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Famed ‘Kikoriki’ Creator and Producer Anatoly Prokhorov Passes at 72

The influential co-founder of both Pilot and Petersburg Animation Studio and a guiding creative force in Russian independent animation died this past Sunday from Leukemia.

Anatoly Prokhorov, one of the founding fathers and a guiding force in Russian independent animation, passed away from Leukemia this past Sunday at age 72. A director, writer, producer and teacher who influenced a generation of Russian animation artists and filmmakers, he is most well-known for creating the hugely successful 2D animated childrens’ series, Kikoriki (Smeshariki), which originally ran from 2003 to 2010 (the final season in 3D) and spawned three animated features before airing a new season of 2D episodes in May of this year.

But within the independent animation community, Prokhorov was equally known for co-founding the famed Pilot (Studio Pilot) animation studio in 1988 with fellow artists Igor Kovalyov (of Rugrats feature fame), Aleksandr Tatarsky, and Igor Gelashvili. Pilot was the first private independent animation studio in the Soviet Union, producing both auteur-driven short form and commercial animation; noted animators who worked at the studio include Kovalyov, Aleksandr Petrov, Rinat Gazizov, Konstantin Bronzit, Mikhail Aldashin, Ivan Maximov, and Andrey Sokolov.

The studio, alongside Mikhail Shindel’s Kinofilm Animation, produced the animation on 52 episodes of Mike, Lu & Og, which ran for two seasons in 1999-2001 on Cartoon Network. The series kids’ series was created by Shindel, Aldashin and Charles Swenson, with Aldashin serving as supervising animator and Gelashvili serving as one of the producers.

Reached by phone, Kovolyav was at a loss for words, noting, “We met in 1983. We founded Pilot in 1988. We worked together for so many years. I cannot describe how wonderful he was as a human, and as an artist, and how incredibly sad I am.” Oscar-nominated director Konstantin Bronzit, who worked with Prokhorov on a number of short films including Fare-well (1993) and Tuk-Tuk (1993), wrote on his Facebook page, “What a terrible day for me personally. Died Anatoly Prokhorov. In short: this is the person who shaped me as a director. This was my main teacher.”

Petersburg Animation Studio parent company The Riki Group issued the following statement, translated from Russian:

"Anatoli Valentinovich was always a very positive, energetic, and singular creator. His contribution to development of Russian animation cannot be overestimated (as said in the collective statement made by his colleagues). Thanks to his belief and creative input Smeshariki came to be, on which he continued to work until his last day alive. For our team, he was not only an art director and colleague but a friend, teacher, and mentor. As a producer, thinker, and culturologist, he had always reached new heights and opened new horizons for those that had the honor of collaborating with him. At this irreparable loss, we express our condolences to the family of and those close to Anatoly Valentinovich and we grieve with them."

Film critic Larisa Malyukova shared, “Suddenly, it hurts. Anatoly Prokhorov. When you think about the loss of a person of this magnitude, intelligence, various talents — you do not know where to start. The scale of the personality cannot be described. Nothing was more interesting than talking to him: about self-identification, about God, about love. About death. Together with Aleksandr Tatarsky, they created the legendary Pilot Studio. Before that, he developed quantum statistics at the Department of theoretical physics at the Academy of Sciences. He was terribly smart. His dissertation was on the theory of nucleation. And so, he left the academic Institute, despite the tears of his mother; the General's son with the prospects of a great scientist, decided to go into animation.”

“They came up with the first independent animation studio, which was ahead of its time,” she continues. “And what a studio! And then, together with Ilya Popov, they launched the mega-project Smeshariki. He also studied Eastern theater, ‘Kabuki,’, ‘No.’ He studied the theater of Vietnam, and knew the history of cinema. He was also a genuine non-ostentatious philosopher. And at KROK festivals, we listened to his lectures on the philosophy of life. And what an amazing animation workshop they did with Konstantin Bronzit, who honors Prokhorov as his main teacher. He was ahead of time, and in his professional trajectory to the amazement and to the irony of many, moved from profession to profession, developing himself, comprehending new meanings, exploring the boundaries of the possible. Today there is so little sense, thought. He was able, in Nietzsche's words, to control his thought, to control his happiness. How do we learn this? Impossible.”

She concludes, “Yury Norstein can't forget when he saw Anatoly for the first time. It was 1976, a discussion of animation at the Moscow House of Cinema. And here came a blond physicist, and suddenly so accurately, vividly, intelligently began to talk about ‘Hedgehog in the fog’ that the author listened: ‘Where did this person come from, who is so well versed in animation, who analyzes films so professionally?’ The scale of his view was broader than professional; he was engaged in the philosophy of life. We will miss his calm thought flowing in an unknown direction.” 

Prokorov began his career in academics, earning a PhD. in physics and mathematics in 1971 from the Moscow State University, occupying various positions in the Academy of Sciences in the then USSR. But, he eventually made his way to animation, first forming Pilot, and Pilot TV, then the Petersburg Animation Studio.  He co-produced more than 30 animated shorts and movies that have received numerous awards, including Aleksey Kharitidi’s Gagarin, which in 1996, won the Cannes Palme d’Or and was nominated for an Oscar. From 2001 to 2003, Prokhorov was a director at the Russian Internet Academy; from 2002-2004, he was also a member of the Expert Council on electronic textbooks in the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation. Since 1992, Prokhorov led the Sector of the Screen Culture and New Communication Technologies in the Ministry of Culture of the RF’s Institute for Cultural Research. He was a member of Eurasian TV and Radio Academy, and a recipient of numerous government awards and honors.

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Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.