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Wednesday, 23 June, 1999, 07:47 GMT 08:47 UK
The 'largest' animation in the world
The Old Man and the Sea brought to life on the IMAX screen
The Old Man and the Sea brought to life on the IMAX screen
The huge Imax format has been around for many years but Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea is the first animation to burst onto the massive screen.

The Old Man struggles against age and the elements
The Old Man struggles against age and the elements
The 20-minute film, by the leading Russian animator Alexander Petrov, has been launched as part of a tribute to Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway was one of the leading American writers of the 20th century. He was born 100 years ago and wrote in a short yet punchy style in many ways reflecting his own lifestyle.

This is shown in the first half in Erik Canuel's 'Hemingway: A Portrait', covering the great writer's life before World War I, in Spain and in Africa.

Man versus nature

The Marlin represents the power and majesty of nature
The Marlin represents the power and majesty of nature
Petrov's film is the second half of a Hemingway presentation and Imax's first venture into animation.

It is the tale of an old fisherman who has lived a life of adventure and is now at a crossroads. His catches have dried up and he fears he cannot continue much longer.

The Old Man's companion, a young boy, keeps faith even when the old man's hopes are fading fast.

When he puts out to sea, little happens until a massive Marlin takes the bait. This is the start of an epic 'man versus nature' battle. The old man and his boat are dragged way out to sea but the old man will not give up.

The sea forms a constantly changing backdrop and eventually, the fish succumbs. Bigger than the old man's boat it is tied to, the Marlin's body attracts a school of sharks. Once again the old man must do battle but this time he is the one to come off second best.

The story is also an exploration of the old man and the young boy who never loses faith
The story is also an exploration of the old man and the young boy who never loses faith
The boat and the huge skeleton are found on the shore by the villagers, the old man having dragged himself back to his hut to rest his weary bones. The young boy is overjoyed to see his old friend.

This is one of Hemingway's best-loved and most powerful stories - the one that is reputed to have won him the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Alexander Petrov's Struggle

Double Academy Award nominee Alexander Petrov works on his storyboard
Double Academy Award nominee Alexander Petrov works on his storyboard
The idea for the film came from Alexander Petrov himself. He has twice been nominated for Academy Awards, and like Hemingway, this might well be the piece of work that captures the prize for him.

In an exclusive interview for News Online, he revealed that he had read the book as a child and it had stayed with him ever since.

He produced the basic script many years ago and had struggled, like the old man in story, to land his fish. Eventually, he turned to Imax for funding and because of its epic proportions.

Indeed, Petrov said that the old man had become an inspiration to him: "The story is special to me as is the inspiring central character. His struggle resembles the struggle, the patience and determination needed as an animator. You have to love what you do."

Petrov working on a frame - a combination of slow-drying paints and delicate finger work
Petrov working on a frame - a combination of slow-drying paints and delicate finger work
Alexander's method of working is painstaking. Each frame is made using slow-drying oil paints on a backlit glass 'canvass'.

With his fingers, he manipulates the oils between frames and photographs the results. Then he must gently mould the oils for the next frame and so on. Normally he works on an A4 sized canvass but for Imax it had to be four times this size.

The result of two years' hard work was 29,000 frames of awe-inspiring animation. The Petrov technique is capable of highlighting the roughness of the texture of the old man's shack whilst still capturing the look of tenderness and concern on the young boy's face.

Having won his battle with the canvass, like the old man at the end of the film, Petrov is now resting before resuming the battle.

The film premiered in London at the newly opened BFI Imax on the South Bank and is currently showing at Bradford's Imax as part of the Bradford Animation Festival and the Large Format Animation Conference.

This is a film that will delight old and young alike so make the trip to an IMAX near you as it rolls out around the world.

See also:

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