From the Vault: The Cartoons of Sahakyants

The animator is an artist, and in his world, his only limitation is his own imagination.

In the case of Robert Sahakyants, one of the most creative (and underappreciated) artists from our nation, his imagination was never in a slump. In his short life, he created films that were both inventive and controversial, but his approach to the art of animation was admirable. 

In a number of his films, he touches on political issues, using exaggerated characters and ironic situations as his basis for humor. The films he created all touched on philosophical issues, but his main critique was of his homeland.

There’s no question to the fact that drawing was his calling in life. The hand-drawn animations he designed became much more magical because of their imperfections. The short films he created were far from being fluid, which is the case with most hand-drawn animations, but their rough designs are never lacking in imagination.

The majority of his films play like music videos, with music serving as the centerpiece of the story. In his longer films, his use of silence adds depth and a sense of atmosphere, whereas his shorter, 30-second films function more as character sketches or humorous puns, with music either being used for comical cues or as the main focus of the action.

In Everything is All Right, his four-minute political satire, he cleverly parodies Leonid Utyosova’s popular song “Madame La Marquise” and satirizes the Soviet Union. In the film, he shows how frantic its political leaders are and uses exaggerated humor to comment on their relationship with society. The film, along with others, can be seen on a DVD compilation appropriately titled, Everything is All Right, where audiences are treated to a collection of his films. 

Robert Sahakyants became an animator for Armenfilm Studios and soon worked as an animation director for the studio. In his life and career, he was often regarded as a “hippie” because of his opposing viewpoints, long beard and hair and unconventional methods of working, such as dropping certain assignments but being exceptionally dedicated to others. The influential animator often fought for his rights – both in his life and in his work – creating animated films that raised more than a few eyebrows.

In his films, he would often comment on the Armenian people and our extreme diversity among each other. Their differences are often highlighted through their accents and lack of social skills, but almost all of his films use admired Armenian songs, which reflect his immense love for his homeland.

 In the 1990s, when much of animation was being done on computers, his work was still hand drawn and had an organic feel to them, long after the rest of the world had moved onto other forms of animation. The hundreds of short films he created and designed were recognized around the world and received dozens of awards. In a sense, he has become our culture’s Walt Disney in the sense that he was a pioneer of Armenian animation. 

The man who many deemed a “hippie” and often overlooked his work because of how different his approach was to telling stories died in his homeland of Yerevan on September 24, 2009 at the age of 59, leaving behind bits and pieces of inspirational work.