A Survey of Armenian Animation

By Siranush Galstyan

Since prehistoric times people have tried to demonstrate and reproduce images in motion, and so did Armenians. Rock and cave carvings show images of action-in-motion phases. The same tendency can be found in a number of medieval Armenian miniatures, where—with the help of separate series of images—several attempts have been made to show motion and action. Then thinking about animation and motion in its different manifestations came to a halt for quite a long time.

However, in the 20th century—the century of motion pictures—animators tried to comprehend the biblical legend of Adam’s first wife, Lilit, which was drawn by Robert Sahakyants in the style of old book miniatures (Lilit, 1972).

Here the history of Armenian animation film is presented in chronological order. The year 1937 remains the darkest point in the Soviet epoch. Meanwhile, during those cruel times, there was at least one bright moment: it was precisely in 1937 that Armenfilm Studio made its first animation films. The first film, The Dog and the Cat (Shunn u Katun, 1938) was created by the founder of Armenian animation, Lev Atamanov (Levon Atamanyan),[1] and based on Hovhannes Tumanyan’s poem of the same title. Later, Armenian animators (as well as the film directors) would often base their films on the works of Tumanyan.

The second Armenian animation film, The Priest and the Goat (Tertern u aytze, 1941) was also completed by Atamanov on the eve of the Second World War. The shooting of the next film, which was started at the same time, The Magic Carpet (Vol’shebnyi kover, 1947) was completed only after the war; it was directed by Atamanov and contained the work of artists Hakob Kojoyan and M. Karapetyan. By then, the group of animators had been dismantled and the history of Armenian animation was halted for almost twenty years.

In the mid-1960s the artist Valentin Podpomogov embarked on the re-animation of Armenian animation. In 1967 he completed A Drop of Honey (Mi katil meghre) and in 1971—The Legend of Lake Parvana (Legend Parvana lji masin), which he both directed and designed. Both films were based on poems of Hovhannes Tumanyan.

kikosAt the end of the 1960s feature film production designer Stepan Andranikyan started to work in Armenian animation; he is well-known as production designer for Sergei Parajanov’s famous The Color of Pomegranate and other films. The first film, directed and drawn by Andranikyan, was The Bride of the Sun (Arevi harsnatsun, 1971), a basic but formative work. The animation is distinguished by a bright color spectrum, plasticity and unique artistic characteristics.

The 1970s are rightly considered as the flourishing years of Armenian animation. During those years, animation with original graphic solutions and of various genres was created, both for children and adults: Rafael Babayan’s Puy-Puy Mouse (Puy-Puy mukike, 1971), Abu-Hasan’s Slippers (Abu-Hasani mashiknere, 1974), and Music (Yerazhshtutyun, 1976); Sahakyants’s Lilit (1972), The Fox Who Could Not Do Anything (Anban aghvese, 1976), Kikos (1979); Levon Khachatryan’s Idler (Tsuyle, 1975); and Lyudmila Sahakyants’s The Meeting of the Mice (Mkneri zhoghove, 1978).

In 1973 Armen Mirakyan and E. Vardanyan made the first Armenian puppet animation with Wrong Expression (Skhal artahaytutyun). The Fox’s Book (Aghvesagirk, 1975) by Robert Sahakyants (with music by David Azaryan) and based on the medieval Armenian fable-writer Vardan Aygektsi, was a completely new discovery in Armenian animation. This film had an original sound track thanks to the singing of the talented pop diva Elvina Makaryan.

A Penguin Named Vin (Pingvin Vine, 1972) by Stepan Andranikyan and The Found Dream (Gtnvats yeraze, 1976) by Hovhannes Dilakyan are among the most favorite Armenian children’s cartoons. Many of their phrases and songs have entered into everyday life. The melodic songs of Ruben Hakhverdyan have played a significant role in creating the kind, fairy-tale, dream-like atmosphere in The Found Dream.

panos clumsyThe 1980s were also years of heightened creativity. Again, animators frequently dealt with Tumanyan’s literary heritage. Indeed, his works have found unique interpretations in Armenian cartoons, transforming into interesting creative ideas. Robert Sahakyants shot Nazar the Brave (Kaj Nazar 1980), The Talking Fish (Khosogh dzuke, 1983), Wow, Shrove-tide! (Barekendane, 1985); Gayane Martirosyan made Three Pieces of Advice (Imastuni yereq khorhurde, 1980); Robert and Lyudmila Sahakyants created Three Blue, Blue Lakes of Crimson Color (Moru guyni yereq kapuyt, kapuyt ljak, 1981) and Echo (Ardzaganq, 1986); and Stepan Galstyan made  Panos the Clumsy (Dzakhord Panose, 1980), with a script by Robert and Lyudmila Sahakyants and designs by Ashot Bayandur.

The feature film director Arman Manaryan shot his first cartoon, A Tale about a Mirror (Heqiat hayelu masin 1985), with a design by Alexander Petrov. Lyudmila Sahakyants’s Dream Interpretation (Yerazahan, 1989) is based on the medieval fables by Mkhitar Gosh, and constitutes an original auteur work in the style of a vision. New names among Armenian animators are the young artists Marina Vagharshyan and Ella Avagyan.

In the 1990s a new era started in Armenia’s history: the collapse of the Soviet Union, the establishment of a new, independent republic—those were difficult, heavy years. However, the economic crisis did not influence Robert Sahakyants’s activity: For You, Armenia (Kez, Hayastan 1990) was based on a song by Georges Garvarentz and Charles Aznavour; The Button (Seghmakotchak, 1989); The Axe (Katsin, 1994); Elections (Entrutsyunner ,1994) was based on Ruben Hakhverdyan’s song of the same title; The Ark (Tapan, 1997), and other films were released. However, time puts its seal on the famous animator’s style: irony and sarcasm increasingly dominated his works. Sahakyants has influenced not only Armenian, but all of Soviet animation. His name is aligned with that of Yuri Norshtein and Fedor Khitruk, and his sudden and premature death in 2009 was a serious loss for Armenian animation.

american travellerIt is worth noting that under quite difficult conditions, the 1990s saw the emergence of around twenty cartoons. In the 1990s the following directors continued to work in Armenian animation: Gayane Martirosyan’s On the Wings of the Wind (Qamu teverin, 1990),  Newcomers (Tarashkharhiknere 1991); and Kind Ghosts of the Old Mill (Hin jraghatsi bari hoginere, 1993); Stepan Galstyan’s The Corridor (Mijantsk, 1990); and Alternative (Aylentrank, 1993); Yubik Muradyan’s Pieces of Advice to an American Traveller (Khorhurdner amerikatsi tchanaparhordin, 1990), Warm, Quiet Valley of Home (Tan khaghagh hovtum, 1991); Bitlis (1992), based on William Saroyan’s stories; and Armenian Letters (Hayots grer); and Naira Muradyan’s Three Poets and Charents (Yereq poet yev Charents) and The Road (Tchanaparh, 2004).

Arman Manaryan, who has established himself in feature film a long time ago, made a new animation film, Ignoramus (Tgete, 1995). In 2009 he completed the Armenian epic, David of Sassoun (Sasuntsi Davit) after many years of hard work. Although there is no regular production of animation in Armenia, new works are being created. Among them are Mikayel Vatinyan’s Bozho (2007), Vrej Kassouny’s The Big (Metse, 2004), and David Sahakyants’s Lullaby (Oror, 2008).


1] Lev Atamanov (1905–1981) was an Armenian-born animator and one of the founders of Soviet animation. In Moscow he made popular films, such as The Scarlet Flower (Alenkii tsvetochek 1952), The Golden Antelope (Zolotaia antilopa 1954), and The Snow Queen (Snezhnaia koroleva 1957).

Siranush Galstyan

Siranush Galstyan © 2016

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