Yuri Borisovich Norstein is one of the most masterful animator-directors to come out of Soyuzmultfilm
, the Soviet animated film company. His beautiful and haunting creations, in collaboration with his wife Francesca Yarbusova
and the composer Alexander Meyerovich
, have won many awards, both in the former Soviet Union and internationally.
Norstein was born in 1941 in the Moscow suburb of Andreyevsky. Much of his childhood was spent living in a communal apartment with his parents in Marina Roshcha, another suburb of Moscow. His childhood memories of the communal apartment would later influence the images found in the powerful film Skazka skazok. His entrance into animation was purely accidental. After attending an art high school, he applied for a course in animation because a school friend of his had also done so. When Norstein began his animation studies in 1959, he was not yet eighteen.
He finished at the animation school in 1961, and it soon became clear that he was highly talented at what he did. Directors sought him out to work on their projects, and in the late sixties he began to work with the venerable director Ivanov-Vano. They collaborated on a number of projects, most notably Secha pri Kerzhentse (The Battle of Kerzhenets) in 1971.
Although he had received no formal training in directing, in 1973, not long after Secha pri Kerzhentse, he directed his first solo animation, Lisa i zayats (Fox and Rabbit), for Italian children's television. On this project he was joined by his wife, the artist Francesca Yarbusova, who worked with him to tell the story of how a vixen stole a little rabbit's house and was finally routed by the joint efforts of the rabbit and a rooster. Yarbusova has worked with her husband on his last four completed animations, as well as his current project.
Lisa i zayats was followed by another folktale - Tsaplya i zhuravl' (Heron and Crane) in 1974. The next project was the philosophical and dreamily beautiful Yozhik v tumane (Hedgehog in the Fog), following a hedgehog into the strange world inside of a fog bank. Norstein's last completed work, Skazka skazok Tale of Tales, left behind any pretensions of following storylines for child audiences. Instead it addressed the conflicted memories of a generation whose childhood had been torn apart by the Second World War.
Currently Norstein and his team are working on an animation of Gogol's short story "Shinel'" The Overcoat, which is expected to be sixty minutes long. He began working on it in 1981, but was hampered by many factors, especially the loss of his working space within Soyuzmultfilm in 1986, and the death of his friend and cameraman Aleksandr Zhukovskii in 1999. Around 1994, however, he was able to obtain working space; his studio is now in the Voikovskaya region of Moscow.
For his works, Norstein has received many prizes, including being named People's Artist of Russia and receiving the State Laureate Prize of the USSR. In 1984, thirty-five journalists, scholars, directors, and animation programmers chose Skazka skazok as the best animation out of a pool of international animations at a film conference held in Los Angeles in conjunction with the Olympic Games. Although he lost his studio space with Soyuzmultfilm in 1986, he found work lecturing in cinematography courses in Moscow, and in the fall of 1994 did a lecture series in Tokyo. These lectures make up the bulk of the book Sneg na trave (Snow on the Grass), published serially in the journal Iskusstvo-Kino. The year 2000 was the twentieth anniversary of the release of Skazka skazok, and the film museum in Moscow marked the occasion by an exhibition dedicated to the works of Norstein and Yarbusova.
A few sources if you speak Russian:
Aldoshina, O. "Razgovor, kotorogo ne byla." Iskusstvo-Kino. Retrieved 29 March 2005. URL:
Demourova, Dasha. "Good Night! Sleep Well! Taking comfort in a Soviet holdout."
(Sept-Oct 2004 v47 i5). Russian Life
Gordeichuk, Irina, "Genial'nyi "Neuch" Yurii Norshtein." (No. 37 (512), 18-24
September, 2004). Zerkali Nedeli On the WEB. Retrieved 19 March 2005. URL:
Ivanov-Vano, Ivan. (1980). Kadr za kadrom. Moscow: Iskusstvo.
"Japanese Rising Sun Award Goes to Russian Animator Norstein" (3 November 2004).
MOSNEWS.COM Retrieved 23 March 2005. URL: http://www.mosnews.com/news/2004/11/03/norstein.shtml
"Masters of Russian Animation Vol. 5." Retrieved 2 April 2005.
Miller, Larissa. "Yemu dvadtsat' let: Yubilei mul'tfil'ma mul'tfil'mov." (6 April 2000).
Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Retrieved 28 March 2005.
Norstein, Yuri. Sneg na trave. (1999-2003). Published serially in Iskusstvo Kino.
Retrieved 27 March 2005. URLs:
No. 9, 1999. http://old.kinoart.ru/1999/9/18.html
No. 10, 1999. http://old.kinoart.ru/1999/10/17.html
No. 9, 2001. http://old.kinoart.ru/2001/9/20.html
No. 11, 2001. http://old.kinoart.ru/2001/11/15.html
No. 5, 2002. http://old.kinoart.ru/2002/5/11.html
No. 8, 2002. http://www.kinoart.ru/magazine/08-2002/experience/norstein/
No. 1, 2003. http://www.kinoart.ru/magazine/01-2003/experience/Norstein/
No. 2, 2003. http://www.kinoart.ru/magazine/02-2003/Experience/norshtein/
No. 3, 2003. http://www.kinoart.ru/magazine/03-2003/experience/norshtain/
No. 7, 2003. http://www.kinoart.ru/magazine/07-2003/experience/nors0702/
No. 8, 2003. http://www.kinoart.ru/magazine/08-2003/experience/Norsteqn/
"Parlamentskaya gazeta: Archive: Novosti Kulturi." (11 February 2005).
Retrieved 14 February 2005.
Petrushevskaya, Ludmila. "Pisma Norshteinu i chitateliu." (January 2002). Domovoi.
Retrieved 27 March 2005. URL: http://www.domovoy.ru/0113/golight/opit.asp
Poruchik Rzhevskii. "Multiki." Online posting. 16 September 2004. Retrieved 20 Nov 2004.
"Russia's 'visual poet' of animation visits Japan." (28 October 2004). Tokyo Anime Headline. Retrieved
2 April 2005. URL: http://www.taf.metro.tokyo.jp/en/anime_news/041028_02.html
"Russian animation master Yuri Norstein." (8 January 2004). Australian Center for the Moving Image.
Retrieved 27 March 2005. URL: http://www.acmi.net.au/B0FB6FA9405A425D9C8ACE346309B98C.htm
Shenderovich, Viktor. "V studii Yurii Norshtein." (4 July 2004). Radio Svoboda.
Retrieved 27 March 2005. URL: http://www.svoboda.org/programs/shen/2004/shen.070404.asp
"Yurii Norshtein: Luchshii mul'tiplikator mira." (13 September 2004). OM.RU.
Retrieved 19 March 2005. URL: http://www.om.ru/ashow.shtml?4763