The Golden Snail and Late Bloomers

August 29, 2011 § 2 Comments

The Golden Snail is the nickname for Russian animator Yuri Norstein, though as far as I know, he’s never drawn a golden snail. The name comes from that the fact that this internationally acclaimed, award-winning animator is in his 70s and has only published 85 minutes of work.

For 30 years, he’s worked on a feature film called “The Overcoat,” based on Nikolai Gogol’s famous short story of the same name. He takes decades to work on projects, but his attention to each detail creates a mood, a tone that is complete. He eschews the help of a computer, preferring imperfect, ‘non-ironed’ drawings, and his short films use a multiplane camera to add the illusion of three-dimensional depth, as you can see below in his 1975 short film, “The Hedgehog in the Fog.”

Norstein’s work has been compared to lyrical poetry, focusing more on evoking an emotion or memory than drawing out a plot. But I love the loose storyline going on here too: the hedgehog’s sweet friendship with the bear, his dismal acceptance when he falls into the water, and his mystical awe concerning the white horse in the fog. It includes the unexpected adventure of getting lost and the relief of once more being known and found among friends. “Who other than you knows how to count the stars?” asks Bear, when he thinks that Hedgehog has abandoned him. Who, indeed?

I’m impressed by Norstein’s storytelling and dedication to his craft, rivaling J.K. Rowling’s 17 years writing Harry Potter and Tolkien’s 30 years immersed in Middle Earth and its tales. Such artists are an encouragement to keep plugging away. Quality takes time, years even. There will always be the Mozart child prodigies, the Jimi Hendrix geniuses who explode onto the scene, but more frequent is the slow and diligent crafting of those like Norstein. In his essay “Late Bloomers,” Malcolm Gladwell writes:

Late bloomers’ stories are invariably love stories, and this may be why we have such difficulty with them. We’d like to think that mundane matters like loyalty, steadfastness, and the willingness to keep writing checks to support what looks like failure have nothing to do with something as rarefied as genius. But sometimes genius is anything but rarefied; sometimes it’s just the thing that emerges after twenty years of working at your kitchen table.

A nod to Norstein’s kitchen-table working.


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