Elbert Tuganov

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Elbert Tuganov

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Baku, Azerbaijan


Elbert Tuganov was born February 22, 1920, in Baku, Azerbaijan. At four years old, he moved to Berlin where he lived with his aunt.

Tuganov along with his colleague Heino Pars are cited as the fathers of puppet animation in Estonia. He is the founder of Nukufilm, Tallinnfilm’s puppet animation department, which became independent in 1993.

Tuganov died at the age of 87 on March 22, 2007, in Tallinn, Estonia.

Family and early life

Tuganov was born to an Estonian mother and Ossetian father, who was of noble status. His parents divorced four years later, and when he moved to Berlin, his father became a missing figure throughout his life. However, Tuganov remained in long-distance contact with his father, who was living in the Soviet Union.

His aunt was an actress and became a parental figure to Tuganov as he was growing up.

Tuganov left Germany after Hitler rose to power, returning to Estonia. He served in the Estonian Army as an officer under the Red Army when the country became part of the Soviet Union in 1940. He was moved to Siberia to train new recruits and remained there until the end of World War II.

Career outline

After being discharged from the army in 1946, he found employment at Tallinnfilm as the assistant cameraman in their animation department. Tuganov was heavily involved in shooting animated films for 11 years, including drawing and painting opening titles and end credit sequences.

His directorial debut was Peetrikese unenägu (translation: Little Peeter’s Dream) in 1958, which was a stop-motion puppet animation. Based on the Danish story Palle Alone in the World, the short centers on a mischievous boy who gets in trouble in numerous nightmarish situations while all alone in a deserted city. He learns his lesson upon waking from his dream and becomes a more well-mannered boy by the end of the short.

Tallinnfilm’s puppet animation division, Nukufilm, was established by Tuganov in 1957, one year before his debut. The studio started small, producing films with a crew of only six or seven people as well as collaborating with the Estonian puppet theatre to bring the studio’s puppet designs to life. In 1961, when their fourth film Mina and Murri was released, Nukufilm was granted a higher budget from Tallinnfilm. The studio grew to twenty employees and the puppets were built in-studio instead of outsourced to the puppet theatre.

It was also 1961 when Tuganov hired another director, Heino Pars. Although the two worked on different projects, they shared some of the crew between productions, and their production schedule was organized so that when one director was finished working on an animation, the other would begin immediately after him.

From the 1960s onward, Tuganov began experimenting with more mature themes and artistic mediums outside of puppet animation, such as cut-out animation and 3D stereoscopic animation. Notable examples include Park (1966), Inspiration (1975), and Souvenir (1977). Tuganov’s works were split between children’s stories and stories that were lightly satirical of Soviet bureaucracy. His animations often contained elements of Western culture, making his films popular with Soviet viewers, who wanted to see a life outside of their own. His final film was Õunkimmel/Dappled Colt, which was released in 1981, and retired in 1982. He wrote a memoir about his failed attempts to flee the Soviet Union called Walk Through the Century.

Honors and awards

Lifetime Achievement Award (2005) – Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


Amidi, Amid. “Elbert Tuganov (1920-2007).” Cartoon Brew, 2007.

Kings of the Time. Directed by Mait Laas, Exitfilm and Nukufilm, 2008.

Robinson, Chris. “Having Soul: 45 Years of Nukufilm Studio.” Animation World Network, 2003.

Van der Waal, Lisa. “Elbert Tuganov: Teaching Children and Criticising the Authority.” Frameland, 2019.

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