Yuri Norstein

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Yuri Borisovich Norstein
Ю́рий Бори́сович Норште́йн
Youri Norstein 1 (FdI 2012).JPG
Norstein in 2012
Born (1941-09-15) 15 September 1941 (age 81)
Years active1962–present
SpouseFrancheska Yarbusova

Yuri Borisovich Norstein, PAR (Russian: Ю́рий Бори́сович Норште́йн; born 15 September 1941) is a Soviet and Russian animator best known for his animated shorts Hedgehog in the Fog and Tale of Tales.[1][2] Since 1981, he has been working on a feature film called The Overcoat, based on the short story by Nikolai Gogol of the same name. According to The Washington Post, "he is considered by many to be not just the best animator of his era, but the best of all time".[3]

Life and career[edit]

Childhood and early life[edit]

Yuri Norstein was born to a Jewish family in the village of Andreyevka, Penza Oblast, during his parents' World War II evacuation. He grew up in the Maryina Roshcha District of Moscow. After studying at an art school, Norstein initially found work at a furniture factory. Then he finished a two-year animation course and found employment at studio Soyuzmultfilm in 1961. The first film that he participated in as an animator was Who Said "Meow"? (1962).

Hedgehog in the Fog (1975), one of Norstein's most widely known works

Film career[edit]

After working as an animation artist in some fifty films, Norstein got the chance to direct his own. In 1968, he debuted with 25th October, the First Day, sharing directorial credit with Arkadiy Tyurin. The film used the artwork of 1920s-era Soviet artists Nathan Altman and Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin.

The next film in which he had a major role was The Battle of Kerzhenets (1971), a co-production with Russian animation director Ivan Ivanov-Vano under whose direction Norstein had earlier worked on 1969's Times of the Year.

Throughout the 1970s Norstein continued to work as an animator in many films (a more complete list can be found at IMDb), and also directed several. As the decade progressed his animation style became ever more sophisticated, looking less like flat cut-outs and more like smoothly-moving paintings or sophisticated pencil sketches. His most famous film is Tale of Tales, a non-linear, autobiographical film about growing up in the postwar Soviet world.[4]

Norstein uses a special technique in his animation, involving multiple glass planes to give his animation a three-dimensional look. The camera is placed at the top looking down on a series of glass planes about a meter deep (one every 25–30 cm). The individual glass planes can move horizontally as well as toward and away from the camera (to give the effect of a character moving closer or further away).[5]

For many years, he has collaborated with his wife, the artist Francheska Yarbusova, and the cinematographer Aleksandr Zhukovskiy.

Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, Norstein's animations were showered with both state and international awards. Then, in a bitter twist of irony, he was fired from Soyuzmultfilm in 1985 for working too slowly on his latest film, a (presumably) feature-length adaptation of Gogol's The Overcoat. By that time he had been working on it with his usual small team of three people for two years and had finished ten minutes.

In April 1993, Norstein and three other leading animators (Fyodor Khitruk, Andrei Khrzhanovsky, and Eduard Nazarov) founded the Animation School and Studio (SHAR Studio) in Russia. The Russian Cinema Committee is among the share-holders of the studio.

To this day, Norstein is still working on The Overcoat – his ardent perfectionism has earned him the nickname "The Golden Snail". The project has met numerous financial troubles and false starts, but Norstein has said that it currently has reliable funding from several sources, both from within and outside of Russia. At least 25 minutes have been completed to date. A couple of short, low-resolution clips have been made available to the public.[6][7] The first 20 minutes of the film have also toured among various exhibits of Norstein's work in Russian museums. The full film is expected to be 65 minutes long.


Norstein wrote an essay for a book by Giannalberto Bendazzi about the pinscreen animator Alexander Alexeïeff titled Alexeïeff: Itinerary of a Master.

In 2005, he released a Russian-language book titled Snow on the Grass. Fragments of a Book. Lectures about the Art of Animation, featuring a number of lectures that he gave about the art of animation. That same year, he was invited as "guest animator" to work on Kihachirō Kawamoto's puppet-animated feature film, The Book of the Dead.[8]

On 10 August 2008, the full version of the book Snow on the Grass was released (the "incomplete" 2005 book was 248 pages). The book, which was printed in the Czech Republic and funded by Sberbank, consists of two volumes, 620 pages, and 1700 color illustrations.[9] The studio stopped working on The Overcoat for nearly a year while Norstein worked to release the book.[10]

Political views[edit]

Norstein has been an outspoken critic of the Russian government. He voiced his opposition to the conviction of the band Pussy Riot and voiced his concerns over the death of Sergei Magnitsky in prison after he had exposed corruption within the government.[11] He was among 370 people in the Russian animation industry signing an open letter against the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine that was published in Novaya Gazeta shortly after the invasion began.[12]



2K resolution transfers of the six theatrical shorts directed by Norstein by were made by the Japanese film laboratory Imagica.[15] A touring programme of them was played in cinemas in Japan beginning in December 2016[16] and they were released on Blu-ray Disc there on 26 May 2017.[15]

Awards and praise[edit]

Hayao Miyazaki considers Norstein "a great artist"[17] and cited Hedgehog in the Fog as one of his favourite animated films.[18]


  • "Сказка сказок". Ю. Норштейн. Ф. Ярбусова. 2005, «Красная площадь». ISBN 5-900743-80-2
  • "Снег на траве. Фрагменты книги. Лекции по искусству анимации". Ю. Норштейн. 2005. ISBN 5-87149-099-9
  • "Ёжик в тумане". Юрий Норштейн, Сергей Козлов, Франческа Ярбусова (иллюстрации). 2006, «Красная площадь». ISBN 5-900743-91-8
  • "Снег на траве". Ю. Норштейн. 2008, «Красная площадь». ISBN 978-5-91521-006-5

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Peter Rollberg (2009). Historical Dictionary of Russian and Soviet Cinema. US: Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 492–494. ISBN 978-0-8108-6072-8.
  2. ^ Jeff Lenburg (2006). Who's who in Animated Cartoons: An International Guide to Film & Television's Award-winning and Legendary Animators. Hal Leonard Corporation. pp. 264. ISBN 978-1-557-83671-7. Hedgehog Fog Norstein.
  3. ^ Finn, Peter (31 May 2005). "20 Years of Toil, 20 Minutes of Unique Film". The Washington Post. Retrieved 1 April 2015.
  4. ^ Maya Balakirsky Katz, Drawing the Iron Curtain: Jews and the Golden Age of Soviet Animation (Rutgers University Press, 2016), chapter 8
  5. ^ Interview with Yuri Norstein Archived 5 November 2004 at the Wayback Machine at Radio Free Europe
  6. ^ PBS The Overcoat 1. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  7. ^ PBS The Overcoat 2. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  8. ^ Details on The Book of the Dead at the Japanese film festival Nippon Connection
  9. ^ ??? Snow on the Grass. Retrieved 28 February 2015.
  10. ^ Одушевление черточек. Время. 28 August 2008. Retrieved on: 25 October 2009.
  11. ^ Times, The Moscow (15 September 2021). "Renowned Soviet Animator Yuri Norstein Turns 80". The Moscow Times. Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  12. ^ Milligan, Mercedes (28 February 2022). "Russian Animation Community Condemns Invasion of Ukraine in Open Letter". Animation Magazine. Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  13. ^ The Fox and the Hare (1973)-IMDB
  14. ^ Cavalier, Stephen (19 June 2015). "100 Greatest Animated Shorts / Hedgehog in the Fog / Yuri Norstein". Skwigly. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  15. ^ a b "The films of Yuri Norstein". Scanavo. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  16. ^ ユーリー・ノルシュテイン特集上映の予告編が公開. Natalie (in Japanese). Natasha. 30 September 2016. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  17. ^ Interview with Hayao Miyazaki at the U.S. premiere of Spirited Away
  18. ^ A remote conversation between Yuri Norstein and Hayao Miyazaki at a Russian TV Show ProSvet, on 22 October 2005, hosted by Dmitry Dibrov

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]