Friday, July 03, 2015

Animation in Havana

Click any image to enlarge.
I just spent a week in Havana, Cuba, a city that is interesting for many reasons.  One of the highlights of my stay was a visit to Estudios de Animación, the state run studio that is part of the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos.  The studio is run by the brothers Juan and Ernesto Padrón and they generously toured me through their entire facility.

The studio is located in the Vedado section of Havana in a modern, multi-story building.
Inside is a full service animation studio, where work is done on paper, in stop motion, with 2D and with 3D software.  The lobby has a mural showing many of the studio's projects.
The studio does a variety of work.  There are educational films on Spanish grammar, how the body changes during puberty and Cuban history.  There are shorts made for festivals.  There are commissioned films and TV series for children.  They recently completed their first cgi feature that was a Cuba-Spain-Venezuala co-production entitled Meñique, directed by Ernesto Padrón.

I always feel at home in animation studios.  The artists there were like animation artists everywhere: friendly, happy to show off their work, and enthusiastic about the medium.  One artist I talked to talked about how much he loved working on paper and how superior he felt it was to software.  I shared complaints with another artist about the limitations of certain software packages.

As in most studios, the artist's desks were surrounded by toys, many of their own making.  The planes above this 3D animator were his own work, crafted from paper.  He also had built a replica of a rifle that appeared authentic until you touched it.

Ernesto and Juan showed me some stop motion shorts with tools as characters.  The puppets were amazingly lightweight.  There was a thin wire armature inside and the outside was a light, flexible foam.  They could be supported simply using pins to hold them to the stage surface.

Here are Juan (at left) and Ernesto in one of the 3D production rooms.

Juan has also done cartooning for print.  Here are some examples. 
Here are some posters of recent work

By coincidence, I was there on July 1, the day that Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced that they would reopen embassies in each other's countries.  President Obama has moved to improve relations between the U.S. and Cuba, but some of the restrictions, such as the embargo, are acts of Congress and can only be repealed by Congress.  I hope that relations are eventually normalized.  It will make it easier for this studio to get the supplies they need and will make their impressive work more readily available in English-speaking countries.

I am grateful for the opportunity to see this studio and speak to the artists.  I was impressed with the quality and variety of their work. 

Below is a series of spot gags directed by Juan that I believe is from the 1980s.  I'm sorry that the resolution is so low.  Below that is the English version of the trailer for Meñique, directed by Ernesto. 


joecab said...

Quinoscopio? As in Quino, the Argentinian creator of Mafalda? Cool! His style was captured perfectly. According to Wikipedia, they also worked on a lot of Mafalda short together.

Chris Sobieniak said...

I first saw "Quinoscopio" many years ago in an animation festival compilation video. Yes, these are cartoons originally drawn by the Argentine cartoonist Quino that Juan Padron and his studio animated around the mid 1980's. ICAIC also animated Quino's Mafalda as well (I use to see those strips in a Spanish book I used in school).

There's a similar series the studio did on it's own for many years called "Filminutos".

Monique said...

This was a great read. I'm very interested in international and more specifically animation in Latin America & the Caribbean so this was very inspirational. Thank you! :)

Mario R Garcia-Montes said...

Hi. First time I see this post. I'm a Cuban Cartoon Animator and I had the privilege to be the Key Animator in all 6 short Quinoscopios and the Mafalda TV Serie, among many other short films from different directors and mine too. It is always a joy when somebody "discover" us, specially the work we made in the 70's and the 80's which I believe was the best moment in the history of Cuban Animation with Titles like the Quinoscopios, Viva Papi!, El Pequeño Planeta Perdido, and of course "Vampiros en La Habana". I am very proud of my job on those among meny others films. Thank you for the article. Best, Mario Garcia-Montes

Chris Sobieniak said...

Thank you for taking the time to write to us, Mario!