Thursday, 7 April 2011

Ladislaw Starewicz (1882 - 1965)

Widely regarded as one of the pioneers of stop-motion animation, Ladislaw Starewicz started his career by accident.  As a keen entymologist, Starewicz was attempting to film insects; however he could not pursuade the insects to do what he wanted under the powerful lamps needed for filming at the time.  After several insects died from the heat, he resorted to using their corpses as puppets, attaching their legs with sealing wax to enable him to carefully reposition them between each exposure.  Although the process was time consuming, it enabled Starewicz to produce the film that he wanted.  So convincing was Starewicz's animation that, following the release of The Beautiful Leukanida, london newspapers wrote that the insects in the film were alive, and had been trained by an unnamed russian scientist (Bendazzi, 1994:36)
Fig. 1 The Grasshopper and the Ant [Film Still]
Although he was not the first person to use stop-motion animation, or puppet-based animation, Starewicz stands out as a result of his highly expressive style, which demonstrated that it was possible for animated puppets to convey emotions (and consequently, tell stories in an engaging way).

Following his inital successes, Starewicz continued to push the boundaries of what was possible with stop-motion animation; starting with manufactured puppets (instead of dead insects), then very quickly progressing onto experiments in combining live actors with stop motion (using techniques such as back projection).  His work is notable for the high levels of detail they involve, with scenes often involving the animation of multiple puppets, as well as scenic elements (for example, leaves blowing in the wind), and from a technical standpoint are highly polished, with (for example) very few visible strings or other technical errors.

His most well known work is probably The Mascot (1933), a story about a toy dog which comes to life and tries to obtain an orange for its owner  (some critics have drawn parallels between it and Pixar's Toy Story (1995) (Schneider, 2000)).  Along the way, the dog enters a bizarre nightmare realm where rubbish comes to life and parties in a seedy club (run by the devil, formed from spilt alcohol); this scene is probably the most impressive, with a large number of characters that demonstrate a highly imaginative approach to anthropomorphisation (as well as a convincingly animated band)
Fig. 2 The Mascot [Film Still]
The film also features several technically impressive sequences; the mascot hanging from the rear window of a car as it drives along (swinging realistically with the back-projected footage), and two animated skeletons (including a fish skeleton that swims in midair).  However, the most impressive aspect of the film is the expressive animation that enables the audience to identify with the characters.

List of Illustrations

 Figure 1.  Kanzkhonkov (1911) The Grasshopper and the Ant [Film Still] Online At: (Accessed on 05/04/2011)

Figure 2.  Gelma Films (!934) The Mascot [Film Still] Online At: (Accessed on 05/04/2011)


Bendazzi, G (1994) Cartoons: One Hundred years of animation, Indiana University Press (USA)

Brooke, M (2011) Ladislaw Starewicz In: [Online] At: (Accessed on 05/04/2011)

Potamkin, H (1929) Ladislaw Starevich and His Doll Films In: Theater Guild Magazine [Online] At: (Accessed on 05/04/2011)

Schneider, E (2000) Entomology and Animation: A Portrait of An Early Master Ladislaw Starewicz In: Animation World Magazine Issue 5 [Online] At: (Accessed on 05/04/2011)

Seeton, M (1936) The Modern Aesop In: World Film News [Online] At: (Accessed on 05/04/2011)

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