Spot­light on Ukraine

Each year since 2017, Cartoon Movie brings a country or a region into the spotlight celebrating their originality, their special strength or their wonderful contribution to the world of animation.

Our partners for the Spotlight on Ukraine

Ukrainian animation history started in 1927 with Viacheslav Levandovskii’s stop-motion short "Tale of a Straw Bull", produced in Odesa. This year Ukrainian animation celebrates its 95 years anniversary. And this is a respectable age – the Walt Disney studio, for example, turned 99. During this time, Ukrainian animation overcame the path from isolated projects, made when "there was nothing", to a bright flash in the middle of the last century and then to a gradual fading. In Soviet times Ukrainian animation was mostly localized in the cartoon department of Kyivnaukfilm (or the Kyiv Studio of Popular Science Films). This department appeared to be the second-largest animation studio in the USSR after Soyuzmultfilm (located in Moscow). It produced 150–250 minutes of film per year. More and more films appeared, marked by the search for an original style that would reveal the individuality of the artist.

After world-known Ukrainian cartoons produced during the Soviet period (like "Cossacks", "Adventures of Captain Vrungel", "Treasure Island", "Alice in Wonderland", "Dr. Aibolyt", etc) for a long period of time starting from 1991 Ukrainian animation industry was in a “sleeping mode”. Thus it doesn’t mean that there were no attempts to develop and create new animated projects. Some bright and vivid works appeared from time to time. The problem was rather financial than artistic. We can’t but mention the activity and achievements of Borysfen-S studio.

It was founded in 1990 by producer Victor Sleptsov, together with a group of outstanding Ukrainian directors, animators, and the most qualified experts in animation manufacturing.

Legend: Borisfen Studio, artists working on Circus on the Wire, 2019

A year later, in 1991, the Ukrainian-American studio REF-Borisfen was founded. The studio became famous for producing animation for the "Peter Pen" series (Fox Television), as well as other animation series for American TV channels. The Ukrainian-French animation company Borisfen-Lutece was founded on the art basis of Borisfen-S in 1994 and became one of the largest manufacturers of animation (about 150 minutes per month) in the world. In co-production with European studios Millimages, Fit Production, Silver, Les Armateurs, channels France 3, Canal J, etc, Borisfen-Lutece took part in the creation of more than 30 animated series, including "Corneil & Bernie" (52x12’), "Stressed Eric" (7x26’), "Talis" (52x13’), "ZOO 64" (52х13’), "Caroline et ses amis" (52х13’), "Archibald the Koala" (52х13’), etc. Among Borisfen-S studio's own projects such animations as the mini-series "DIG Squad" (3x26’) and several dozens of short movies. The studio stopper working in 2019.

The Tram Was Going, Number Nine © Ukranimafilm
The Tram Was Going, Num­ber Nine © Ukranimafilm

In the ear­ly 2000s, there were sev­er­al vivid short-length ani­ma­tions con­quer­ing prizes at pres­ti­gious inter­na­tion­al fes­ti­vals. For instance, in the 2003 short-length Ukrain­ian ani­mat­ed film The Tram Was Going, Num­ber Nine” won the Sil­ver Bear at Berli­nale. The film, made in the clay ani­ma­tion tech­nique, was pro­duced by Ukran­i­mafilm stu­dio and direct­ed by Stepan Koval.

Deep Love © Mykyta Lyskov
Deep Love © Myky­ta Lyskov

Talk­ing about the fes­ti­val suc­cess of Ukrain­ian ani­ma­tion we can’t but men­tion the 7‑minute ani­mat­ed film Snow Will Cov­er the Road” by Evgeniy Sivokon that won Grand Prix Cler­mont-Fer­rand Inter­na­tion­al Short Film Fes­ti­val 2006. As well as the 14-minute short com­e­dy Deep Love” by Myky­ta Lyskov. Pre­miered in 2019 the project won Grand Prix DOK Leipzig, Grand Prix PÖFF, Grand Prix Ani­moc­je, Grand Prix Turku Ani­ma­tion Film Fes­ti­val, Annecy nom­i­nee, etc.

Eskimo Girl © Animagrad Animation Studio (FILM.UA Group)
Eski­mo Girl © Ani­ma­grad Ani­ma­tion Stu­dio (FILM​.UA Group)

The con­tem­po­rary Ukrain­ian ani­ma­tion indus­try start­ed con­quer­ing the inter­na­tion­al mar­ket in the ear­ly 2010s when the kids’ ani­ma­tion series Eski­mo Girl pro­duced by Ani­ma­grad Ani­ma­tion Stu­dio (sea­sons 2 – 4) and Hanzhonkov Film Stu­dio (sea­son 1) became the first ani­mat­ed series from Ukraine, which became avail­able to Amer­i­can and Cana­di­an audi­ences (it appeared under the name Naya’s Arc­tic Adven­tures first on DVD, lat­er, on VoD-ser­vices). The Eski­mo Girl” ani­mat­ed series runs for 4 sea­sons of 26 episodes each. Every episode tells a kind and touch­ing sto­ry about the Arc­tic adven­tures of the curi­ous Eski­mo Girl and her friends. Char­ac­ters use non-ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion which makes them uni­ver­sal­ly under­stand­able for chil­dren around the world. The series has enjoyed wide inter­na­tion­al suc­cess and is cur­rent­ly avail­able for glob­al audi­ences in Ukraine, Esto­nia, Kaza­khstan, the USA, Cana­da, Chi­na, South Korea, Scan­di­navia, and many oth­er countries.

Feature Ukrainian animation

Babay © Ukranimafilm
Babay © Ukranimafilm

A real mile­stone for the Ukrain­ian ani­ma­tion indus­try was in 2014 when the ani­mat­ed fea­ture film Babay” was released in cin­e­mas. Fund­ed by the state and pro­duced by Ukran­i­mafilm it became the first fea­ture-length ani­mat­ed film that has been cre­at­ed in Ukraine since the procla­ma­tion of inde­pen­dence in 1991. The film, direct­ed by Mary­na Med­vid, is an interpretation/​retelling of sev­er­al Slav­ic leg­ends. This release didn’t become a local hit and got a rel­a­tive­ly small box office, but still, it was a real beam of hope for all Ukrain­ian ani­ma­tors, that proved the ani­ma­tion indus­try in Ukraine is not dead.

The Dragon Spell © Panama GrandPrix studio
The Drag­on Spell © Pana­ma Grand­Prix studio

Two years lat­er, in 2016, the first Ukrain­ian 3D full-length ani­ma­tion – The Drag­on Spell” (bud­get­ed at 3.8M Euro) was released, gross­ing UAH 10.4 mil­lion (near­ly 380 000 Euro). Direct­ed by Depoy­an Manuk this sto­ry is about Lit­tle Nicky, the son of Tan­ner, a famous strong­man, who has made up his mind, that he can con­quer a drag­on as his father did long ago. The­atri­cal rights to this film pro­duced by Pana­ma Grand­Prix stu­dio were sold to more than a dozen ter­ri­to­ries, includ­ing Japan, Chi­na, South Korea, the UK, Poland, Turkey, India, the Czech Repub­lic, Bul­gar­ia, Mid­dle East, France, ex-Yugoslavia and Baltic states. The project grossed world­wide more than 1.65M Euro. Cur­rent­ly, the film is avail­able on Ama­zon Prime Video, Apple TV, Pea­cock, Tubi, Plu­to TV, Google Play, YouTube Pre­mi­um, Megogo, and oth­er VoD platforms.

The Stolen Princess © Animagrad Animation Studio (FILM.UA Group)
The Stolen Princess © Ani­ma­grad Ani­ma­tion Stu­dio (FILM​.UA Group)

In 2018 The Stolen Princess3D ani­ma­tion fan­ta­sy (pro­duced by Ani­ma­grad and direct­ed by Oleg Mala­muzh) was gen­er­al­ly licensed to more than 50 ter­ri­to­ries. It became the first Ukrain­ian film released in Chi­nese cin­e­mas, and con­tin­ues its inter­na­tion­al voy­age. Recent­ly the film was licensed to Elles Films for the­atri­cal release in Japan. Bud­get­ed at more than 3.5M Euro it was part­ly financed by Ukrain­ian Film Agency and man­aged to gross local­ly almost UAH 36 mil­lion (almost 1.25M Euro) and became the leader of the local box office. This sto­ry is about trav­el­ing artist Rus­lan falling in love with King’s daugh­ter Mila, who gets abduct­ed by the evil wiz­ard Chоrnomor. Rus­lan embarks on a search for his stolen princess – he has to prove once again, that love is stronger than mag­ic. The film’s inter­na­tion­al box office reached 6.3M Euro . Now the car­toon is avail­able on dozens of VoD ser­vices, includ­ing Apple TV, Pea­cock, Ama­zon Prime Video, iTunes, Roku, Plex, Tubi, Plu­to, etc.

Clara & the Magic Dragon © Image Pictures
Clara & the Mag­ic Drag­on © Image Pictures

In 2019 ani­mat­ed fea­ture by Image Pic­tures Clara & the Mag­ic Drag­on” (int. title – Clara) was released not only in Ukrain­ian cin­e­mas but also in Baltic states, Viet­nam, Bul­gar­ia, Roma­nia, Rus­sia, etc. Once in a thou­sand years, a mag­i­cal Drag­on with extra­or­di­nary abil­i­ties appears in a fairy-tale for­est. Lit­tle girl Clara, along with her friends Rac­coon and Dwarf decides to save the Drag­on from the Forces of Evil. The film, direct­ed by Olek­san­dr Kly­menko, didn’t get huge gross­es in Ukraine, how­ev­er, UAH 6.73 mil­lion (near­ly 225 000 Euro) was quite a decent result. Plus, the world­wide box office reached almost 540 000 Euro, which proved again the inter­na­tion­al poten­tial of Ukrain­ian animation.

Victor_Robot © Chervoniy Sobaka
Victor_​Robot © Cher­voniy Sobaka

2021 became the first year in mod­ern Ukrain­ian film his­to­ry when two local­ly pro­duced fea­ture ani­ma­tions were released in Ukrain­ian cin­e­mas. In June 2021 full-length ani­ma­tion Victor_​Robot” pre­miered in cin­e­mas. Pro­duced by Cher­voniy Sobaka (aka Red Dog) ani­ma­tion stu­dio the project was 100% financed by the State Film Agency. Its pro­duc­tion bud­get was very mod­est for this kind of project and totaled UAH 31.1 mil­lion (near­ly 1M Euro). Direct­ed by Ana­toliy Lavren­ishyn the sto­ry setups in the dis­tant future. A girl togeth­er with her assis­tant – a tiny robot Vic­tor, is search­ing for a man who can help to save the light on the plan­et. The project is look­ing for inter­na­tion­al distribution.

Gulliver Returns © 95 Animation Studios, Gulliver Films
Gul­liv­er Returns © 95 Ani­ma­tion Stu­dios, Gul­liv­er Films

In August 2021 anoth­er 3D full-length ani­ma­tion Gul­liv­er Returns” debuted in Ukraine. Cre­at­ed by 95 Ani­ma­tion Stu­dios (Ukraine) and Gul­liv­er Films (Cyprus) this is a sto­ry of Gul­liv­er who receives a let­ter in which the peo­ple of Lil­liput ask him for help – the coun­try is in depres­sion because of the dic­ta­tor ruler. The project, direct­ed by Іllya Mak­si­mov, grossed in Ukrain­ian cin­e­mas UAH 14.1 mil­lion (more than 450 000 Euro). The world­wide box office of the film with a pro­duc­tion cost of 9M Euro (accord­ing to its pro­duc­er Oleg Kho­dachuk), reached 1.4M Euro. The project is dis­trib­uted inter­na­tion­al­ly by All Rights Entertainment.

Ukrainian animation market

Ukrainian animators can take on any terrain, from 2D (hand-drawn and computer animation) to 3D and stop-motion. There are more than 30 animation production companies in Ukraine, producing nearly 300 minutes of animated content per year (before February 24, 2022). This 300-minute list includes feature animation, short-length animated films, and animation series but excludes ads, gaming animation, and social animated content for digital platforms and social media.

Experts evaluate the approximate volume of the Ukrainian animation market at 9-13M Euro. The figures vary because of the inability to count the exact number and volume of animated ads, digital animation reels, and outsourcing works performed by small private studios for foreign customers and commissioners. The market itself is filled by a dozen strong and well-known locally and abroad animation studios and several dozens of production companies that have animation segments in their portfolio and have the ability to create animation for ads, corporate films, presentations, etc but do not create full-length animated films or animation series for TV or digital.

One of the most known Ukrainian animation studios is Novatorfilm. Founded in 2006 by Stepan Koval (Silver Bear for "The Tram Was Going, Number Nine") and Hanna Polonichenko, the studio produces short animated films using various techniques from plasticine dolls to 3D modeling. It is primarily known for the short films "Becoming Strong", "Labyrinth", "The Grandfather Intended to Marry" and the TV series "My Country Ukraine", "Mova", and "Professionals" (different episodes of these series got prizes and nominations at Annecy IAFF in TV Films in Competition). Novatorfilm currently has several projects in development, but not a single one in production cause of the absence of state financial support this year.

Mavka. The Forest Song © Animagrad Animation Studio (FILM.UA Group)
Mav­ka. The For­est Song © Ani­ma­grad Ani­ma­tion Stu­dio (FILM​.UA Group)

The most suc­cess­ful in the Ukrain­ian mar­ket from the com­mer­cial point of view is Ani­ma­grad stu­dio, which was found­ed in 2012 as a part of FILM​.UA Group and has become one of the lead­ing ani­ma­tion stu­dios in East­ern Europe. The studio’s port­fo­lio lists a num­ber of suc­cess­ful prod­ucts in 2D and 3D. We have already men­tioned some of their projects – The Stolen Princess” and Eski­mo Girl”. Cur­rent­ly, Ani­ma­grad pro­duces and devel­ops sev­er­al ani­mat­ed fea­tures and series intend­ed for the inter­na­tion­al mar­ket. Among such prod­ucts are the edu­ca­tion­al ani­mat­ed series for ages 6 – 8 Whizz Kids(26x6’), the preschool ani­mat­ed series Tiki (26x6’), sci-fi com­e­dy ani­mat­ed series Hrafn Acad­e­my (12x26’). The upcom­ing stu­dio release – Mav­ka. The For­est Song” (the next fea­ture after The Stolen Princess” in the line-up of Ani­ma­grad stu­dio) is already sold to sev­er­al dozen ter­ri­to­ries. Mav­ka” won the Ukrain­ian State Film Agency pitch in 2016 and was award­ed state financ­ing in the amount of 30% of the film’s total bud­get. Mav­ka is a unique and pow­er­ful female char­ac­ter from Ukraine’s myths and leg­ends who is striv­ing for peace and har­mo­ny in her world. The sto­ry is based on Ukrain­ian clas­sic lit­er­a­ture. More­over, Ani­ma­grad has full-length ani­ma­tion Rox­e­lana” in devel­op­ment. In co-pro­duc­tion with Glow­ber­ry Cre­ative Pro­duc­tion, Ani­ma­grad works on the 26-episode series Mom Hur­ries Home”.

Brave Bunnies © Glowberry Creative Production (FILM.UA Group)
Brave Bun­nies © Glow­ber­ry Cre­ative Pro­duc­tion (FILM​.UA Group)

Anoth­er com­pa­ny from FILM​.UA Group – Glow­ber­ry Cre­ative Pro­duc­tion – was orig­i­nal­ly estab­lished in 2009, as a niche pub­lish­ing house, focus­ing on dis­cov­er­ing new tal­ent in kids’ lit­er­a­ture and illus­tra­tion. Today Glow­ber­ry is a dynam­ic cre­ative and pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny with a large, inter­na­tion­al team cre­at­ing children’s ani­mat­ed con­tent and brands that it dis­trib­utes and licens­es all around the world. In Glow­ber­ry’s port­fo­lio cur­rent­ly, there are two projects: the above men­tioned Mom Hur­ries Home” and Brave Bun­nies” series. The last is co-pro­duced with Span­ish ani­ma­tion stu­dio Ani­ma and dis­trib­uted world­wide by UK stu­dio Aard­man Ani­ma­tions. As of Octo­ber 2021, Brave Bun­nieshas pre­miered in Ukraine, Aus­tralia, the UK, Israel, Latvia, South Korea, Fin­land, Italy, Spain, Nor­way, Ger­many, Swe­den, etc. Recent­ly Wild­Brain com­pa­ny has acquired Brave Bun­nies” for the ter­ri­to­ry of Cana­da and is join­ing as a co-pro­duc­er for the sec­ond sea­son of the project. 

Responsible for "Victor_Robot" creation, Chervoniy Sobaka Animation Studio was established in 2005 by Serhii Melnychenko and Olena Golubeva as a children's animation training studio. Since 2012 it specializes in the production and post-production of short and feature animated films. The production is concentrated on classic hand-drawn animation. The studio is the winner of many international and national festivals. Among the studio's cartoons are "The War that Changed Rondo", "Here by Herself", "Topsy Turvy", "Wonderful Monster", "You and the Police", "Fish Tail Girl", and others. Currently in the production line of the studio – animated series "Strichka" and short animations "Stinker", "Rozibrana", "Gregory", and "Shadow of Doubt".

Studio KAPI is a Ukrainian animation studio founded by producer Michael Margulis and children's writer Natalia Guzeeva in 2015. The studio stands behind the production of the animated series "Myshko and Dzvinka" (16x10’, co-produced with Borysfen) and is developing another series for children "Labra Cadabra" (6x10’). Among the studio’s shorts are "Tiger is Strolling Around", "The City of Happy Boys", "Papier-mâché", "Come outside", and "Masha". Some projects currently in production are "Divination", "To Ever City", and "The City of Happy Boys".

Trouble Nubble Gum © Studio KAPI
Trou­ble Nub­ble Gum © Stu­dio KAPI

Direct­ed by Ros­tyslav Har­bar, the fea­ture ani­ma­tion Trou­ble Nub­ble Gum (in Ukraine its title is 23 Images of Petryk Pya­tochkin) was select­ed to par­tic­i­pate in the pitch­ing of the 21st inter­na­tion­al forum Car­toon Movie (France) in 2020. Cur­rent­ly, the project, finan­cial­ly sup­port­ed by the Min­istry of Cul­ture of Ukraine, is in the final stage of its pro­duc­tion. Its pre­mière was planned for the end of 2022, but because of rus­si­a’s full-scale inva­sion of Ukraine, it has been delayed for the future. When the film pro­tag­o­nist Petryk, a school­boy, only thought of tak­ing revenge on his class­mates and erased their names from the let­ter, the chil­dren dis­ap­peared from the real world. They end­ed up in the rub­ber Baroni­ia, an unusu­al coun­try that is lit­er­al­ly built on chil­dren’s griev­ances and anger. Real­iz­ing what he has done, Petryk, togeth­er with his friend Kate and teacher Bo-Bo, goes to the Baroni­ia to bring back the friends.

Yarki Studio is a Ukrainian creative production company of animated and game content. Founded in 2012 as a gamedev studio, since the end of 2016, the company started working on the creation of animated TV series for children "South Farm". Pilot 7 episodes of the series have already been released. Currently, the studio works on a 10-episode comedy fantasy animation series "School for the Little Monsters". Its protagonist Matt moves with his single mom from a big city to a small village. Here a very strange school waits for him. It turns out that all the students are magical monsters, who just learn how to look like humans. The series premiere is planned for 2024.

Woof & Joy © Karandash Animation Studio
Woof & Joy © Karan­dash Ani­ma­tion Studio

Karan­dash Ani­ma­tion Stu­dio was found­ed in 2016 by Dmytro Belin­skiy. Its ani­mat­ed series Woof & Joy” is cur­rent­ly in pro­duc­tion. This edu­ca­tion­al and enter­tain­ing ani­mat­ed series for 3 – 5 years old chil­dren is com­plete­ly pro­duced by the stu­dio using the method­ol­o­gy of spe­cial­ists from British Kingston Uni­ver­si­ty. It was com­mis­sioned to be devel­oped and made for the Amer­i­can edu­ca­tion­al appli­ca­tion FAB APP. The series is in Eng­lish, but it has already been trans­lat­ed into Ukrain­ian and will be released dur­ing these Christ­mas hol­i­days. The stu­dio has pro­duced the short film Ab Ovo” and is also fin­ish­ing the devel­op­ment of the edu­ca­tion­al and enter­tain­ment series Cos­monomix” for 6 – 8 years old chil­dren. Anoth­er mile­stone for the stu­dio is the full-length ani­ma­tion Dog­gy the Wolf. Heart the Brave”, it is in the script devel­op­ment stage now. Cre­ators are look­ing for fund­ing to com­plete the devel­op­ment peri­od. Dog­gy the Wolf. Heart the Brave” is direct­ed by Mark Pin­heiro and Dasha Ver­no­va (the orig­i­nal book’s author).​Extra­or­di­nary kind and free-spir­it­ed wolf tries to save chil­dren from the Dark For­est, where some­one steals child­hood from the kids and turns them into joy­less robot­ic creatures.

Key Animation Studio was founded by Adrian and Irina Sakhaltuev in 2009 to produce author and commercial animated films, series, and animated commercials. The studio created about two hundred commercials, several short animated films, and clips, and contributed to the creation of a dozen serials and full-length films, working for domestic and international markets. The studio is known for "King Weeper and Uncle Tickleton" an animation short film based on the fairy tale of the same name by Vasil Symonenko. The film, directed by Andrian Sakhaltuev, was supported financially by the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine. Another short project of the studio – "Stop Bumbash" was supported by Ukrainian Cultural Fund and is currently in production.

210 Good Deeds © Good Deeds Animation
210 Good Deeds © Good Deeds Animation

Good Deeds ani­ma­tion stu­dio was set up in 2013 with the aim of devel­op­ing new tech­niques of ani­ma­tion for tele­vi­sion and the cin­e­ma. The stu­dio pro­duces short films, com­mer­cials, and 3D ani­mat­ed series. In the studio’s port­fo­lio – a 12-episode ani­mat­ed series 210 Good Deeds”, tar­get­ed at 6 – 12 y.o. Cur­rent­ly, the com­pa­ny has a short film A Mat­ter of Time in pro­duc­tion and The Unwor­thy in pre-pro­duc­tion. The stu­dio’s new short film Idol, is in the devel­op­ment stage, and is cur­rent­ly frozen due to the lack of finance.

Ukrkino company has currently a full-length animation "The Peasants" in production. The project is a co-production with Poland, Serbia, and Lithuania. The project production budget is nearly 5M Euro, and creators expect support from Ukrainian and Polish funds. Moreover, two short films "Ornament" and "Near the Water" are in pre-production.

Eidetic Pictures is working on Alexey Pantelieiv's feature animation "Hazard". The destinies of professional gambler Dice and an orphan Inga cross. They have to oppose a biker gang, win the game called “Quest” and fight with totem bull during one long night in Odesa. And finally, fall in love with each other.

There are much more animation projects, developed and created by different Ukrainian small companies, TV channels, and individual animators. NLO-TV channel produced and aired a 10-episode animation series "Chortovyyky" (animators from Kazakhstan were involved in the project production), as well as an 8-episode animated series "Dangerous Zone". Lisenbart production presented in the 2016 series "Marіychin Pershosvіt" (60x1’) and in 2020 – short animation "Unnecessary Things".

In 2021 TV channel PlusPlus premiered a 21-episode animation "Furry Blog", as well as a 5-episode series "Dyvomandry" and a 10-episode series "Ukraine. Unconquered Cities". A 6-episode mini-series "Good Always Wins" by 1+1 Production debuted in March 2022. Studios 2 Flame and Magika Film have produced their short adventure fantasy film "The Stolen Moon. Chum".

Animation director Nataliia Gaida together with Olena Golubieva as a producer are working on animation series "Black, Black Hen". Suspilne Ukraine is currently working on the 2nd season of the animated series "Toto" (also in the portfolio of this broadcaster such animated series as "Little Bu", "Yasia and her Robot" and "Adventure Portal". HanzhonkovFilm studio was also developing the full-length animation "Battle for Noosphere" (currently the works on the project are frozen).

Related industries and innovations

Ukrainian content producers have always tried to keep abreast of innovation. Since 2010th, they have been using the latest technologies in their work. For example, the Animagrad studio was the first in the country to start creating animated series using motion capture technology. The Signal Red production house has actively experimented with AR – from developing AR puzzles, for which 3D models of "The Stolen Princess" cartoon characters were optimized, to the mobile game "The Stronghold Defense" based on the fantasy movie "The Stronghold". Subsequently, with the development of VR technologies and game engines, full-fledged cross-platform projects have become possible, allowing the viewer to get "inside" any scene. For example, the audience of the animated series "Mars Colony High", which is currently under development at FILM.UA Group, will be offered a VR tour of the surface of Mars.

Legend: Presentation of the Mars Colony High project as part of the #Cartoon360 pitch

At the same time, the VFX industry has been developing even more actively. Projects by Ukrainian specialists are known all over the world today. It is enough to mention the Postmodern Digital, whose works were included in the shortlist of the Hollywood Visual Effects Society Awards four times, where they competed with Game of Thrones, Tale of Tales, and videos of the leading brands. Another example is Gloria FX studio that won the MTV Video Music Award in the Best Visual Effects category for the Coldplay music video in 2016. Before the full-scale war in Ukraine, more than 40 studios were working with VFX and providing a full range of animation and post-production services. The most famous are Postmodern Digital (The Wandering Earth, Jade Dynasty, Viy 3D, Chornobyl) and Terminal FX (Enemy Closer, Getaway, Universal Soldier 4, Dead to Tombstone).

© PRONTO FILM
© PRON­TO FILM

One of the exam­ples of char­ac­ter ani­ma­tion in Ukrain­ian cin­e­matog­ra­phy is the fam­i­ly film Fox­ter & Max” (2019). One of the main char­ac­ters of the movie is a 3D dog that com­mu­ni­cates, inter­acts with the sur­round­ing world, and express­es emotions.

2020 was a turning point in terms of the virtual production technologies used. The first in Ukraine XR studio with a LED panels platform has been opened in Kyiv. One of the independent companies began developing the country's first full-length animation using the Unreal Engine game engine. Unfortunately, due to the challenging situation in the country, this animation project was closed. However, the production of projects using innovative technologies does not stop even in the face of full-scale war. A multi-series animation (over 100 series) is being created with the help of a real-time virtual production and motion capture, which makes it possible to significantly speed up the pipeline. Commercials and music videos are created at the intersection of animation, film production, and game development. Several companies work with digital human and virtual influencer, which is in demand by large game studios and the corporate sector (mostly abroad). Before the war, they were interested in domestic television (two Ukrainian television groups considered the production of the Alter Ego format) and show business (creating virtual singers to music producers' orders).

"Today, the market includes: One Location studio as a virtual pavilion; To Be Production company – VFX, 3D, AR & VR, Virtual Studios, LED technology, Meta Human; FFFACE which deals with digital characters and clothing, AR-campaigns and projects in the meta-universe; FILM.UA develops the possibilities of combining classic production with AI (from NeRF technology by NVIDIA, which helps turn 2D images into a 3D scene, to Deepfake and automatic relipsync, AI assistants in creating scenarios and neural networks for image generation and animation, – ed.); We Play actively uses LED technologies, VR and virtual characters for their championships," – says VP&VFX supervisor Danil Zolotarenko. "Before the full-scale war, almost all leading game development companies, like Ubisoft Entertainment, and EA Games, were represented in Ukraine. Several other majors had offices with hundreds employees here. There are also some game companies that produce local products – 4A Games, Pixagon, and Plarium. Wargaming has a big brunch in Ukraine. And everyone uses innovative approaches, if not for the production of games, then at least for the production of promo and marketing materials."

Acute issues

The recent year became a real challenge for the Ukrainian animation industry. Being mostly state funded through different institutions, in 2022 the lack of financing became truly critical. On the other hand, the money challenge is not the only problem. The other acute issues are the weak professional education system and the current legislation, especially specific by-laws regulating activity in the field of animation. As those that exist, do not meet modern requirements. In the Law on Cinematography, the animation is not singled out as a separate industry in many sections, including the section on rebates. Ukraine has joined the European pact on animation support, which foresees at least 10% of the governmental support for the film industry to be allocated for animation.

"Of course, the ten-year strategy for animation in Ukraine, written by the industry in 2020, now requires a global review. The situation in the country only contributes to the development of supporting, utilitarian areas of animation (commercial videos, social videos). This allow specialists to work and pay taxes at least," – comments Olena Golubeva, executive director of the Ukrainian Association of Animation (UANIMA). "However, after problems with the electricity supply began (after massive missile attacks on the energy infrastructure of Ukraine, – ed.), many companies consider relocation as an option for further actions. Relocation, in this case, is an opportunity to save people and continue production. I hope that after our victory, approximately 30-40% of professionals who left the country since February 24, 2022, will return to Ukraine. We will be able to rebuild the industry faster than if we were building from scratch."

Current co-productions

Hrafn Academy © Animagrad Animation Studio (FILM.UA Group)
Hrafn Acad­e­my © Ani­ma­grad Ani­ma­tion Stu­dio (FILM​.UA Group)

Inter­na­tion­al part­ner­ship is cur­rent­ly the focus of atten­tion of most Ukrain­ian man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­nies. The fol­low­ing co-pro­duc­tion projects are now in pro­duc­tion: Brave Bun­nies” series is co-pro­duced with Spain and the sec­ond sea­son will be co-pro­duced with Cana­da. Full-length ani­ma­tion The Peas­ants” is a co-pro­duc­tion with Poland, Ser­bia, and Lithua­nia, and fea­ture ani­ma­tion Dalia and the Red Book” is being co-pro­duced by Argenti­na, Ecuador, Peru, Colom­bia, Spain, and Ukraine. Hrafn Acad­e­my” is an adult ani­ma­tion series co-devel­oped by Ani­ma­grad (FILM​.UA Group) and Gun­Hil (part of Ice­landic Sagafilm Group).

Lyubov Krokhmalna, Head of the Fundraising and Investor Services Department at FILM.UA Group explains why Ukraine is currently an attractive partner for foreign producers. “First of all, we are members of all the leading organizations for financing content production and therefore we are most favorable for co-production. In addition, Ukraine itself is currently a place for generating ideas. We can make both powerful adult animation and high-quality animation for children”, – says Lyubov. According to her, Ukrainian animation projects cannot be produced without foreign partners now, due to the war and the corresponding lack of state funding. Therefore, if foreign partners have any ideas for animation, and if they need quality services, Ukraine will gladly help. Just now, under the conditions of the war, Ukraine is able to find 10-20% of funding – for writing the script, its translation, and language adaptation, for development. But to start production, Ukrainian animators need partners. Yes, at the moment we are happy to work as minority partners, and, of course, if we are talking about long-term ambitious goals, then Ukraine strives to be a full-fledged partner. And the animation is a long-term product that will be relevant years from now.