Arnolds Burovs.
I am my Heroes

In 1966, the first real Latvian animation studio was established. In the same year they released their debut cartoon - “Ki-Ke-Ri-Gu!”. Since then, they have produced more than 140 cartoons and a much-loved puppet series, and Arnolds Burovs is the man who made it all possible.

Arnolds Burovs.<br> I am my Heroes
Arnolds Burovs

His work is known and loved by more than one generation of Latvian children, although most of his cartoons are dedicated to adults. His plots, especially in his later works, are often dramatic, the meaning of which is clearer to a more mature audience. Comedies, as he said himself, were not his strong suit. It seems there was a clear reason for this – his childhood. Arnold was a modest and private man, talking about himself only on rare occasion. However, he did not hide anything in his work.

After the death of his father, Arnold and his brother were raised by their mother alone. The family lived poorly, constantly moved and changed jobs (often, all three of them worked to keep afloat). Later down the line, this tense atmosphere of impermanence will be imbued in many of the artist’s works. But he did have one great teacher – Janis Vihmanis. Thanks to him, Arnold entered the conservatory and even studied there for three courses, but eventually graduated from the Bulduri School of Horticulture. He then worked for a long time as a shop window decorator. That is, until dolls suddenly came into his life. 

His First dolls and “Pygmalion”

In 1944 he started working as a prop master at the Riga Puppet Theatre, and in a few years he reached the position of chief artist and director. It was he who managed to raise the then very young theatre to the level of international fame. 

In 1965 (seemingly having recognised his talent and unique ability to work), the Riga Film Studio offered him, the first in Latvia, to take up puppet animation. Arnold and several of his theatre colleagues started creating the first Latvian puppet animation film – a story about a cockerel based on Latvian folk tales.

Arnolds Burovs.<br> I am my Heroes
“KIKERIGŪ!”, 1966
Arnolds Burovs.<br> I am my Heroes
“KIKERIGŪ!”, 1966

Cartoons, especially in the beginning, were not often produced: writing the script, actually creating the puppets and scenery, and then long frame-by-frame shooting sessions. It was not uncommon to record only a few seconds of animation in a whole day.

Several of Burovs’ first works were intended for children – with comedic plots and funny characters. Just four years later, in 1970, something totally different was released, leagues closer to the things and methods the animator would explore in later works. The animation by the name of “Pygmalion”, based on the ancient Greek myth about the sculptor, who fell in love with one of his own works.

Arnolds Burovs.<br> I am my Heroes
“Pigmalions”, 1967

“Pygmalion” by Burovs is, in its own way, surreal (the tin can sculptures alone make it worth watching). That was one of the reasons why it was quite difficult to show the work in Latvia at the time. Nevertheless, the animation was taken to other countries as a proof that the country also had its own avant-garde directors.

You may be asking yourself – how did the studio’s works manage to capture the attention of children, since we have here such a seemingly mature director? The answer is quite simple: Arnold’s partner Arvids Norins – the studio’s second director – came up with simpler and less tense plots. They alternated their cartoons, keeping the audience’s boredom at bay, while also allowing Burovs to work on his more serious ideas in tandem.

“Little Hawk”

“Little Hawk was not a bird at all. He was a baby with tiny nimble legs, a face that was always smeared and soft flaxen hair, like many young children. He was five years old in the spring, a very respectable age. In truth, the boy was not called Little Hawk at all; he was named Janitis. Only his father had taken to calling him that.”

Arnolds Burovs.<br> I am my Heroes
“Vanadziņš”, 1978

So begins the most mature and perhaps the most touching 10-minute animated film by Burovs. “Vanadziņš” (Little Hawk) was inspired by the short story of the same name by writer Vilis Lacis: a story from the life of a fisherman and his son. In addition to the story, the animated film is interesting because of the close-ups and dramatic puppetry, which are not too typical for this genre. And there’s plenty of beautifully made paper sea (which was technically very difficult to create), which can be seen as another character. The main character’s eyes also encapsulate the sea – and it looks hypnotising. In order to achieve this effect of “infinite eyes”, Burovs had to make concessions- by increasing the usual size of his dolls. In general, the cartoon is unconventional in many senses, so it is not surprising that it was included in the Latvian Canon of Culture, becoming the only animated film to be honoured with this title. 

Charlie Chaplin and All the Rest

“I create characters who have similar attitudes to life as myself”

Many of Burovs’ cartoons were inspired by Latvian and international classics, and sometimes even by historical figures. For example, 1977’s “Cosette” based on Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables” – another very touching work. And in the 1980s the first instalment of the “Chapliniana”series debuted, in which Burovs, in his unique way, captured the essence of Charlie Chaplin. All episodes of the series are silent, but Chaplin’s iconic walk is of course present (very accurately and lovingly conveyed). 

Arnolds Burovs.<br> I am my Heroes

To see

“In the world of puppets, anything is possible – that’s why I love them so much”

Hundreds of animations, countless props and sets. Where are the things that have served their purpose stored, and is it possible to see them? Fortunately for us, there is indeed such an opportunity: the Riga Film Studio offers themed tours of its pavilions and studios, including the animation studio. Here, if you are familiar with the characters, you can experience a unique kind of nostalgia.

The Emergency Brigade

In 1991, the Burovs animation group turned into the “Animācijas brigāde” (Animation Brigade) studio. In that same year, the first episode of the series “Avārijas brigāde” (Emergency Brigade) was released – which follows the lives of three resilient friends, who are rescuers-in-training.

Arnolds Burovs.<br> I am my Heroes
Film studio’s “Animācijas brigāde”. Filmography 1991-2023

And in 2017, a theme park of the same name was opened. There are land and water rides, a rope course, go-karting and other fun activities for kids and adults alike. The park is only an hour’s drive from Riga and attracts tourists from all over the Baltics. It is open from April to October.

Arnolds Burovs.<br> I am my Heroes
Arnolds Burovs

“The world and soul of a doll must be understood,” Arnolds was fond of saying. It seems that it was easy for him to understand the world of his puppets, because it was a reflection of the world in which the animator himself lived. He did not try to idealise the world which his puppets occupied: he wanted to be honest with his characters and viewers, believing that the world around should be seen and shown the way that it is. He taught the same to his students, who are now continuing his puppet work.

Author : editor nbhd
Date: 10.01.24