An Analysis of the Form and Ideology of Hedgehog in the Fog

An Analysis of the Form and Ideology of Hedgehog in the Fog
The animation, ?Hedgehog in the Fog?, tells the story of an inquisitive hedgehog passing through a wood to visit his friend the bear cub to count the stars. It has won numerous awards for it?s style and originality after it?s release by Yuri Bonsovich Norstein (1941 ? to date) and his small crew at the Soyuzmultfilm studios in Moscow in 1975. ?Hedgehog in the Fog? is the fifth of Norstein?s six completed works. All have a deceptive simplicity, a faux naivetîehat begs a deeper understanding of their origins and implications.
Norstein has a very original, particular style to his animations and the purpose of this essay is to critically analyse the form and ideology of one of his animations with the intention of discovering what it is that makes his artwork so unique and has led to him being regarded as one of the greatest animators in history?. The method by which this will be done will be to firstly report the elements and functions that went into forming Norstein?s animations and ?Hedgehog in the Fog? in particular, then to analyse how these elements .mix with his personal influences to imply further meaning within his work.
The hedgehog?s journey begins as he enters the wood carrying a bag of sweets for the bear, and unknowingly stalked by an owl. He pauses for a moment to entertain himself by calling into a well and listening to his echo, the owl does the same. Continuing he sees a white horse standing in the fog and is concerThed~~s to whether it might suffocate should it lie down, and so enters the fo~ff~.i*eIf just to ?see what it was like?. Once within, the fog itself becomes a great part of the plot, revealing and hiding a number of characters that amaze, help or alarm him, or all three. All the while the bear cub is heard calling the hedgehog, with great concern, in the distance. At one point, becoming enthralled with a large tree, the hedgehog loses his sweets, only to have them returned to him by a dog. Finally after accidentally slipping into a stream and being saved from drowning by a fish the hedgehog finds his friend the bear who fusses over him incessantly having been worried as to his whereabouts. The film ends with the hedgehog deep in thought about everything that had happened.

?The Hedgehog in the Fog? appears to be an adapted Russian folktale ? the personification of animals (a theme found throughout Norstein?s animations), the title, the plot, all have a narrative function rooted in fairytales ? although it was actually written by Norstein and his scriptwriter Natasha Abramova. Alexander Pushkin (1799 ? 1839) in particular has a strong influence in this area ? Norstein displayed his portrait, alongside that of Nickolai Gogol?s, in his studio, commenting on how he lit up the room (Four-mations, Yuri Norstein, 1999). Norstein has also directed and animated ?The Fox and the Hare? similarly depicting a Russian follctale but with different stylisation.

Vladimir Propp?s system of organisation in the ?Morphology of the Folktale? was written to determine an underlying structure in Russian folktales in particular. The animation?s narrative varies in its adherence to Propp?s description. There is a goal (to meet the bear cub) yet there is no defined interdiction at the beginning or punishment of a villain at the end. There is a clear protagonist, yet no real antagonist except a series of objects or characters that elicit an inquisitive or nervous response from the hedgehog they do not actively oppose or act with hostility towards the hedgehog (how could a falling leaf be actively hostile!). The meeting of the bear could be taken as a form of closure at the end, but then we are reminded directly of the horse and woods in the hedgehog?s thoughts. In the most cruelly objective sense the majority of the animation could be seen as a simple stroll through the woods. But this entirely misses the point of Yuri?s work. Propp implies that a folktale often relates the mundane daily routines of the common man and allows such activities to remain immortal, passed down the generations within a story. It is this function that ?Hedgehog in the Fog? shows most clearly.

One possible academic method of determining the narrative structure would be to break down the animation into its particular elements, focusing on those that have greatest effect on the audience. To this end, and from the very

?Yuri Norstein?s ?A Tale of Tales? (1979) was judged ?Greatest Animation of All Time? by a conference of film critics at the L.A. arts festival, 1984.

Beginning we notice the complete and absolute innocence of the hedgehog. His timid, inquisitive approach to everything is almost overwhehning.

The personality of all the characters in ?Hedgehog in the Fog? revolve around an idyllic harmony, where everyone coexists mutually, helping the other without question. The hedgehog is the epitome of innocence taking a childlike interest in everything he sees, timid about sudden movements or the unknown, yet bold enough to travel off on his own. He entertains and calms himself with a short dance after a group of moths fly past. This stroke of genius by Norstein expresses the enjoyment of the world that the hÁul~og experiences, in a single gesture.

The owl ch is the closest the animation ever gets to an antagonist, appears to be more interested in the hedgehog?s activities than determined to cause it any hostility. This is shown by the way it copies, and enjoys, the hedgehog?s echoes in the well, and appears to be somewhere near the hedgehog throughout the animation. Both the bat and the owl alarm the hedgehog, particularly during the fast paced section where both are seen flying around the hedgehog, however neither give any reason to cause him harm and neither would ever prey on a hedgeho, so\one is lead to believe they do so unintentionally.

The do~fI~?fish both go out of their way to assist the hedgehog when he is most in need, doing so without any strings attached (particularly unusual in a folktale).
Fig 2 Stalked by the ~I Such altruistic behaviour suits Norstein?s style.
The most obscure characters are those of the white horse, the moths, and the
elephant. Whilst the horse is clearly the concern that draws the hedgehog away from the direct route to his friend the bear cub, the horse, moths and elephant seem likely to have more implied meaning than any of the other characters. Exactly what this meaning is might only be discerned by a deeper understanding of the animations ideology, and will be dealt with later.

The bear shows all the attributes of a concerned mother when the hedgehog finally arrives. Having been calling out into the woods for the duration of the journey, the bear is seen fretting over the hedgehog at once angered and relieved at him for causing such worry. As far as closure is concerned the viewer knows the hedgehog is completely safe in the hands of the bear cub, and while we are left wondering about the horse in the fog, that satisfaction alone is enough to show the journey at least is complete.
The animation events are chronological however Norstein uses montage editing twice in one sequence (a particularly Russian invention ? Eisenstein), showing the hedgehog?s thoughts when he realises he has lost his present, by displaying it in the centre of a blank frame for less than 25 frames (1 sec). This technique has a universal effect and conveys the emotion perfectly ? preventing the need for narration. Passage of time is manipulated carefully to remove the unnecessary, most noticeably when falling in the stream and on finding the bear cub. In the first instance he overlays the sound of the next shot with that of the previous and in the second he makes use of a fade out. All of these techniques would normally be associated with live action film, but Norstein applies them here for a definite reason and with great success.

The wonder and enormity of the woods the hedgehog passes through is conveyed
through the use of the fog, the veil through which all the elements of the story emerge from and disappear into. The fog both contains each shot into a small easily framed area whilst allowing the woods to be impossibly large, things not completely unveiled can be explained only by the imagination leaving the viewer as intrigued by indistinct shapes and sounds as the hedgehog.

Norstein shows particular interest in the use of Far-Eastern perspective conventions, in opposition to those used in the west whereby the vanishing point mimics the way the eye sees, ?but not the way the mind thinks and feels? (Norstein ?Sight & Sound 1994).
Eastern perspective views the world as a series of planes, which Norstein likens to a window opening out to a world rather than terminating at a point. ?Instead of being limited, the horizon is infinite? (Norstein ? Sight & Sound 1994). Russian graphics has used this convention far earlier than most of the western world which really only started appreciating it after Japan released its artwork to the world in the late nineteenth century. Russia?s proximity to China and Japan also allowed artistic styles to mingle more fluidly than anywhere else in the western world. The use of a decorative frame is another more eastern element found in Russian art and illustration, and clearly adopted by Norstein in his animation ?The Fox and the Hare?, and by subtle staging in ?The Heron and the Crane? (1974). Another artist who shows a similar interest in Eastern artistic styles and perspective is Mark Baker an English animator who directed ?The Village? and ?The Hill Farm? (1988 ? fig. 4). Norstein actually mentions Baker in a documentary by Vichra TaraBanov, expressing his appreciation of the style of his animation and it?s characters. Such worldly influences are infused throughout Norstein?s animations proving a depth far greater than that found in a typical child?s cartoon,
Norstein?s style of animation is typified by the simple gesture of happiness the hedgehog shows when he dances. Norstein, like any artist, fmds most inspiration by scrutinizing the activity and environment around him. Observing a gesture at the smallest possible resolution. Building up a record of motions in memory, then, when working ?a gesture will suddenly suggest itself?. The difference between Norstein?s character animation and that typical of Disney, for example, is that Norstein doesn?t exaggerate to the extreme, to develop an emotion, he utilises the gaps between gestures in a similar way to montage in film. His precise observations show the subtleties of a motion producing highly realistic and expressive gestures. To the same extent no attempt is made to duplicate live action precisely like rotoscoping, which is well known by animators to produce an entirely different emotional effect than the film it might have been taken from. Norstein places emphasis on the subtle, that.~which is often disregarded by those with too little time to notice it.

Mark Baker is one of very few animators who manage to achieve a similar effect in ?The Hill Farm?. Created by collating many individual observations and visual ideas together, then discovering the script that lay beneath. He produced an award winning animation, expressing the harmony of life in the country.

Due to his paper cutout method of animating, Norstein must animate at a frame-by-frame level, without the use of key frames used in traditional 2D cel animation. This method requires the most acute sense of timing possible, proving Norstein?s mastery of the art conclusively.

All of Norstein?s animations break away from Disney?s perfect lines and block colour that seem to now epitomise what the general public view as a valid animation. The main reason such a style was developed, apart from clarity of communication (and some would argue, loss of vocabulary) is due to the immense cost of animation in time and capital, where such a simple style could save on both counts. Norstein shuns such matters of time and money, which have sadly left him without a studio since 1986, when the Russian government evicted him from his studios. His style draws on his skills as a painter and illustrator, with elaborate sets and a great attention to detail in every aspect of his work.

Norstein produces the majority of his animation with his wife Francesca Yarbusova by drawing and cutting out the individual body parts of his characters, one for every possible expression and articulation necessary in a particular scene. These are placed carefully on a vertical multiplane camera (designed and patented by Walt Disney Productions) along with painted scenery and ?the fog?. The multiplane camera creates the effect of depth within an image by having many layers of artwork displayed below a camera each allowing a partial view of the layer beneath. Effects such as depth of field can be created by adjusting the aperture and shutter time of the camera, creating the illusion of the hedgehog blurring into the fog. Studio lighting can be applied to these planes allowing three-dimensional compositions of lighting and shadow that would be impossible with traditional 2-plane cel animation.

Narration and sound are an extremely important aspect of any animation when they occur. ?The Hedgehog in the Fog? utilises both exquisitely, the spoken Russian itself has a wonderful narrative timbre and without the original Russian soundtrack the animation would loose a great part of its wonder and awe. The use of a narrator at all has a very specific effect of being told a folktale (like a child being told stories in bed). The hedgehog, when it speaks, does so in a quiet whisper, thus accentuating his nervousness and innocence. The bear cub, heard calling over the trees has subtle reverberations to increase the feeling of distance. Other than voices the only diegetic sounds used include the splashing of water when the owl dips his foot in a puddle and when the hedgehog falls into the river, the quiet tapping of the hedgehog?s stick when he finds the big tree, the pattering feet of the dog and the very faint sound of moths wings tapping on the bear cub?s lamp ? such a subtle sound as the tapping of moth?s wings is a trademark of Norstein?s attention to the smallest detail. The lack of many foley sound effects may seem surprising considering the richness of the animation and visual elements, but Norstein instead uses more non-diegetic sounds, all of them instrumental, from the violent rasping of violin strings when the bat and owl flutter past, to the haunting lullaby of the theme tune played by an full ensemble orchestra. Music, having a vastly more powerful and wide ranging vocabulary in terms of emotional response than pure sound, is used to create a particular melancholy effect in this animation than foley alone could achieve.

Norstein was born in 1941 (the year Stalin named himself the head of government and Germany invaded the ussr) to Jewish parents in Andreyevskiy, a suburb of Moscow. He trained as a carpenter whilst painting in his spare time, then joined an animation course at Soyuzmultfllm, the ussr?s largest film company. From here he worked under Ivanov Vano (1900 ? 1987) and Mikhail Tsekhanovsky (1889 ? 1965) amongst others, producing his first animation, inspired by Russian constructivist graphics, ?25 October, the First Day? (1968) detailing the Russian revolution in paintings. Throughout the seventies Norstein produced a series of Pushkin inspired animations including ?Hedgehog in The Fog?, culminating in the somewhat alternative ?Tale of Tales? ? both of which involved his wife, and his cinematographer and friend Alexander Zhukovsky. From there he began ?The Overcoat?, and adaptation of Gogol?s story of the same name. In 1986 he was evicted from his Studio as the economy was failing, since then he has been constantly trying to fund another studio, saving money earned from limited print runs of his works and animation lectures he has hosted around the world.

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All of Norstein?s most famous animations have a slight melancholy atmosphere that, considering the extremes Russian society has travelled through during his life, can easily be seen to influence any artist. 7.5 million Russians died after the German invasion in comparison to 4.1 million deaths for all other Second World War deaths. The communist regime recognised very little of any artists creations, anything not officially entered into your personal work book would be disregarded when seeking employment, and any entry deemed false could render you unemployable for life. His family would have more personally affected Norstein; he claims to always consider his children?s reaction to his animations, trying to understand life on their level. Through ?the horror of Russian life? (Sight & Sound 1994) Norstein has grown to appreciate the subtleties of the human condition, and he brings this to his animations.
One prevailing theme in both the ?Hedgehog in the Fog?, and in ?Tale of Tales? (fig. 5) is that of harmony. Norstein mentions how he enjoys wandering through his animations in thought, much as one might escape into a book (Four-mations, Yuri Norstein, 1999). In his animations are created perfect worlds ? the harmony he creates could be a form of escapism, as well as an image with which the viewer can compare their own life. ?Tale of Tales? actually compares both reality and heaven side by side, through a glowing doorway. ?Hedgehog in the Fog? does so to a small extent with the white horse and the elephant, one always drawing the hedgehog nearer, the other always scaring him away. Once finished, ?The Overcoat? will complete this ?triptych?. Showing stark reality in a bureaucratic age, the dehumanisation of a man who finds complete joy and grief in a worthless object.

What makes Norstein a ?master of animation? is his background. While not having been or aspired to be an animator from a very young age he nevertheless succeeded in become one of the greatest firstly by being tutored by many of the best animators around, but more personally by his ability to absorb inspiration from his surroundings with absolute sincerity. It is this that shows most in his animations. Ideals of innocence and altruism shine from ?Hedgehog in the Fog? a stark contrast to Stalin?s ideology: that there are no irreplaceable people. His techniques shun money and time constraints aside, selected purely for their ability to communicate an idea most effectively. Unfortunately this comes at a cost ? whilst producing work of near perfection, the total amount of film Norstein has produced comes to less than 80 minutes, and due to funding problems ?The Overcoat?, begun in 1981, is taking at least twenty years to complete. As far as animation-in-general functions, Norstein believes it lies on a level with all other media. Preferring it to live action as it can convey the gravity of an object or gesture with more weight and realism. He believes an animator should have a finger in all other art forms. He recognises that film can consist of ?myth, fantasy, ideas, sound, realism and naturalism. The specific mixture of these being of great value, lifting animation above all other media?

An Analysis of the Form and Ideology of Hedgehog in the Fog 9.6 of 10 on the basis of 4310 Review.