Heitor Capuzzo

Synthetic Sound in Animation: The Russian and German contributions

Short Log Line

During the final 1920’s and early 1930’s several experiences with synthetic sound were presented inside Russia, including soundtrack for animated films. Those outputs were the basis for the future field of electronic music and inspired animators as Norman McLaren. This communication will present excerpts from those experiences contextualizing similarities with researches developed simultaneously inside Germany.


Starting in the final 1920’s the synthetic sound in animation brought new paradigms for moving images. Russia and Germany presented important outputs that reshaped the concept of sound on film. Avoiding microphones, sound recorders and any electronic devices, those pioneers believed that the 20th century could be represented by new sounds produced synthetically, mainly by handdrawing the soundtrack on the film strip. One main pioneer was the Russian composer Arseny Avraamov. One of his seminal works was the series of concerts Symphony of Sirens, a monumental tribute to the worker’s expression, including sound of factories, locomotives, all kinds of giant machines responsible for the daily urban sound atmosphere. He developed radio-musical instruments, broadcasting nationally new sound patterns. The workers could hear the sound of their activities and became the players of the new city symphonies.

In 1930 Avraamov experimented also with hand-drawn patterns for film soundtracks. Those experiments were called ornamental sounds. The German animator Oskar Fischinger worked in that same direction proposing several visual patterns as graphic sound, presenting in 1932 an article entitled Sounding Ornaments. Those experiences were the early steps for visual music in film. The Russian Nikolai Voinov produced synthetic sound patterns using paper sound techniques. Controlling the shape of the cut outs, he was able to compose music. Oskar and Hans Fischinger also worked with that approach. Latter, Norman McLaren would return to that experience by creating a sound library with cardboard cutouts.

The German animator Rudolf Pfenninger composed the sound track of several animated films with hand-drawn patterns in a similar experience to Avraamov. He was able to present better controlled results and also inspired Norman McLaren who later would work with the same techniques.

The Russians Alexander Shorin and Evgeny Sholpo proposed their devices Shorinophone and Variophone that could read sound patterns continuously synchronized with film strips, which became the basis for synthetic sound in Russian animation.

All those experiences and developments deeply inspired Norman McLaren who in the 1940’s and mid 1950’s produced the best expressive results with synthetic sound in artistic animation.


Professor in Film and Animation at the School of Art, Design and Media – Nanyang Technological University. He was also professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (Brazil) and the University at Buffalo – State University of New York. Professor Capuzzo received the Master of Fine Arts and Doctoral degrees in Cinema from the School of Communication and Arts at Sao Paulo University. His pos-doc was at the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California (Los Angeles) where he was also a visiting scholar. He is the author of the books Cinema: The Dream’s Adventure, The Twilight Zone: Cinema Beyond Imagination, Alfred Hitchcock: Cinema in Construction, and Tears of Light: Romantic Drama in Films and the organizer of Cinema According to the Critics of Sao Paulo. He is co-organizer of the book Reflections on Film Editing by Eduardo Leone (midia@rte/UFMG Press). He directed the short films Strange Smile - with Jose Armando Pereira da Silva (Best Film and Best Director awards in the film festivals of Gramado and Brasilia), Good Night and Jump Violeta. He was also a film critic for the newspaper Diario do Grande ABC for 10 years. Professor Capuzzo was the founding director of the midia@rte - Multimidia Laboratory at the School of Fine Arts at UFMG and was a member of Conselho Superior de Cinema, a media and cinema advisory council to the President of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.