Natalya Loukinykh gives us an inside look at the potential of Russia's digital future.
The recent boom in interest in interactive computer games reached Russia unexpectedly and quite triumphantly. Nowadays, Russians are playing computer games in their spare time, from their homes, offices and schools to everywhere in between.
Technology Explosion Suddenly, all different types of computers, ranging from those equipped to handle diverse game applications, to the most old-fashioned home computers, to the utmost in technology like high quality Macintosh and Silicon Graphics systems, have become a normal detail in every day Russian life. While classic, traditional animation has become rare in our cinemas, computer animation, coming out of the industrial multimedia world, is becoming a recurrent attribute to Russia's contemporary virtual art. Of course, a major part of the Russian multimedia market is games, and every kind of game application of foreign origin is used. Already popularare Russian periodicals dedicated to the computer industry, such as Hard and Soft, Virtual Worlds and so on. These publications dedicate many of their beautifully designed and illustrated pages solely to gaming advertisements and propaganda. Demonstrations and visuals are also shown on special television programs which are targeted to both amateurs and computer specialists such as Straight From The Horse's Mouth (NTV Channel), Computer! (RTR TV channel) and Virtual World (Moscow TV-CENTER channel). Challenges of Multimedia Meanwhile, year after year, the Russian multimedia industry is increasing its production capacities and expanding its thematic, artistic and creative horizons. The analysis of the creative potential and the technical possibilities of Russian multimedia producers is part of the agenda of Moscow's yearly international 'Anigraph' festival of computer graphics and animation, which has been celebrated for five years. The prestigious metropolitan exhibition, 'Multimedia Expo' in the International Trade Center, also discusses such issues. Naturally, this gives ground, and not willingly, for the comparison between other international industries and our own. According to many experts, Russian multimedia productions are lacking in many of the important components when compared to other international products. However, they agree that we have a legal right to compete in the marketplace, and we should not be ashamed of our imperfections.
According to information gathered at the latest conferences and festivals of multimedia production, Russian computer games or game applications, suffer from either an amateur graphic element performance while having a very decently made program, or, vice versa, lack a good technical program performance, while the work by the graphic artists is excellent.
It is very sad to mention that the majority of evident insufficiencies in Russian multimedia production are due to a real lack of technical possibilities and material means. Very few Russian producers can gather a highly qualified and multifunctional staff, and sometimes it is impossible to obtain the legal rights to use materials such as video, text, graphics or music. The best, internationally known foreign multimedia productions are backed-up, as a rule, by such prominent companies as Disney, the BBC, Microsoft, etc. Many interactive games, animation and other instructive multimedia programs in Western countries traditionally follow in the footsteps of high-rated Hollywood films and television programs. Russian colleagues can only dream of creating their own analog multimedia versions of popular local television programs or favorite films such as Plasticine Raven by Alexander Tatarski or Fedor Khitruk's Winnie the Pooh.
Nevertheless, notwithstanding all the evident and inevitable restraints the Russian multimedia industry faces, the field's home novelties are delighting to the eyes and spirit of professionals and the incessantly increasing number of end users.
The Progress of R-Style
Widely known and accumulating production power, the Russian company R-Style is gathering the activity of various multimedia production companies together, and is actively amplifying the field and quality of its productions. Let us concentrate our attention on this company's activities. R-Style proposes to Russian and foreign end-users powerful computers that they create, packaged together with several kits of multimedia products such as video game applications, entertainment and education programs as well as, of course, the newest games on cartridges and CDs There are almost two dozen interactive cartoon films and computer games in R-Style's package.They are created by the programmers at the Russian companies, New Media Generation and Cyril and Methodius, who work together with famous Russian animation artists. One can find among these products different types of CD-ROM encyclopedias on everything from cuisine to the Bible, but predominately R-Style presents a rich collection of animated computer games and interactive animation films. R-Style's interactive multimedia versions of animated films are recorded on CD-ROM, and allow the famous literary plots to be easily stopped and the player to actively participate in choosing the steps or the movement of the characters, playing versions of famous scenes and finding all kinds of surprises. In the series of interactive films, The Magic Stories of Tootie, one can find the following titles: Cinderella, Pinocchio, The Thumbelins, Beauty and the Beast, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, Sinbad the Sailor, The Snow Queen, as well as some original computer games such as, Sea Legends, Escape from the Haunted House, Alice in Wonderland, The Tower of Knowledge, Dr. Dudius on Earth and others which are constantly enriching R-Style's assortment.
Animating Across Media
I am glad to report that not only literary professionals participate in the creation of multimedia games and interactive versions of animated films, but also truly well-known animators who have been awarded at many international festivals work in this field. R-Style is creating interactive animated films with the talents of the celebrated young animators from Moscow: Dmitri Reztchikov and Alexander Ratnovsky. Their modern animation shorts Acid Wine and The Voices have been shown extensively on the animation festival circuit.
We can also note that R-Style's animation production branch can compete with the studio that is managed by the President of the Russian Association of Animators, the Dmitri Naumov Studio. Naumov's long-standing partner, the artist, scriptwriter and co-producer Valentin Teleguine, is also part of their staff. Their plasticine and cut-out films are widely known in international and professional circles. About Mathvey Kuzmich was awarded by the international animation film festival KROK `91, and Kafka's Landsurveyor's Castle won the Silver Dove Award at the Leipzig `95 International Festival and was nominated to NIKA's Russian Best Film.
The famous animation producer Alexei Karaev of Svredlovskaya Anima Studio is also participating in Dmitri Naumov Studio's multimedia projects. His films Welcome!, The Habitants of the Old House and As You Like it have been awarded at many international festivals.
Many new and young animators from Bielorussia, Ukraine and other former Soviet republics are joining the multimedia industry as well. Of course, the animation masters' artistic level of self-realization while working in the multimedia industry is incomparable to their work using traditional animation techniques and forms. The fact, however, that the masters of animation participate in the creation and industry of Russian multimedia, is adding a level of art to the entire home multimedia area and to interactive animation in particular. Of course, one would like to hope the artists and the animation producers' activity in this field of artistic creation doesn't represent the only way of realization in the modern market situation. Also, one would like to hope the public and the jury of future professional animation festivals would like to see on the big screen the most recent films of all the mentioned Russian animators who are working in the multimedia industry.
Other Companies Forge Ahead
However, the interactive games industry is an increasingly attractive and productive field for Russian programmers and animators. And, of course, R-Style isn't the only company in which one can participate in multimedia production.
Moscow's Pilot Studio and Second Frog are production groups which are well-known to both Russian and foreign animation film fans. They too are producing games under the leadership of Alexander Tatarski. Pilot Media, partnering with game companies such as L-S and Games, is successfully entering multimedia production and the field of interactive games. Pilot's characters are already 'playing roles' and live in a whole set of CD-ROMs.
Also, the Nikita Company has been placing on the market for several years sets of multimedia developmental computer games for children under the name of Erudit and Wonderkind. The majority of their interactive games are made for children older than 10 but of a basic school age, and are directly connected to general education secondary schools, gymnasiums and college programs. Some of their titles are: Anatomic, a game-course of anatomy; Journey to Europe, a geography game, Vira, a game related to geometry rules and the metric and weight system, and Gavrila, a game which uses crosswords to foster logical thinking in children.
The multimedia industry and interactive animation in Russia is in a most inspiring and creative stage of development. This modern and fashionable field, is constantly being joined by more and more new forces with creative ideas. However, our producers need a direction, and opportunities to maximize the entire production process. Meanwhile, this new technology needs to become less expensive so that the majority of our population can benefit from it.
Natalya Loukinykh, author and TV producer, graduated from the Faculty of Journalism at Moscow State University. Since 1991 she has worked with the organizing group of the KROK International Animation Festival, as press-attache and film selector. She is also director of Animatheka, a documentary TV program about animation.