulgarian animation was marked by changes both in thematic and genre aspects. From comedies and fairy tales, the focus shifted to human history and progress (Prometheus). In 1960, Zdenka Dojcheva and Radka Buchvarova started to make children's films (The Small Waterfall and Snowman) where the leading dramatic principle was given to the music. During the same year, Dinov made Tale of the Pine Twig with scriptwriter Valleri Petrov. Petrov's extraordinary talent added to the soft, lyrical animation art. The commonality in the three films produced in 1960 was the discovery of an essential feature of animation motion - its musicality.
During this period the films of all directors were original experiments and discoveries. This became the blueprint of Bulgarian drawn and puppet animation, establishing the short as the standard format. The trademark of Bulgarian animation was the approach to characters as a quintessence of types, behaviors or ideas, distinctly projecting the author's position. The classical model of Bulgarian animation was impossible without the hints of caricature images. A classical example of the Bulgarian animated film of the 1960s is Daisy, by Dinov. Paradoxically, the film won a prize for best children's film, although it was meant for adults.
The 1960s were marked by the appearance of strong creative individuals. Donyo Donev made Duet (1961), co-directed with Dinov. Donev made his solo debut Circus (1962). His drawing was mild, his characters were extraordinary vital, ever hungry for motion and dynamism. From Spring (1966) on, his films were unmistakably recognizable by their highly individual imaging.
With his temperament and visual style of filmmaking, Stoian Dukov veered in a completely different direction. His animation character came from the rationalization of ideas. Stoian Dukov's originality was mostly visible in his children's films where his ornamental coloring became his signature.
In the second half of the 1960s, editing began to be used toward a new layer of semantic structuring. This added a new film element to Bulgarian animated film, exemplified in Ivan Andonov's Esperanza.
The Golden Years
The 1970s witnessed a new flow of authors who focused their attention on Bulgarian folklore. Examples are Jolly Fellows (Dimiter Tomov, Pencho Bogdanov), The Three Fools (the most popular cartoon series among the Bulgarians, it is considered a trademark of the Bulgarian animation), The Intelligent Village (Donev) and The Lying Shepherd (Stoian Doukov). The early 1970s were also rich in children's film productions such as The Little Frogman, Petio - the Black Pirate (Zdenka Dojcheva), The Long Ears, A Bouquet of Stars, The Star and What to Become (Radka Buchvarova). The inventions of this period, with their strong linearity, geometric forms of character and background, seemed to draw from illustration rather than from caricature. Dominating was the intellectual principle that affected the whole build-up of the miniature-proverb.
The mid-1970s saw the appearance of three new figures on the Bulgarian animation arena: Anri Kulev, Slav Bakalov and Nikolaj Todorov. They studied animation in Moscow, so they introduced a Russian influence to the Bulgarian animation tradition. Since his first films (Golgotha, Hypothesis, Kavalkada) Anri Kulev has shown a particularly emotional manner and a complicated drawing style. His films are among the first in the Bulgarian cinema to show a painful reaction to the world.
The two original works of Nikolai Todorov, Odyssey and Grandomania, suggest that he treats the drawing line and its dynamics like a personal trajectory of thought and emotion. Todorov demonstrated a virtuous control over animation techniques. After these films, Todorov started working with Anri Kulev. Their talents blended so smoothly that one can hardly identify their individual contributions in The Ship, Sunday, Bagpipe, Sympathy and A Day Like a Dandelion.