The first Russian animator was Aleksandr Shiryayev, a principal dancer and choreographer at the Imperial Russian Ballet who made a number of pioneering stop motion and traditionally animated films between 1906 and 1909. He built an improvised studio at his apartment where he carefully recreated various ballets — first by making thousands of sketches and then by staging them using hand-made puppets; he shot them using the 17.5 mm Biokam camera, frame by frame. Shiryaev didn't hold much interest in animation as an art form, but rather saw it as an instrument in studying human plastics, hoping to apply his films for educational purposes. He only showed them to a few people, and they were mostly forgotten during the Soviet period, although Fyodor Lopukhov mentioned Shiryayev's animation experiments in his memoirs. In 1995 they were re-discovered by a ballet historian Viktor Bocharov who got hold of Shiryayev's archives that had been kept safe by a ballet photographer Daniil Savelyev, a close friend of Shiryayev's family. In 2003 Bocharov released a documentary, Belated Premiere, which included fragments of various films by Aleksandr Shiryayev. Aardman Animations was involved in restoration and digitizing process.
The second person to independently discover animation was Ladislas Starevich known in Russia by the name of Vladyslav Starevich. Being a trained biologist, he started to make animation with embalmed insects for educational purposes, but soon realized the possibilities of this medium to become one of the undisputed masters of stop motion later in his life. His first few films, made in 1910, were dark comedies on the family lives of cockroaches, and were so revolutionary that they earned him a decoration from Nicholas II of Russia. He produced a number of other popular animated films with insects at the Aleksandr Khanzhonkov's studio where he also worked as a cinematographer and a director of life-action films, sometimes combining life action with stop motion animation, as in The Night Before Christmas and A Terrible Vengeance (both from 1913). Starevich left Russia after the October Revolution, and for many years the animation industry was paralyzed.
It was revived in 1924 when Mezhrabpom-Rus released the critically acclaimed Interplanetary Revolution that satirized Aelita. It utilized cutout animation (called flat marionettes at the time) along with the constructivism art style and was developed independently by three artists — Nikolai Khodataev, Zenon Komissarenko and Yuri Merkulov — who headed the first Soviet animation studio at the All-Union Technicum of Cinematography. In 1925 it was followed by a government-backed China in Flames made by the same team along with Ivan Ivanov-Vano, Vladimir Suteev, Valentina and Zinaida Brumberg (known as the Brumberg sisters). With 1000 meters of film and 14 frames per second it ran over 50 minutes at the time, which made it the first Soviet animated feature film and one of the first in the world.
Simultaneously animator Aleksandr Bushkin with the help from Dziga Vertov produced a number of agitprop animated shorts, films and sketches with cutout animated sequences for Sovkino such as Soviet Toys, Humoresques and episodes of Kino-Pravda. They were made as editorial cartoons that satirized bourgeoisie, Church and Western countries, drawn and animated in a sketchy manner.
During the late 1920s the industry started moving away from agitation. In 1927 Merkulov, Ivanov-Vano and Daniil Cherkes directed Senka the African at Mezhrabpom-Rus based on the fairy tale in verse by Korney Chukovsky. Known as the first animated Soviet film aimed at children, it combined traditional animation and some live action scenes. Same year Ivanov-Vano and Cherkes worked on The Skating Rink, another hand-drawn short that featured a distinguishable art style (white lines against black background). Yuri Zhelyabuzhsky and Nikolai Bartram, founder of the Toy Museum in Moscow, served as directors and screenwriters; together they also produced Bolvashka's Adventures that combined live action and stop motion animation in a story about a Pinocchio-like wooden boy. The idea was extended in a spiritual successor — Bratishkin's Adventures, the first Soviet animated series that ran from 1928 to 1931. It was created by Yuri Merkulov and Aleksandr Ptushko at Mosfilm.