For the last four decades, Russian animator Yuri Norstein and his wife Francheska Yarbusova have been working on one movie, an animated full-length feature film called "The Overcoat." Unlike Walt Disney or Hayao Miyazaki, this Russian couple is mainly unknown. Still, both Norstein and Yarbusova are universally considered the greatest animators of all time - by fellow big name, internationally acclaimed animators (including Miyazaki!).
The Overcoat currently holds the longest production period for any animated feature film in history. Since Norstein and Yarbusova are in their 80s, they've been working on it for more than half their lives. They began the project in 1981, but it suffered major delays when the Soviet Union collapsed. The movie is highly anticipated, and even though it has no release date in sight, it is already the stuff of legends - and this is all to do with its two creators.
Norstein and Yarbusova met in 1967 and began work at the Soviet state-run animation studio Soyuzmultfilm. They animated numerous short propaganda films as well as animated educational materials for state schools. They also learned their "cut-out animation" technique where figures are hand-drawn and then "cut out and puppeteered" in-between shots. Their unique style has also been called "paper dolls photographed in 3D."
Since they work together and are married to boot, Yuri and Francheska's lives are so intertwined that they have been described as a single artist. Both are extreme perfectionists and have such a solid and united vision. Yuri serves as the director, cinematographer and animator while Francheska hand draws everything, from the evocative and lush backgrounds to all the characters and their movements. She has drawers full of tiny drawings of eyes expressing hundreds of emotions, as well as hands in every conceivable pose so that Norstein can put them together and create the spellbinding, delicate, seamless, and hyper-realistic animated sequences they are known for.
The whole process is done by hand, without any kind of computer animation or effects. He uses literal layers of glass panes with a camera rigged on top to create the different layers of each shot. His meticulous and obsessive attention to each minute detail has earned him the nickname "The Golden Snail" and is the reason why they only have a handful of animated short films under their belt. However, despite the limited number of features, the two have won numerous awards worldwide.
As it stands, "The Overcoat" is only about 25 to 35 minutes completed, and the couple is already telling everyone not to hold their breath. Many have offered their support, such as Wallace & Gromit creator Nick Park, yet the two seem satisfied to work solo that Norstein only asked for a batch of light bulbs.
It's almost a cautionary tale of obsession and a case of allowing your creation to consume you. And in the never ending struggle between completion and perfection,
it seems like perfection has won forever.