Cosmic Voyage: 1936 Soviet Science Fiction Film About a Moon Landing


This is an absolutely fascinating and rather beautiful 1936 Soviet science fiction film that foretold how a future 1946 moon mission would work. It’s got incredible zero gravity effects, miniature models of a fantastic space ship on a launch ramp, and very cool technical details like filling the cockpit with fluid to buffer the cosmonauts from launch forces. Then there’s a marvelous sequence on the surface of the moon with excellent stop motion animation inter-cut with live actors. Apparently, the Soviet censors banned the film after a short but successful first run because they felt the cosmonauts were having too much fun on the moon. They were right. These characters go hopping and bounding about with so much joy it’s almost an embarrassment. Citizens of the Soviet Union were not supposed to be happy.

Don’t worry about understanding Russian. The film was shot as a silent and is more or less a completely visual experience.

It was directed by Vasili Zhuravlov, but what’s really most interesting about the production history is that Constantin Tsiolkovski, a Soviet scientist and professor, became enthusiastic about putting some of his theories on space travel into a film. He consulted with the filmmakers in an attempt to lend verisimilitude to the moon voyage. Many years later, Werner von Braun credited Tsiolkovski’s calculations as having been correct.

So here is a old Soviet film that went to great lengths to get many of its details right.

Here is an interesting article about the film.


A Colour Box: 1935 Abstract Direct Paint on Film Animation by Len Lye

Len Lye’s 1935 film, ‘A Colour Box,’ was made by painting and applying dye directly to the film surface. It is apparently the first direct paint film to gain a general public release and has been widely seen ever since. The film is an odd way to advertise for cheap parcel post and this message starts popping up near the end. The cheerfully infectious music is ‘La Belle Créole’ by Don Baretto and his Cuban Orchestra. Lye’s work must have been hugely influential for the later work of direct paint filmmaker Stan Brakhage.

The Birth of the Robot: 1936 Experimental Advertising Film by Len Lye for Shell Oil Company

In 1936, experimental filmmaker Len Lye made this short surreal animation to advertise the benefits of Shell oil for lubricating things. The film is a hyper-saturated stop-motion extravaganza that involves a mechanical world turning on some sort of hand crank. There’s an adventurer driving around the sands of Egypt. His car winds down and konks out leaving the man dead in the desert. The angel of oil rains drops of lubricating crude down on the Egyptian landscape bringing the parched skeleton to life as the Shell Oil robot. Fascinating. It’s got that awkward, shiny, naive beauty that could only be achieved in the 30s. Parts of this thing look like they might be influenced by Salvador Dali’s work. Something about that dead skeleton and the desert looks like it could fit right into the Surrealist master’s paintings.

Lye was from New Zealand and worked not only as an experimental filmmaker but also in newsreels and advertising. He was a kinetic sculptor, poet, painter and a writer of essays on artistic theory and philosphy. He made a 1935 short film called ‘A Colour Box’ which was the first generally exhibited film made by painting directly on the film emulsion. It’s a brilliant experimental animation posing as an advertisement for cheaper parcel post.  I’m sure the great direct paint filmmaker Stan Brakhage must have been familiar with Lye’s work.

Here’s a gallery site with information and examples of his artwork.

How Walt Disney Cartoons Are Made: 1939 Documentary Film

Here’s a wonderful glimpse into the animation techniques that were pioneering at the time of Disney’s first feature-length animation, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.’ You get to see some shots of Snow White being drawn and photographed, sound effects being recorded, and people arriving at the premiere. You also get a good dose of the Disney sexism in which all women who work on a film are referred to as ‘pretty girls.’ It’s basically an advertisement for the film, but it’s a good one.