An Oscar-Winning Animation of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” Painted on 29,000 Frames of Glass

Ernest Hemingway’s roman­tic adven­ture of man and mar­lin, The Old Man and the Sea, has per­haps spent more time on high school fresh­man Eng­lish read­ing lists than any oth­er work of fic­tion, which might lead one to think of the nov­el as young adult fic­tion. But beyond the book’s abil­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate broad themes of per­se­ver­ance, courage, and loss, it has an appeal that also reach­es old, wiz­ened men like Hemingway’s San­ti­a­go and young, imag­i­na­tive boy­ish appren­tices like his Mano­lin. The 1952 novel­la rein­vig­o­rat­ed Hemingway’s career, won him a Pulitzer Prize, and even­tu­al­ly con­tributed to his Nobel win in 1954. And luck­i­ly for all those high school Eng­lish stu­dents, Hemingway’s sto­ry has lent itself to some wor­thy screen adap­ta­tions, includ­ing the 1958 film star­ring Spencer Tra­cy as the inde­fati­ga­ble Span­ish-Cuban fish­er­man and a 1990 ver­sion with the mighty Antho­ny Quinn in the role.

One adap­ta­tion that read­ers of Hem­ing­way might miss is the ani­ma­tion above, a co-pro­duc­tion with Cana­di­an, Russ­ian, and Japan­ese stu­dios cre­at­ed by Russ­ian ani­ma­tor Alek­sander Petrov. Win­ner of a 2000 Acad­e­my Award for ani­mat­ed short, the film has as much appeal to a range of view­ers young and old as Hemingway’s book, and for some of the same reasons—it’s cap­ti­vat­ing­ly vivid depic­tion of life on the sea, with its long peri­ods of inac­tiv­i­ty and short bursts of extreme phys­i­cal exer­tion and con­sid­er­able risk.

Both states pro­vide ample oppor­tu­ni­ties for com­plex char­ac­ter devel­op­ment and rich sto­ry­telling as well as excit­ing white-knuck­le sus­pense. Petro­v’s film illus­trates them all, open­ing with images of San­ti­ago’s sto­ries of his sea­far­ing boy­hood off the coast of Africa and stag­ing the dra­mat­ic con­tests between San­ti­a­go, his “broth­er” the mar­lin, and the sharks who devour his prize.

But the pro­duc­tion here, unlike Hemingway’s spare prose, makes a daz­zling dis­play of its tech­nique. For his The Old Man and the Sea, Petrov—only one of a hand­ful of ani­ma­tors skilled in this art—handpainted over 29,000 frames on glass (with help from his son, Dmitri) using slow-dry­ing oils. Petrov moved the paint with his fin­gers to cap­ture the move­ment in the next shot, and while the mag­i­cal effect resem­bles a mov­ing paint­ing, the shoot­ing itself was very tech­no­log­i­cal­ly advanced, involv­ing a spe­cial­ly con­struct­ed motion-cap­ture cam­era. Petrov and son began their paint­ing in 1997 and fin­ished two years lat­er, tak­ing to heart some of the lessons of the book, it seems. The film’s cre­ators, how­ev­er, fared bet­ter than The Old Man’s pro­tag­o­nist, rich­ly reward­ed for their strug­gle. In addi­tion to an Oscar, the short won awards from BAFTA, the San Diego Film Fes­ti­val, and a hand­ful of oth­er pres­ti­gious inter­na­tion­al bod­ies.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ernest Hem­ing­way Cre­ates a Read­ing List for a Young Writer, 1934

18 (Free) Books Ernest Hem­ing­way Wished He Could Read Again for the First Time

18 Ani­ma­tions of Clas­sic Lit­er­ary Works: From Pla­to and Shake­speare, to Kaf­ka, Hem­ing­way and Gaiman

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (5)
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  • Nalrus says:

    Mar­vel­lous, beau­ti­ful, stun­ning, breath­tak­ing (& any oth­er superla­tive I can think of). But why, oh why did you cut the music in the end?! Shame on you.

  • Iván Bautista says:

    Admirable cor­tome­tra­je me dejo sín pal­abras y moti­va­do a seguir vivien­do.

  • Alluvja says:

    Very nice­ly done. i liked the vari­a­tions in paint­ing from bright impres­sion­is­tic images of light and colours to an almost Rem­brandtesque light­ing

  • Jean Carlos says:

    i liked the vari­a­tions in paint­ing from bright impres­sion­is­tic images, and the his­to­ry

  • janet lamport katz says:


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