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The Dartmouth
June 17, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Mongolian animator screens his legendary films

There's something about animation that makes professional animators only interested in creating personal art.

Maybe the painstaking process of animating requires too much toiling for animators to want to do it solely for money. Or maybe only specific types of artistic, surprisingly dedicated people are drawn to animation. Regardless, it's no secret that commercialized Disney has had much trouble finding and retaining quality animators over the years because of the artistic integrity animators hope to maintain.

The last place you will find an exception to this rule is in Mongolian animator Miagmar Sodnompilin.

"When I'm drawing, I can really fly," he said in a interview with The Dartmouth yesterday (translated from Miagmar's native Russian by an interpreter).

Miagmar looks down on much of the U.S.'s commercialized animation. With Disney, "it's only illustration and only comical," he said. "There is no soul in it, no heart in it and it's static. It has a bad influence on children."

But "flying" into the realm of professional, non-commercial animation is not an easy task in a world dominated by capitalism. Like many modern animators, Miagmar supports himself by making commercials for Mongolian and U.S. television, but in a roundabout way, he said he does not like making commercials much.

"This is the way to get the money," he said.

Miagmar grew up in a one-room, tent-like house in rural Mongolia where he lived with his brother, parents and grandfather. As a child, his grandfather told him ancient Mongolian myths and legends by candlelight. The legends, which detailed fantastic tales of superhuman men and women, had strong effects on his animation. Miagmar said that hearing his grandfather's stories prompted him to create mental pictures in his head, which eventually found their way into his animations.

At the age of 23, Miagmar attended a university in Moscow, Russia where he studied animation for four years. He said the experience opened the world of animation to him and taught him the basics of making films.

Also during this time, Miagmar was exposed to many different types of animation, including Russian and British, which significantly influenced his work.

About three years ago, Miagmar become head of a government-funded animation studio, created to produce animation for Mongolian television.

Recently though, the government chose a new official to handle Mongolian television and the new studio, and the studio was forced to close. Now, Miagmar has a private studio where he makes commercials and works on his more personal films.

Miagmar said that it is difficult for him to find distribution for his artistic films, but he has received some breaks. Animation festivals in Japan, Bulgaria, China and France have bestowed him with awards.

Most recently, his animated film "Genghis Khan," which was produced by film professor David Ehrlich, has been repeatedly airing on the U.S. cable television network Bravo.

"It depends on who you know," he said.

Miagmar's "Genghis Khan" is an eight-minute-long film depicting the life of the "greatest conqueror in history," composed of colored pencil sketches. While at first glance the artwork seems unpolished, the animation itself is relaxed, smooth and lifelike. Each individual frame is drawn from scratch and fully animated, and the lack of attention to perfect synchronization of color-filled areas from frame-to-frame is charming and motion-filled, despite looking somewhat unprofessional at times.

Disney would not be pleased.

The use of color in the film is especially enveloping; Miagmar effectively colors drawings of the Mongolian steppe with soft blues, purples and whites while coloring the inside of a classic Mongolian living tent with warm and inviting reds. And although color fills the screen, his use of minimalist backgrounds -- which often consist of nothing more than a few lines to represent water or snow -- works considerably well.

Although the film is too short to fully explore Miagmar's talent, the use of innovative perspectives throughout suggests a significant amount of artistic potential for future films.

This originality can be seen in a well-done sequence involving the slaughter of a boar, which feels both violent and personal. The use of two angles to show the boar running toward Genghis while the arrow points toward the viewer of the film is especially effective.

Miagmar is strongly patriotic and hopes to continue making animated films depicting Mongolian culture and ancient legends. Next, he aspires to make a longer film version of a story written by a British author about a Mongolian horse. In the story, the horse, upon being captured and taken to England, falls in love with a British pony.

But despite his Mongolian slant, Miagmar hopes everyone can appreciate the culture and philosophies conveyed in his films.

"There are two ways -- one is to make films for Mongolians and the other is to make films for the world," he said. "I want to make films for the whole world."

Those interested in finding out if Miagmar fulfills his dream can see a collection of his animation in the Loew Auditorium tonight at 7:00 p.m.