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Animations send Sibelius flying

A turquoise sky and a topsy-turvy Ainola?
On closer inspection, there’s something familiar in the picture.
The source of inspiration turns out to be a contemporary of Sibelius,
the artist Marc Chagall, in whose paintings both animals and people may fly.

Bizarre pictures appear on the screen. The face of Sibelius is superimposed on the moon shining brightly in the sky. Next we see him standing like a figure from a strip cartoon gazing into the window of a delicatessen. And there he is sitting and gesticulating in a railway carriage in which the other passengers are shadows or characters from a familiar poster.

Interaction between various arts interested Sibelius. He himself sought inspiration from contemporary artists.― Kirsi Kukkurainen

The animations and trick photography of Kirsi Kukkurainen, a graphic artist working at Yle, both startle and delight. In visualising the elements of the TV series Sort of Sibelius! she drew ideas from works by contemporary artists of Jean Sibelius.

matka kuuhun
Georges Méliès: Le voyage dans la lune (1902) matka kuuhun Kuva: Le Voyage dans la lune (Star Film) matka kuuhun 1902
Sibeliuksen naama kuussa
Night Music from the episode Papa and Family Sibeliuksen naama kuussa Kuva: Yle/ Kirsi Kukkurainen yö säveliä

December 8, 2015 marked the 150th anniversary of Jean Sibelius’s birth. His active career as a composer came at a time when many new phenomena were emerging in visual culture, such as the invention of the moving film and the development of photography.

- Printing techniques were also improving, and cartoons and posters were becoming increasingly common. People were travelling more, and seeking impressions abroad, Kirsi Kukkurainen reminds.

Sibelius updated

The TV series Sort of Sibelius! scripted by Minna Lindgren and Piia Hirvensalo is in eight ten-minute episodes. It provides an updated view of Sibelius the man. The experts in the non-conventional interviews include a doctor, a marital therapist, a wine buff and a wilderness guide.

The fact that animations and trick shots march side by side with the interviews creates a rhythm all of its own.

Kari Hevossaari plays the part of Jean Sibelius, and Cécile Orblin that of his wife Aino.

For the animations, the actors were photographed a lot in a green chroma studio. They were then transferred from the photos with a green background to an allusive digital setting. Kirsi Kukkurainen used such animation genres as stop motion and cut-out animation.

As her work proceeded, Kirsi Kukkurainen had her first opportunity to try drawing a strip cartoon. The style of the Sibbe seikkailee (The Adventures of Sib) imitates that of George McManus, best known to the Finns from a Finnish adaptation of his Bringing up Father.
Mcmanus sarjakuvastrip
George McManus(1884-1954) Mcmanus sarjakuvastrip Kuva: Panhandle Pete/ Bringing Up Father george mcmanus
Sibelius nälkäisenä ja rahattomana Münchenissä
Sibelius, hungry and penniless in Munich Sibelius nälkäisenä ja rahattomana Münchenissä Kuva: Yle/ Kirsi Kukkurainen sehän on sibelius

The initial ideas for the animations were hatched in Piia Hirvensalo’s mind. A team then met to work out the finer details of their execution. Kirsi Kukkurainen worked in close partnership with Teemu Kokkonen at the editing stage.

The genre and mood of the Sort of Sibelius! TV series were determined right at the start of the project. The team wanted to use gentle humour, even at the risk that not all viewers might swallow it.

Unexpected and playful were key words

The animation about Sibelius’s throat operation was inspired by the surrealistic film Un chien andalou by Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel.

otos andalusialaisesta koirasta
From the film Un chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog, 1929) otos andalusialaisesta koirasta Kuva: Un chien andalou andalusialainen koira
Kurkun leikkausta sehän on sibelius -sarjassa
Kurkun leikkausta sehän on sibelius -sarjassa Kuva: Yle/ Kirsi Kukkurainen kurkun leikkaus

A painting by one Finnish artist also found its way into Kirsi Kukkurainen’s gallery. She was Helene Schjerfbeck (1862–1946), whose silvery self-portrait lent its colour scale to the scene about Aino Sibelius’s health.

A mobile application of an early animation

Phenaskistoskooppi Kuva: Phenaskistoskooppi phenaskistoskooppi
The TV series led to various spin-offs. A phenakistoscope, invented in the 1830s, featured both on a postcard and in a mobile application. The phenakistoscope was an early animation device that creates the illusion of motion with a few pictures. The Sibelius phenakistoscope is a leap in time from the 19th century to the 2010s.
Setting the old and the new on a collision course is fascinating.― Kirsi Kukkurainen

Paintings that inspired:

Marc Chagall (1887-1985): La promenade, 1918

Georges Méliès (1861-1938): Le voyage dans la lune, 1902

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901): Divan Japonais, n. 1893

George McManus (1884-1954): Panhandle Pete/ Bringing Up Father, 1913-1928

Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) ja Luis Buñuel (1900-1983): Un chien andalou, 1929

Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946): Self-portrait, 1915 (Photo: Turku Art Museum, Photo Archive)

English translator: Susan Sinisalo

Episode 3: Health and Nerves