Women, imprisoned mostly on drug-related charges, occupy Perm prison #32. Their crimes range using drugs, selling drugs and murder – because of fairytale “drug dreams” and “cartoons” that they watch out of hopelessness and despair.
Now they draw cartoons themselves in 3D. There are 18 of them. The classroom, covered in drawing of characters from THEIR future show, has 20 Acer computers; the school desk has a picture for everyone that needs to be made into 3D during the school/work day. Someone is occupied with the fence, and by the end of the day it should be just like a real one, with all the splinters and nails to go with it. Meanwhile, someone else will “enliven” the house and grass. Many of these inmates six months ago flipped on a computer for the first time in their lives.
The journalist Aleksandr Lyubimov came up with the idea to open up the world’s first computer-graphic animation studio in a prison. It do not think that what is most important is what role this vocational and educational experiment plays in his, a candidate from the A Right Cause Party, election campaign: I have seen these women, and they do not want to leave the animation studio for their units; they dress up for work as if for a celebration.
“I decided not to apply for parole but get a full-fledged education here, without which I would not be of any use to anyone out there”, says inmate Yelizaveta Koshcheyeva (convicted on article 158 of part 2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation).
Today’s prisoners, after getting free from prison, are looking to work as specialists in 3D animation and computer graphics. Such specialists are in demand in advertising, television and landscape design.
The prisoners are taught the history of pictorial art and animation, they watch cartoons and break them down from a professional point of view. Initiators of the project – Pervoye Pole design studio, Perm Regional Ministry of Culture and Youth Policy, Federal Penitentiary Service and Ministry of Justice – promise not to do away with it. There are several buildings on the outskirts of Perm where an animation studio with jobs for former inmates will be opened. The animation studio will be on the first floor, while housing for the workers and their families will on the above floors. The condition for living in the building is to work on the commercial orders of Pravoye Pole and other design studios, and absolutely no drugs or alcohol. The promised salary is put at 30 to 40 thousand roubles a month. When the salary issue for animators in jail is taken care of, they will be earning the same 12 thousand roubles as the seamstresses (minus the court imposed bills and alimony).
Vladimir Sannikov, a teacher of computer graphics, was doubtful that the women would be able to be successful as graphic designers: there are a lot of women working in design, while not too many in 3D animation, because you need to be able to work well with mathematics. But their diligence and loads of free time helped prove Sannikov wrong: in just six months, the women, before not being able to tell a monitor and a printer apart, got so skilled that now Lyubimov and his team are intending to train 500 specialists, and at the same time achieve their planned production cost for one minute of 3D animation. One minute of animation produced in Moscow costs 15 thousand dollars, 7 thousand dollars in China, and, if prisoners are taught the necessary skills, then their work would be cheaper still.
The penny-pinching project corresponds completely to the Perm region’s strategy to create jobs in the innovative economy and fits in with the goals of the Federal Penitentiary Systems for creating social lifts. But this is peanuts compared to women’s eyes absorbed in computer screens. The drawn-up fence opens its gates to a new miraculous world, to the “Mayan illusion” that has cracked up its doors. The happily get into the game. In having become animators, they imitate goddesses, sorceresses and acquire the ability to mould events. Cartoons helped them believe that a lot in life can be turned around.
No one would be surprised by the paradox of switching narcotic cartoons for 3D graphics. It is as if Katerina Izmailova, who has a picture of her son Gleb on her desk (he goes to art school and is waiting for his mom to come home and draw cartoons together) waited for the question: “I thought about this. We are in prison for our love for drugs and their “animated films”’ But now I am drawing fairytales with my own two hands”.
“I see school as turning my dream into a reality through the ‘Mayan illusion’”, says inmate Liliya Nureyeva, who has drawn characters for the future show “The Story of Deion” on the classroom walls. Deion, a red-haired boy, saves the planet as his father fights enemies faraway in space. That is the outline for the animated film at 1000 minutes long split up into five-minute segments for the Spokoinoi Nochi, Malyshi (Russian for “Good Night, Little Ones”) programme and the Carousel kids channel.
The women know the project’s authors benefit from their work, and they don’t just not mind this, but also think it is a good thing. Anastasiya Utkina, an inmate in the second unit, says, “the work used to be given to people in China, but now the money is staying in Russia. I am in favour of this, especially if I can receive an education in a profession that is in-demand. My daughter, I hope, will see my work on Spokoinoi Nochi, Malyshi”.
Tatyana Margolina, the authorised representative for human rights in the Perm region, believes that Lyubimov’s project took place thanks to the organisers’ interest in their work, and that their project is a model for social responsible, innovative business. “In prison, you seen a lot of sullen eyes, and those here did not believe that they could have such attention paid to them; that what is happening is for real. In prison, inmates become accustomed to thinking that they are outcasts. This project with important characters who use their interest to quickly overcome the stereotype of the public’s attitude toward women who have committed crimes. This is important for the entire penitentiary system”.
As for the commercial expediency of the animation schools project in the prison system, it is more than a timely affair. In China, where there is state support for animation, prices for producing animated films are twice as low as in Russia. It is possible that our animators in the near future will start to think hard on whether it is worth placing orders in China.
Aleksandr Lyubimov is hoping that the women he is mentoring will shift from providing the market with 3D animation to creating their own animation. “My dream is to have one of these women draw their own animated film, for example, set against the poetry of François Villon and win the French animation festival in Annecy. It’s possible.”