Anton Diakov, director of the Academy Award-nominated "Box Valley," on creating an unconventional love story.

Anton Diakov's "Box Ballet" is one of two hand-drawn animated shorts nominated for Academy Awards this season.

An unlikely love story about a rough-and-tumble boxer and a sensitive ballerina, "Box Ballet" is a film about the love between a boxer and a ballerina. The script, which has no dialogue, takes full advantage of the graphic power of animation to enhance the storytelling. The film was produced by CTB Film Company and Melnitsa Animation Studio in St. Petersburg, Russia.

"Box Bullet" is set in Russia in the early 1990s, a time when the Soviet Union was dismantled and an important turning point in the country's history. As Diakov told Cartoon Brew, the characters "find themselves at this turning point, like many people at the time. We want them to think about what the future will look like for them and whether or not they have a future." The film's meaning is made urgent and newly poignant by the current hostilities in the region.

In the following interview, Alex Dudok de Witt talks to Diakov about how he structured the story, the difference between boxing and ballet animation, and why he did not include a single word of dialogue in the film.

Cartoon Brew: How long did you spend on this film overall? Most of the time was spent on coloring and shading, which was the most routine and tedious part. The work required not only time, but also the steady hand of those who helped execute it.

You produced the film at Melnitsa Animation Studio, which you said had "extensive resources for producing hand-drawn animation in an academic style."

Dyakov: Specific to this project I didn't set a specific goal of finding a specific studio; the script for Boxballet had already received several funding rejections from different studios, and I was swimming around in my head trying to do something else, like book design. But then I saw an announcement that Melnitsa Studios was holding a screenplay competition and the winner would get funding for the project. So I entered my script into the competition, and lo and behold, I won. So you might say that our collaboration was spontaneous, brought together by circumstances. I believe that there is no such thing as coincidence. This was meant to happen. I always felt that the studio was genuinely interested in my project. They really wanted me to do it the way they wanted me to do it.

What struck me about "Box Valley" is that it tells the story in a very economical way. We don't see the boxer getting his wallet back, but the next shot shows him giving it back to the ballerina; it feels like you're telling a 25-minute story in 15 minutes. 17]

Diakoff: I'm more of a short guy who keeps things short and I don't like to drag things out. I don't like to drag things out. I wanted to bring an emotional response to the audience with a relatively compact time frame and dynamic narration. That was my ambition. So while writing the script, I decided for myself to let a lot of things go. For example, the boxing match scene originally involved a lot of twists and details. I had been sick and in the hospital for a couple of weeks, so I decided to work on the script more during that time. That's when I realized that the important aspect of the story was not the turning point itself, but the characters' reactions to it. Once I made that point clear, I felt that the story could breathe and the narrative became less grim.

It depicts sexual harassment in a professional context. 2]

Dyakov: It was not intentional to address this issue. As anyone who works in animation can tell you, it is not easy to address current issues in a film. This is because a lot of time passes between conception and realization, and the whole context, including the timely issue, disappears before the work reaches the viewer. And we all know that such stories are not uncommon in the ballet world. So I would like to say that I appeared in this piece not because I had a desire to raise some topical issue, but because that happened to be the case.

There is only one line of dialogue in the film: "Idiot.""

Diakov: The script was more chatty. There was dialogue in the kitchen in the scene where Olya and Evgeny meet, and the script was littered with a lot of words. In the process, the lines I considered important disappeared spontaneously on their own, without any loss to the storytelling. Believe me, I could have done without a single word in the film. If that one word had been removed, everything else would have been fine. But I wanted a kind of cherry. There is only one word in this film. It's a little treat for the author.

As in your other work, brown dominates the palette in "Box Bullet."

Dyakov: I like the different approaches to color. But I am a graphic artist at heart. Sepia, sauces, charcoal, graphite, pastels, ink ...... These are the materials I find most natural. Of course, working with color is always a puzzle to solve, and working with monochrome space is an understatement. Warm undertones are important to me, but I like to add variations of warmth and coolness, which I find very appealing. In that sense, I created a box valet at the junction of colors, but at the same time muted it with ochre.

What are the main differences between the animation of the boxing and ballet scenes? But for the ballet scenes I had to immerse myself in the material. Together with the animators, we looked through classical ballet recordings, analyzed the dancers' movements, and found their internal, plastic logic. Otherwise, it would be an imitation or an empty shell. Ballet is a very fragile thing; the slightest mistake or slip can bring it all crashing down. One little mistake and everything falls apart. That experience has made me sensitive to such things. That's why I have hundreds of videos of ballet danced by the best dancers, but it wasn't enough. Translating classical ballet into animated conventions requires immersion, and I am pleased with how I finally handled it.

The characters express themselves almost entirely through their bodies. This makes sense since they use their bodies for a living. 18][19] Diakov: To be honest, that was not the intention. I did what I thought was necessary without having to explain myself. The soloist in this piece is the plasticity of the body. It is only fitting that I use it in a love story between a boxer and a ballerina.

Tell us about the last picture you saw on TV. I believe it is Yeltsin and Gorbachev...

Diakov: That was a documentary photo from 1991-1993. It shows Yeltsin and Gorbachev. As you know, these were signs of the times, turning points in the history of my country. So Olya and Evgeny found themselves at this turning point, as did many people at the time. I want them to think through my work and the means available to them, what the future will look like for them and whether or not they have a future.