Eastern Europe

Authored by: Giannalberto Bendazzi

Animation: A World History

Print publication date:  November  2015
Online publication date:  October  2015

Print ISBN: 9781138854819
eBook ISBN: 9781315720753
Adobe ISBN:




Poland was worn out by the world conflict, with its major cities largely destroyed and its capital razed. ?ódz and Katowice, two of the least stricken cities, became the very first centres of animation. In Katowice, a group named Slask made productions with animated drawings for the state department of cinema, Film Polski. Later on, a studio in Bielsko-Bia?a specialized in animated drawings, while the studio in ?ódz became pre-eminent in puppet animation. It was in this field that Halina Bieli?ska (Warsaw, 14 August 1914–Warsaw, 13 October 1989) and W?odzimierz Haupe (Gniezno, 17 January 1924–Warsaw, 10 March 1994) distinguished themselves with Janosik (1954), the first Polish animated feature film, and, four years later, with Zmiana warty (Changing of the Guard), created with animated matchboxes. In the field of animated drawings, only the children’s films by Wladys?aw Nehrebecki (1924–1979) are noteworthy.

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Eastern Europe


Poland was worn out by the world conflict, with its major cities largely destroyed and its capital razed. Łódz and Katowice, two of the least stricken cities, became the very first centres of animation. In Katowice, a group named Slask made productions with animated drawings for the state department of cinema, Film Polski. Later on, a studio in Bielsko-Biała specialized in animated drawings, while the studio in Łódz became pre-eminent in puppet animation. It was in this field that Halina Bielińska (Warsaw, 14 August 1914–Warsaw, 13 October 1989) and Włodzimierz Haupe (Gniezno, 17 January 1924–Warsaw, 10 March 1994) distinguished themselves with Janosik (1954), the first Polish animated feature film, and, four years later, with Zmiana warty (Changing of the Guard), created with animated matchboxes. In the field of animated drawings, only the children’s films by Wladysław Nehrebecki (1924–1979) are noteworthy.

After 1956, in Poland too there was a gradual thawing in favour of art films.1 The initiators of this new attitude were the then-debuting artists Jan Lenica and Walerian Borowczyk, who made their first films together: Był sobie raz … (Once Upon a Time …, 1957) Dom (The House, 1958), Nagrodzone uczucie (Love Rewarded, 1957) and the two made-to-order micro-shorts, Strip-tease (1957) and Sztandar młodych (Banner of Youth, 1957).

Lenica had studied music, architecture and fine arts before dedicating himself to graphics, where he soon made a name for himself. Borowczyk undertook the same kind of studies before passionately applying himself to cinema. He made his debut in the early 1950s with short, live-action films. The collaboration between the two artists, marred by their strong and independent personalities, ceased in 1958. Within a few months of each other, both Lenica and Borowczyk emigrated to the West. They never resolved their frictions but, independently, they were both able to attain high levels of creativity.

Lenica and Borowczyk’s joint works of 1957 made history in Poland, as their sense of absurdity, surrealism and anguished settings became favourite themes of the Polish School.

Czechoslovakia and Puppets

In June 1945, shortly after Prague was liberated from German occupation, theatres released the advertising short Sensational Attractions, Marvellous Entertainment. It was the first to be produced by independent animators and the first animated film of the new Czechoslovakia. Activities started in earnest. Jirˇí Trnka, Eduard Hofman, Josef Vácha and musician Václav Trojan began working on their debut short, Zasadil deˇdek rˇepu (Grandfather Planted a Beet, 1945).

The country was in turmoil. The struggle for power was paralleled by heated debates and an atmosphere of reconstruction and optimism. At the studio, animators were euphoric. ‘This is time for experiments’, stated Jirˇí Trnka in 1946. ‘We must take advantage of it!’ From that time on, artists looked for new ways to animate. Even when some conformism of themes took root some years later, the best artists (Trnka, Karel Zeman, Hermína Týrlová) continued to find unusual stylistic solutions and to look forward. Following a witty suggestion by Trnka, the Prague studio was named Bratrˇi v triku (‘the brothers in shirts’, but also ‘the brothers of tricks’, referring to animation). The logo, by Zdeneˇk Miler, represented three curly haired children wearing striped shirts. Jirˇí Trnka (whose work will be discussed in detail later) was the most influential among Prague’s animators. For more than a decade, almost every animated puppet movie made in the capital was released by the studio he directed from 1946 and which was renamed after him at his death.

Films with animated drawings had a different course. Many talented artists ventured into production, but the only remarkable works were Jirˇí Brdeeˇka’s first film, Vzducholod´ a láska (The Dirigible and Love, 1948) and Zdeneˇk Miler’s O milionárˇi, který ukradl slunce (The Millionaire Who Stole the Sun, 1948). The first, with Kamil Lhóták’s drawings inspired by turn-of-the-century illustrations, tells the story of two lovers who fulfil their dreams after the young man builds a dirigible and snatches the girl from another suitor. The second film (award winner at the 1948 Venice Festival) describes a rich man who steals the sun for his exclusive enjoyment, leaving the world in darkness, until a little girl saves humanity. Characterized by inventive drawings and a very limited animation, it was based on a tale of Jirˇí Wolker (1900–1924), a poet and an early member of the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia. It is probably the finest film by Miler (Kladno, 21 February 1921–Nová Ves pod Pleší, 30 November 2011), an artist who had learned the technique of animation in Zlín, at the Bat´a studio, which he had joined in 1942.

In 1947, Stanislav Látal (Samotišky, 7 May 1919–Prague, 4 August 1994) directed the original tale Liška a džbán (The Fox and the Pitcher). Václav Bedrˇich (Prˇíbram, 28 August 1918–Prague, 7 March 2009), a specialist in children’s productions, was a prolific animator. Eduard Hofman (Krakow,2 16 May 1914–Prague, 1987), who also specialized in works for children, displayed his verve and taste with Andeˇlský-kabát (The Angel’s Coat, 1948) and Papírové nocturno (Paper Nocturne, 1949). In 1950, Hofman was invited to direct the animation studio. He also participated in the foundation and management of an animated film studio in Czechoslovak Television.3 The Angel’s Coat (made together with artist František Freiwillig) fully showed his style of directing – a comprehensible story told at a brisk pace, complete with funny gags and distinct animation snapshots.

Another challenge was the feature film Stvorˇení sveˇta (The Creation of the World, 1957),4 based on drawings by the Frenchman Jean Effel.5

Recalled Jirˇí Brdeeˇka:

Hofman was a great organizer. He was the one who kept animation on its feet after the war. He was also the one who brought Trnka to cinema, convincing him to leave behind illustrations and puppet theatre. Hofman was an exceptional manager from 1950 to 1956, when he directed the animation studio, and also later, when he directed the entire production company of movies for children.6

Despite Hofman’s endeavours, his years were not the most satisfying. As Jan Horˇejší wrote:

Beside negative external influences, which were, in my opinion, the most important reasons, there were also the consequences of a general decay in animation. Together with a growing intellectualism and a tendency to over-illustrate as an end in itself, these led to an ever increasing limitation in the development of animation.

However, Horˇejší added,

Production started breathing again after 1956, and the reasons for such a delay were […] social above all. In an atmosphere of gradual openness, the creative courage […] of the postwar reappeared in all artistic fields.7

Within the field of drawn animation, the really dramatic leap forward was done by debutant František Vystreˇil (Olomouc, 9 November 1923–Prague, 8 January 2000), who released O místo na slunci (The Place in the Sun, 1959). The five-minute short was unpretentious, but influenced a lot of animators that side of the Iron Curtain, pushing them to use epigrammatic scenarios (in this case teasing human envy and covetousness) and very simplified drawings and animation, the UPA way.

As already mentioned, other animators worked at Zlín:8 above all, Hermína Týrlová and Karel Zeman.

Hermína Týrlová

We have already met this artist (1900–1993), whose early life was hard. She lost her father and brother suddenly and, subsequently, her mother; she grew up in the Brˇevnov orphanage. When she was fifteen, she started learning animation from Karel Dodal, married him, and later endured a divorce – without ever giving up work. At the age of thirty-four she, finally, created her own independent work in the Zlín Studios. It was the puppet film Ferda Mravenec (Ferda the Ant, 1943), which languished in the archives for over a year. Shown immediately following the Liberation, it was a beginning. It was not a masterpiece; but in one direction it foreshadowed all of her work: it was intended for children.

With her second film, Vzpoura hracˇek (Revolution in Toyland, 1947), Týrlová found her world. She would bring to life mass-produced toys, rag dolls, sock puppets, knots on handkerchiefs, celluloid figures, dice, needles, balls of yarn, tailor’s measuring tapes, trains, even glass beads.

Jaroslav Bocˇek singles out three periods in Týrlová’s production. ‘In the first period – that is from Revolution in Toyland through Ukolébavka [Lullaby, 1948] and Nepovedený panácˇek [Imperfect Figure, 1951] to Deveˇt kurˇátek [Nine Chicks, 1952] – she develops the basic strand of playfulness. A toy comes to life as if in a child’s dream and carries out a short story. In Lullaby, Týrlová reveals her approach to the puppet and makes it the tissue of the story schema. The imagination of a little girl put to bed brings to life a doll, and its whirling rocks the girl to sleep. In the following Imperfect Figure, the schema of the dream becomes the creative method’.9

The connection of the world of toys with the world of people is typical of this first period: the child and the doll in Lullaby; the residents of a toyshop against a Gestapo agent in Revolution in Toyland; the sewn characters banding together against the evil tomcat in Imperfect Figure. From the confrontation of a double reality and double logical order, Týrlová mines likeable and simple humour and even fragile, fantastic poetry.

The second period suffers from the imposing influence of Trnka and Zeman. Týrlová attempted to tell an epic story and handle a puppet of the dramatic type. Belonging to this period are Pohádka o drakovi (A Dragon Story, 1953), Zlatovláska (Goldilocks, 1955), Mícˇek Flícˇek (Misha the Ball, 1956), and a rendition of Hans Christian Andersen’s Pasácˇek veprˇu˚ (The Swineherd, 1958). But the epic was foreign to her inspiration and she did not have a natural, general bent for dramatic situations. The only significant gain was the experience she made with a lengthier film dimension, of which she later made fruitful use.

The turning point to the third period was Uzel na kapesníku (A Knot on the Handkerchief, 1958). With this film, Týrlová returned to the style and approach of her beginnings and a renaissance of her talent took place. The subsequent films, be they Vlácˇek Kolejácˇek (Kolejáeˇek Choo-choo Train, 1959), Ztracená panenka (The Misfit, a.k.a. Tke Lost Doll, 1959) or Kulicˇka (The Marble, 1963), bear witness to this. Her scope of interest expanded from toys to other objects close and intimately familiar to children. In The Marble, she managed fully and economically to connect play with life’s philosophy, childish antics with a mature valuation – thus nourishing the culture of good art intended for children.

Týrlová exhausted herself completely on work for children. It can also be said that she didn’t try to accommodate children in her work; her personal form of expression preserved the characteristics of childhood, despite encroaching age.

Being a female director was not easy in Týrlová’s youth. She recalled the times when she made Ferda the Ant: ‘I could not disappoint people. I had to finish the film successfully. Failure would mean that I could no longer work in film. It would also mean, at least for a time, the end of the idea of the puppet film in this country. The studio leadership did not have too much faith in me, and this was doubled by the fact that I was a woman. The psychological moment that a woman is starting something new complicated everything for me’.10

Tasteful and sensitive, Týrlová was ‘an artist of clear, terse and delicate imagination, capable of weaving the subtle, minute events of people and objects which are usually neglected by men’.11 Among her remarkable productions, also worth mentioning are Modrá zásteˇrka (The Blue Apron, 1965) and Malovánky (Paintings, 1970).


Karel Zeman

Karel Zeman was born on 3 November 1910 in Ostromeˇrˇ u Nové Paky12 and died on 5 April 1989 in Zlín/Gottwaldov. As a teenager, he immigrated to France, where among many experiences (he was a model maker and draughtsman, and even a pugilist) he attended an art school of advertising and started making animated commercials.

Back home, he collaborated with the immensely powerful Zlín firm Bat’a. (footwear), which had an in-house film studio for its own commercials. From then on he settled in Zlín and in 1943, along with colleague Hermína Týrlová, he made Vánocˇní sen (The Christmas Dream), his directorial debut, which was awarded for Best Animation at the first Cannes Film Festival in 1946.

Karel Zeman,

Figure 3.1   Karel Zeman, The Christmas Dream, 1948.

When the Bat’a. management was expropriated after the war (1945), Zeman and Týrlová (their relationship being by then rather strained) managed to create their own animation and film studios on the premises.

Zeman gained popularity with his comic shorts on Mr Prokouk, a well-intentioned, scatterbrained chap with a large nose, a brush-like moustache and a straw hat. This personification of the man-in-the-street would be the hero of about ten shorts between the 1940s and 1970s. The Prokouk tales were slightly moralistic, but funny and genuinely original, be they the character involved with rubbish (Podkova pro šteˇstí [Horseshoe for Success, 1947]), or bureaucracy (Pan Prokouk ourˇaduje [Mr Prokouk, Officer, 1947]), or laziness (Pan Prokouk filmuje [Mr Prokouk, Filmmaker, 1948]).

In 1949, Zeman directed the film that once and for all brought him to the international limelight, Inspirace (Inspiration). The most unpliable substance – glass – is impeccably animated, and a Harlequin and a Columbine, along with gentle horses, interpret a fantasy in a shining, all-glass scenery. Lyrical and innovative, for most people it was a stylistic shock.

The featurette Král Lávra (King Lávra, 1950) was a satire based on a novel by Karel Havlíeˇek Borovský.13 A king has the ears of a donkey and hides them under long hair and a beard. Once a year, a barber is summoned to the court, commanded to cut the royal hair, and then executed in order to keep the secret. The smart barber Kukulín is able to save his life and to be given the post of court barber, but one day he can’t help confiding the ridiculous detail to a willow tree. But then, the tree is cut down and its wood is utilized to make a double bass. When an orchestra goes to play to the palace, the double bass tells the audience that King Lávra has the ears of a donkey! The courtiers pretend they didn’t hear anything, but Kukulín runs away. King Lávra showed Zeman’s self-confident hand at direction and his great sense of humour and of entertainment.

Karel Zeman,

Figure 3.2   Karel Zeman, Inspiration, 1948.

But this would be his adieu to animation-only films. He turned to combined-technique feature films with Poklad ptacˇího ostrova (The Treasure of Bird Island, 1952), a puppet, cartoon, live-action tale set in Persia. His Cesta do praveˇku (A Journey into Prehistory, 1955) told the story of four students who ascend the river of time, discovering ancient animals (the only animated elements of the film were the models of dinosaurs, while everything else was live action).

In 1958, after two years of work, Zeman released Vynález zkázy (The Diabolic Invention, 1958), based on Jules Verne’s 1896 novel Face au drapeau (Face the Flag), featuring animated drawings and models together with live actors. Reviewers praised the technical results of the film and its background design (from illustrations by Édouard Riou and Léon Benett) which maintained Verne’s nineteenth-century ambiance. ‘The film suffers from imbalance, both in technique and inspiration’, wrote André Bazin, ‘but there are innumerable beautiful sequences and frequent comic expedients’. Added Vittorio Spinazzola, ‘Not too many critics noticed the decisively modern thesis, dealing with the tragic end of the researcher, unable to understand whether his conquests will be used to help humanity or will be turned against it’. Local critics proudly claimed, ‘Méliès did not die, he is Czechoslovakian and his name is Zeman’.

In 1961, Zeman repeated this success in Baron Prášil (Baron Münchhausen, 1961), based on Gottfried Bürger’s novel and Gustave Doré’s engravings. Jan Horˇejší and Jirˇí Struska wrote:

This time, in a way never seen before in live-action cinema, Zeman enters the worlds of Münchhausen, Bürger and Doré.14 Prášil’s journey (Prášil is the Czech name for Münchhausen) from the Moon to Constantinople on a vessel drawn by Pegasus; his entry into the sultan’s palace, which Dore’s engraving enlivens in all its magic; the romantic kidnapping of princess Bianca from the palace; the naval battle and Münchhausen’s glorious victory; the involuntary flight of the Baron in the claws of a huge bird; his return riding a seahorse; his flight on a cannonball […]. It is not surprising that in his other two films Bláznova kronika (A Jester’s Tale) and Ukradená vzducholod’ (The Stolen Airship),15 the filmmaker builds on his past achievements, although with new twists.16

After his third Verne adaptation, Na kometeˇ (On the Comet, 1970, from Hector Servadac, 1877), Zeman turned to children tales: Pohádky tisíce a jedné noci (Thousand and One Nights, 1972, a collection of shorts), cˇarodeˇju˚v ucˇenˇ (Krabat – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, 1977), Pohádka o Honzíkovi a Marˇence (The Tale of John and Mary, 1979) and the documentary Karel Zeman for Children (1980).

Always suspended between marvel and technique, Zeman’s subtle, vibrant films do not fit the limiting definition of adventure cinema, but display a playful vitality and faith in progress which are deserving of Verne and Méliès.

With simplicity and ingeniousness, he carried out an idea of cinema that had been proposed by Méliès and Ptushko, without imitating them (probably barely knowing them) and reaching higher artistic peaks.

The Diabolic Invention, where the viewer doesn’t feel any difference between animation and live-action, actors and drawings, or real sets and invented sets is probably the quintessence of the work of this great visionary.


Jirˇí Trnka

Jirˇí Trnka was the master. Although he was not directly the master, because he was too modest to teach anybody anything. But the quality of his work was such that all of us tried to equal or surpass it. Trnka had been the first to show us that animation could be an art form. He made art films, and this was somewhat revolutionary at the time. Trnka also taught us discipline: he was self-disciplined and industrious and expected the same from his collaborators. He was very kind but also strict. He did not accept compromises. He encouraged us to be serious.17

This is how Jirˇí Brdecˇka described the artist who more than anybody else brought honour to Czechoslovakian animation.

Trnka was born in Pilsen (now Plzenˇ) on 24 February 1912, the son of a blacksmith and a dressmaker. His junior-high art teacher, and one of the last great puppeteers, Josef Skupa (1892–1957), encouraged the boy to study art and made him his assistant. From Skupa, Trnka learned the art of carving wooden puppets.

Jiří Trnka.

Figure 3.3   Jiří Trnka.

Jiří Brdečka and Jiří Trnka.

Figure 3.4   Jiří Brdečka and Jiří Trnka.

Asked why animated puppets had undergone such a development in Czechoslovakia, critic Jirˇí Struska answered, ‘[P]erhaps because of the tradition of Renaissance and Baroque popular performances […] perhaps because of the puppet tradition’. Explained Marie Benešová, ‘Puppet theatre was adopted centuries ago as a way to substitute for ordinary theatre with live actors. During the Austro-Hungarian oppression, puppet theatres stirred up rebellion against forced Germanization. Towards the 1840s, no fewer than seventy-nine puppeteer families toured Bohemia. The musician Smetana composed two graceful overtures to puppet theatres, the artist Aleš painted scenes and puppets, the novelist Jirásek dedicated his fairy tale Mr. Johannes to puppeteers’.18

In the years following World War I, Czech puppets gained even more popularity because of the rise of specialized theatres, new companies and radio programmes. There was no theatrical ‘genre’ that was not approached by wooden actors, from children’s works to vaudeville to classical dramas, comedies and political satire. In Czechoslovakia, more than anywhere else, this tradition entered cinema with the greatest spontaneity. There is no visible hiatus between puppet theatre and animated puppet cinema. The transition occurred smoothly, with those minimal changes required by the new means of communication but with the same acting and scene design.

In 1928, sixteen-year-old Trnka started at the School of Arts and Crafts in Prague, making a living by assisting his master Skupa and contributing vignettes to a newspaper. In 1935, the year he graduated from the school, he wrote the play Master of the Sea, for which he also directed and designed the puppets and the sets. In 1936, he set up his own puppet theatre (the Wooden Theatre) in Prague. Despite the critics’ praise, it lasted only one year, as it didn’t meet the desired response from the audience, who considered the shows too intellectual.

In 1939, he turned to live-action theatre and won a national contest for designing the scenery of Bedrˇich Smetana’s opera Libuše, to be staged at the National Theatre. The political situation stopped the production of the opera, but Trnka was given the opportunity to meet avant-garde director Jirˇí Frejka (1904–1952) and musician Václav Trojan, with whom he would fruitfully collaborate. In 1940, at twenty-eight, he had his first one-man exhibition, by the title The Painter Gives Way to Children.

During the war years ‘Jirˇí Trnka was the set designer of various Frejka productions, and collaborated with many more stage directors as well. The Nazi government let him off the labour for the Reich in consideration of this artistic contribution that helped life look calm in Prague. The war years were also filled with painting, illustration, even toy making. Having made a name for himself, Trnka almost unexpectedly made his debut in filmmaking in 1945, after the Liberation.

‘During the war I never saw any of the people from Afit. I only knew some of their co-workers from that time, such as Brdecˇka. Only after the liberation, already some time in June, did Eduard Hofman and some of his colleagues come to me and say, “We have a studio here and want to do animated films and we’d like you to do them with us” […] They came, spoke nicely and so I started doing it with enthusiasm’.19

Jiří Trnka,

Figure 3.5   Jiří Trnka, The Gift, 1946.

The subject he suggested, Grandfather Planted a Beet, was accepted; the result was Trnka’s first film with animated drawings, which shows the artist’s undisputed skills, but is still far from the level he would later reach with puppet animation.

Dárek (The Gift, 1946) is an almost experimental movie, unusually surrealistic for its time. Zvírˇátka a petrovští (The Animals and the Brigands, 1946) is a brisk rendition of an old, popular tale. Pérák a SS (The Springer and the SS Men, 1946) is a well-made, anti-Nazi movie, featuring a chimney sweep who dons two strong springs, taunts the SS and jumps away from them. All these drawn-animation works were made in 1946. In Trnka’s opinion, however, too many middlemen (artists, colour technicians) weakened the originality of the author’s drawings, and he made plans to animate puppets. Some carpenters and technicians had found room in a neighbouring building and Eduard Hofman had in mind to make it into a puppet studio. Trnka went over and, straight afterwards, some young animators (Brˇetislav Pojar, Stanislav Látal, Bohuslav Šrámek) went over, too.

Trnka observed: ‘With Pojar, we animated one of my oldest wooden puppets, a ballerina. It moved well, but gave an abstract impression. The effect was nice, but did not mean anything. Thus we understood that a puppet film needs concrete situations, a story’.20 He added: ‘From the beginning I tried to avoid making puppets that looked too much like people, which are just animated replacements for people. That’s why my films only have live puppets, that is, just puppets as such’.21

Špalícˇek (The Czech Year, 1947), the feature film born after this experiment, indeed told a ‘story’ or, rather, many stories. Based on a book illustrated by Mikuláš Aleš, the film was a type of documentary on Czech customs throughout the year. It already showed the seeds of the poetics Trnka eventually developed: love of nature; a subtle, but powerful, lyricism; and a deep feeling for popular culture.

Trnka’s second feature film was Císarˇu˚v slavík (The Emperor’s Nightingale, 1948), based on Andersen’s tale. Set in the Court of the Celestial Empire and characterized by the porcelain-like softness of aristocratic places and faces, the subject seems very different from Trnka’s previous film, which featured solid, spontaneous Bohemian peasants. In fact, the underlying theme of this second movie does not differ substantially from the first one, but is approached here through irony. The court, the mechanical toys of the shy little emperor and the elegant headdresses are ridiculed in comparison with the simple life and nature. This theme was already present in the tale by Andersen, an author to whom Trnka felt close.

These films were successful abroad but, domestically, no Czech spectator paid much attention to them. While heavy political pressure was put on live-action production, and some was put on cartoon animation, almost nobody cared for the puppets. This guaranteed the team an almost complete freedom, during uneasy times.

In 1950, Trnka made his third feature film, Bajaja (Prince Bayaya), taken from a nineteenth-century story by Božena Neˇmcová about a peasant who becomes a knight, defeats three times a dragon, saves three princesses, marries the youngest one and then comes back with her to his native cottage. Then the artist returned, seven years later, to the national popular theme of his first film. The structure itself was similar to Trnka’s old work, with various episodes from ancient Slavic popular mythology being presented as parts of one whole fresco. Considered by many as Trnka’s masterpiece, Staré poveˇsti cˇeské (Old Czech Legends, 1957) was an example of how heroic or sublime topics could be treated with such unpretentious tools as puppets.

In 1954 and 1955, Trnka undertook an ambitious adaptation of three episodes from Dobrý voják Švejk (The Good Soldier Schweik, 1955) by Jaroslav Hašek. As with most literary texts, Hašek’s novel does not lend itself to dramatic representation, although several versions have since been made for cinema or TV. Trnka’s version was not one of the finest works by the filmmaker; nevertheless, he managed to preserve Hašek’s spirit, using characters based on Josef Lada’s classic illustrations of the text.

Jirˇí Trnka,

Figure 3.6   Jirˇí Trnka, Sen noci svatojánské (Midsummer Night’s Dream), 1959.

Trnka’s last feature film was Sen noci svatojánské (Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1959), from Shakespeare.22

Here, he let his fantasy go free and created luxurious costumes and sceneries. In his conception, the English masterpiece was a light pantomime on youth and love: merry, playful and colourful. The film excels for its portrayal of common people such as the foolish peasants from Athens (Bottom and company, treated by the Czech director with much more tenderness than the Bard had) who fall victim to Puck’s tricks. Critic Dilys Powell wrote in the Sunday Times (11 October 1959) that she was surprised at how powerful puppets could be: ‘Bottom was enchanting, and Snug could not have been more entertaining’.

Ugo Casiraghi disagreed:

Trnka likes to let loose in a spectacular, tasteful pantomime, rich with choreographic expedients but mixing too many styles (from neoclassic to rococo), displaying somewhat exaggerated refinements and, in the long run, excessive mannerism.23

Trnka’s other works were mainly shorts. He had experienced all that was possible with a puppet film, and had experimented with all genres, from tales and parodies to epics. He still had only one genre left: the civic one.

Once a fertile and brilliant artist, Trnka entered an increasingly pessimistic stage, his last. Vášenˇ (The Passion, 1962) is the bitter story of a youngster who is totally insensitive to the humanistic ideals, and whose only interest is his motorcycle. Kybernetická babicˇka (The Cybernetic Grandmother, 1962) tells of a child who goes from the loving care of her grandmother to that of a robot granny – an armchair furnished with handles, levers and push buttons – an obvious polemic against encroaching technology.

Derisive, but not resigned, was Archandeˇl Gabriel a paní Husa (Archangel Gabriel and Mistress Goose, 1964), based on a short story from Boccaccio’s Decameron. In Middle Age Venice, a hypocritical preacher disguises himself as Archangel Gabriel in order to have sex with an aristocratic lady; he’s unmasked and pilloried.

Trnka’s gloominess culminated in Ruka (The Hand, 1965), his last film. A potter and sculptor is commissioned to make a monument by a huge Hand, a symbol of power. He refuses, and the Hand turns to coaxing and to force. Under the harassment he dies – and the Hand gives him a grand funeral.

(As a polemicist, Trnka was sincere but pedantic. He aimed at stressing and stressing his point again, so that The Passion, The Cybernetic Grandmother and The Hand, by today’s standards, can seem slow and didactic).

In 1966, the artist was forced to interrupt his activity because of poor health. Because of a heart ailment, he could not work, and the lack of work worsened his condition. ‘My hand is intact, but my mind is empty’, he said, one year before he died in Prague, on 30 December 1969, at the age of fifty-seven.

Casiraghi wrote:

Trnka shows two tendencies. The most authentic, one might say realistic, appears in a classic manner every time he addresses the popular traditions of his land. The most fantastic, sophisticated, one could even say ‘decadent’ tendency appears when the artist deals with culturally refined aristocratic legends of other countries.24

Trnka’s role as a national poet actually derives from his being a peasant–poet. ‘I belong to the country’, he said, ‘I have never felt at home in cities’. Rooted in the peasant traditions of a people who has always turned to the land for resources, Trnka brought to cinema a deep love for nature and a lyric faith in traditions and their eternal spirit, which inspired his full-blooded sense of humour and his faith in life.

A great narrator, Trnka is the ultimate representative of the long line of Bohemian storytellers and novelists. His work can be compared to a very prolific writer who addresses historic or chivalric novels, tales for children (the nice operetta-like western parody Árie prérie – [Song of the Prairie, 1949]), innovative stories (the shorts O zlaté rybce [The Golden Fish, 1951], with drawings, and Dva mrazíci [Two Frosts, 1954], with a combination of puppets and cartoons), and erotic subjects.

About the latter, it must be said that their originality (as much as their chastity) is interesting. Román s basou (Novel with a Contrabass, 1949) is based on a short story by Anton Chekov. We see a bassist as he swims naked in a pond, and there meets the no-less-naked love of his life. They both lose the clothes they left on the bank, so he hides her in his cello case. His chamber orchestra colleagues look for him, think he drowned, and rescue the cello case. The ending is narratively insignificant (the woman is shown in her nudity to the aristocrats who were waiting for the music performance, while the bassist wanders in the forest by night), but stylistically delicate and urbane: rarely has such subtle modesty by wooden actors, directed with such sympathetic irony, been shown on a screen. In Archangel Gabriel and Mistress Goose, Trnka aims his satire against his worst enemy – falsehood, deceit, haughtiness – yet maintains only respect for sincere, human lust.

The ‘refined’, ‘baroque’ side of Trnka’s work is the representation of a well-assimilated culture, but is also the most open to criticism. Whenever the theme challenged his expressive skills, Trnka became more cerebral, even falling into a precious, but uninspired, style. Culture stifled the artist’s spontaneity. This is the case of Midsummer Night’s Dream. Some sequences of earlier works (Old Czech Legends, for instance) also suffer from a complacent formal perfection and a smug representation of ‘realistic’ movements and characters.

Trnka is at his best when developing a poetics for animated puppets, creating rules for their acting and structures. Before Trnka, animated puppets clashed with the problem of physiognomy and face-animation; entire files were filled with mouths, eyes and eyebrows ready to be superimposed on the puppets’ faces. Trnka discovered that those faces had the same role as theatrical masks, and therefore were to be as fixed and sacred as masks. His puppets, characterized by contained expressions and almost stately movements, artistically surpassed those artists who had tried to loosen their puppets’ joints or give them the same contortions as animated drawings. Trnka’s puppets depicted their expressions from framing, lighting and movement rather than their physical appearance. Characters were enlivened by psychological elements, and their mimicry was generated by their drama. With the immovable faces of his wooden actors, Trnka marked the passage from histrionics to good acting and from external representations to internal dramatic experiences. As Brˇetislav Pojar wrote, ‘I often noticed Trnka, while he was painting his actors’ heads. He always gave their eyes an undefined look. By merely turning their heads, or by a change in lighting, they gained smiling or unhappy or dreamy expressions. This gave one the impression that the puppet hid more than it showed, and that its wooden heart harboured even more’.

In the third millennium, Jirˇí Trnka’s works look ‘normal’, no less than (say) Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane looks like a ‘normal’ movie. Actually, those great innovators of the language paved the road for everybody after them. Everybody did imitate them, thus transforming their inventions into clichés. Who, in the late 1940s, would have imagined that animated puppets could be epic, romantic, and sarcastic; that they would be able to charm audiences during an hour-and-a-half-long feature film; that would even confront Shakespeare? It was Trnka’s artistic achievement, as well as his worldwide fame, that sanctioned the birth of puppet animation as a serious, important filmic trend.


The Music of the Puppets

Composer Václav Trojan (1907–1983) had a great influence on Trnka during his career. He was a neoclassicist and a neofolklorist, loved films and had a cheerful and impulsive personality. A perfect counterbalance to the melancholic, highly organized, workaholic25 director who, in his turn, had a deeply refined sense of music and felt the charm of peasant traditions.

Václav Trojan and Jiří Trnka.

Figure 3.7   Václav Trojan and Jiří Trnka.

This is what Jan Vicˇar writes about the peak of their collaboration, Old Czech Legends:

‘The composer paid great attention to the choice of musical instruments. When he was unable to find suitable historical instruments for his purposes, he decided to imitate some of them. Thus the “sobot” came into existence. The sobot (named after the carpenter who made it, Mr. Sobotka) had eight wooden boards (planks), every [board] tuned to one tone. This creates together one octave (as a xylophone, for example, but very low range). It played a significant part in O Horymírovi. Elsewhere he used the electric piano, organ, harp and percussion, which he stylized in an archaic manner. He also used solo voices and a mixed chorus, through which he evoked prayer as well as elegies and hymnist formations. The magnificent and pathetic chorus Oj, dobrá naše sudba (Oh, Our Destiny Is Good) at the end of the film is, with its ravishing power, comparable to some monumental parts of Smetana’s opera Libuše.

‘A short analytical view into some parts of musical structure could explain how naturally and deeply Trojan’s musical ability was ingrained in the oldest Czech folk music tradition, and, at the same time, why the composer’s music in Old Czech Legends had such a national effect, even though Trojan intended to compose “ancient” and “pagan” music. The melody of the venerable hill Rˇíp, as well as the melody of mythical princess Libuše, contains Trojan’s typical melodic outline, based on the 6th, 8th, 9th and 10th tones of the overtone series – particularly the 6th, 8th, 9th and 10th overtones (contour if the major 6–4 chord). Trojan derived both of these melodies from a melody of the same character from one of the oldest Czech folk songs Prorˇ, kalino, v struze stojíš? (Why Do You Stand in a Brook, Plum Tree?)’.26

Probably even more important was the beautiful score of Midsummer Night’s Dream, where notes, more than ever, suggest a character’s psychology or a scene tone.

Since 1965, after twenty years of soundtracks, Trojan devoted his talent to ‘pure’ music, especially to chamber compositions. Here, too, he was imaginative and brilliant, and he is now considered by music specialists one of the best Czech composers of the twentieth century.


Macskássy Gyula27 (Budapest, 1912–Budapest, 1972), a former filmmaker in the advertising industry, became the initiator of post-war Hungarian animation.

A student of painter and Bauhaus follower Bortnyik Sándor, in 1951 Macskássy directed A kiskakas gyémánt félkrajcárja (The Cockerel’s Diamond Coin), the first short of the new generation. Hungarian films had been modelled on the state-sanctioned production typical of other Eastern European countries, favouring children’s films and folkloric tales. In 1959, Macskássy and Várnai György (Budapest, 1921–Budapest, 1991) made a breakthrough with Ceruza és radír (Pencil and India Rubber). Shown at the Karlovy Vary and Cannes festivals in 1960, this film gave outside exposure to the new, sober ideas born in the studios of Budapest, which no longer wanted to address only children. The same year, the two filmmakers made another fine production, Párbaj (The Duel), awarded at both the Cannes and Oberhausen festivals, a clever and entertaining reprimand of warmongering.

An innovative, high-calibre film was A pirospöttyös labda (The Ball with White Dots, 1961), featuring a little girl who daydreams about the fantastic adventures she might have with her ball. With this film, which won a Gold Lion at the Film Festival of Venice, Csermák Tibor (Kaposvár, 1927–Budapest, 1965) reached the apex of his brief directing career begun in 1957.

Yugoslavia: The First Stage of the Zagreb School

When, in 1945, Yugoslavia was free again, she was also proud to have defeated on her own, on the battlefield, the Nazi troops. In 1948, Marshal Tito let it be clearly understood that he would go his own way, instead of obeying Stalin’s orders. The clash forbade the Soviets to have access to the Mediterranean and put a question mark to the dogma of the unity of action and opinion of the communist parties of the world under the leadership of the Soviet Union. After some years of adjustment, Yugoslavia became sort of a ‘Fourth Way’ after capitalism, communism and social democracy: a mild dictatorship that guaranteed full employment (at low salaries), a combination of state enterprise and private enterprise, a moderate freedom of speech and so on. The country was ethnically and linguistically disunited, but Tito’s personal charm and prestige, and the fear of an invasion by the Soviet troops, maintained stability. After all, it didn’t seem an impossible project: eighty years before, the much more diverse, neighbouring Italy had become united and still was.


The new Yugoslavia did not have any background in animation. Production was not suggested or managed by the state, but was rather the work of a few Zagreb-based enthusiasts. Fadil Hadžic´ was one of them.28 As editor of the satirical magazine Kerempuh, Hadžic´ decided to invest its profits to celebrate the detachment of Yugoslavia from the East European countries with a satirical short. Veliki miting (The Big Meeting, 1951) was nominally directed by Norbert Neugebauer (1926–2009), although the real soul of the project was his brother Walter (1921–1992), the designer and animator. Among the assistant animators was Borivoj Dovnikovic´, who was to make a name for himself in later years.29

Having gained some governmental support, Hadžic´ founded Duga Film.30 With more than one hundred artists, the artistic team included some of the best of Croatian-Yugoslav animation, such as the Neugebauer brothers, Vladimir Delac (1927–1969), Borivoj Dovnikovic´, and the newcomers Aleksandar Marks, Zlatko Bourek, Boris Kolar, Zlatko Grgic´, Vlado Kristl and Dušan Vukotic´. Inexperienced in technique, the animators proceeded by trial and error, imitating a bit of Disney here and a degree of Czechoslovakian films there. Five shorts were produced,31 but Duga only lasted from spring 1951 to spring 1952, until the federal government diverted funding towards schools and hospitals rather than animation.

Architect Nikola Kostelac, who had fallen in love with animation, managed to preserve some minimal activities (in his own apartment!) with the help of Zora Film, a producer of educational shorts. By that time, Yugoslavia had become a modified version of a free-market economy, and required some advertising campaigns. Both the Kostelac group and another one led by the Neugebauer brothers (within the advertising company Interpublic) jumped into this field, and created quite a few successful commercials. It was then that the Yugoslavs started to abandon their original imitation of Disney and developed the style of limited animation. This trend was similar to the one pursued by the American UPA a few years earlier, though the Zagreb designers and animators could only view some photographs of the UPA films in the press. Stylistic roots are more likely to be found in the tradition of excellent Yugoslav comic strip and in Middle European illustration of the 1920s, 1930s and even 1940s.

The distributor for the group was Zagreb Film which, between 1956 and 1957, incorporated both Duga and Zora. Since then, under the white horse logo of Zagreb Film, Vukotic´, Marks, Kolar, Bourek and other artists resumed their activity in the field they favoured, fiction animated films. The first short to be released by Zagreb Film was Nestašn robot (The Playful Robot, 1956) directed by Dušan Vukotic´, on a subject by Andre Lušicˇic´, with drawing by Aleksandar Marks and Boris Kolar, scene design by Zlatko Bourek and animation by Vjekoslav Kostanjšek and Vladimir Jutriša. Shown at the Pula film festival, the film won an award – the first to be presented to the Zagreb School.

In 1957, Vatroslav Mimica (Omiš, 1923) joined the animation section. Writer, critic and journalist, in 1952 and 1955 Mimica had directed two live-action feature films from which he had gained neither money nor popularity. Mimica, who did not know how to draw, was co-opted as a scriptwriter. Soon he teamed up with excellent designer Aleksandar Marks and switched to directing; from that time on, his dedication and personality influenced everybody. The year 1958 was important for production: Mimica’s Samac (Alone, 1958) was awarded a prestigious prize at the Venice festival, and the entire animation section of Zagreb Film was praised by critics and audiences alike at the Cannes Film Festival.

The news of this success reached Vlado Kristl (Zagreb, 24 January 1923–Munich, Germany, 7 July 2004), one of the first wave of animators, who had migrated without much luck to South America and was hoping now to return to Zagreb. Vlado Kristl had a destructive, malevolent personality and suffered from persecution mania. But he was, if not a genius, an extremely gifted artist. In 1951, he had been among the founders of the Exat ’51 group, which introduced again the Bauhaus and the Constructivism issues and slapped Socialist Realism. His abstract/geometrical paintings were certainly strong and original.

Back to Yugoslavia and to animation, he injected his talent in Kradja dragulja (The Theft of the Jewel, 1959), but the film should better be credited to director Mladen Feman (1927). In Šagrenska koža (La peau de chagrin, 1960, based on Balzac’s horror story), which he co-directed with Ivo Vrbanic´ (1916–81), Kristl anticipated a revival of Art Déco and created a tense atmosphere. Finally, Kristl directed his masterpiece Don Kihot (Don Quixote, 1961), a difficult but very poetic film for which he used state-of-the-art graphics.

In 1962, Kristl moved to Viba Film in Ljubljana and there he made General i resni rˇlovek (The General-in-Chief, 1962), a satirical, live-action short aimed at Tito, which put him in trouble. Annoyed, he moved to Germany, where he filmed several live-action shorts and two feature films, Der Damm (The Dam, 1965) and Der Brief (The Letter, 1965), in which he made acting appearances. Kristl returned briefly to animation in 1967, with Die Utopen (Utopia) and Das Land des Überflusses (The Land of Plenty) and, in 1982, with Verräter des jungen Deutschen Films schlafen nicht! (The Traitors of the Young German Films Don’t Sleep), but never could match the artistic quality of Don Quixote.32

The Zagreb School is usually thought of as being divided into two periods. The first, from 1957 to 1964, is dominated by such authorities as Vukotic´, Mimica and Kristl. During this era, the Zagreb School legitimized its style of limited animation, with its marked tendency towards avant-garde graphic and pictorial techniques (such as collages and assemblages) and its subjects. Yugoslav artists no longer dealt with brief stories of caricatural characters, but rather with anguish, incommunicability and Evil. Films provoking liberating laughter still existed, but Zagreb’s films gradually grew into long, painful moaning about the horrors of existence. This became the school’s trademark – a common inspiration generated by shared experiences, despite different artistic personalities, and thoughts.

At Zagreb, exchanging roles and forming new teams for new projects was common practice. Directors would become artists or designers for their colleagues, and vice versa. Nikola Kostelac (Zagreb, 1920–99) was the first of the distinguished directors, and his name can’t be mentioned without his innovative designer Vjekoslav Kostanjšek. His Premijera (Opening Night, 1957), and Na livadi (In the Meadow, 1957) were partially indebted to the best of the American and Canadian productions, but still exhibited cleverly incorporated novelties of style.

After his debut film, Alone (1958), Mimica made Inspektor se vratio kuc´i (The Inspector Comes Home, 1959), Mala kronika (Everyday Chronicle, 1962) and Tifusari (Typhus, 1963, based on a poem by Jure Kastelan). In 1963, he left animation to devote himself to live-action cinema, his first love, and became one of the most important Yugoslav filmmakers of the new generation, together with Aleksandar Petrovic´ and Dušan Makavejev.

Dušan Vukotic´,

Figure 3.8   Dušan Vukotic´, Surogat, 1961.

Dušan Vukotic´33 (Bilec´a, 7 February 1927–Zagreb, 8 July 1998) filmed Koncert za mašinsku pušku (Concerto for Sub-Machine Gun, 1959) and Krava na mjesecu (Cow on the Moon) in 1959. Surogat (Substitute, 1961), his best-known work and one of the finest in the history of animation, won him an Oscar. Critic Ranko Munitic´ wrote:

Vukotic´ chose simple caricatural drawings moving like arabesques against a white neutral background. He also used colour as the element which best defined his highly decorative concept of surface. As for Mimica, he paid attention to the pictorial aspects of animation. He favoured rich and complex graphic structures over neutral planes or surfaces and bare drawings. In his scene design, space consists of parallel strata of colour which articulate in depth, subordinating figures to a broken, maze-like fabric.

This way of using material, already in 1959, transformed collage into an expressive solution. As a symbolic synthesis of the contemporary concept of absurdity, Mimica/Marks’s figures are not as natural or mobile as Vukotic´’s caricatures, but their external rigidity is a poetic metaphor for the desperation of man caught in the web of modern civilization. Mimica uses the expressive value of colour in its entirety. His world is characterized by a keen awareness of the tragic conflict of our times, which forces man to adapt to the fast technological rhythm at the cost of personal integrity.34


In the 1920s and 1930s, the whole of Bulgarian animation consisted only of sporadic works by Vassil Bakardjiev (Ruse, 1 January 1906–Sofia, 5 April 1980), an artist involved with advertising and education (one of his best films, made in 1931, taught about the fight against insects).

At the end of World War II, in the wake of renewal and reconstruction, several painters joined forces and made two short experimental films. Under the leadership of Alexander Denkov, a renowned illustrator (Prague, Czech Republic, 10 September 1925–Sofia, 31 March 1972), they produced A Sick Person (a political caricature, 1946) and The Little Thief (1946).

Dimitar Todorov-Zarava (Sumen, 21 September 1901) inventor of a sort of phenakistoscope, convinced the authorities to open an animation section within the new state-run cinematographic industry. The studio was started in May 1948 but, because of scarce means and lack of experience, the first films proved quite unsatisfactory. Todorov-Zarava directed He Suffers in His Mind (1949), Wolf and Lamb (1950) and The Republic of the Forest. Aron Aronov (17 April 1921–Pleven, 17 April 1987) was a puppet animator, starting in the 1950s (The Man from the Other World, 1956; The Robot Uprising, 1960). Dimo Lingurski also worked with animated puppets, making his debut with The Terrible Bomb (1951) and directing Master Manol, the first animated colour film (1951). He was joined by Stefan Topaldjikov (Constantinople [now Istanbul], Turkey, 26 March 1909–Sofia, 21 April 1994) director of Event in the Nursery School (1953), The Little Painter (1954) and several other films of the 1950s and 1960s. As an animator of puppets, Topaldjikov followed the lead of Karel Zeman rather than Trnka, thus taking a direction opposite to that of Lingurski. He devoted the rest of his career to live-action films.


The communist regime first promoted state-funded live-action cinema. True professional animation began later in the 1950s.

Ion Popescu-Gopo (Bucharest, 30 April 1923–Bucharest, 3 December 1989), debuted in 1951 with Albina si porumbelul (The Bee and the Pigeon), produced by Bucharest Studio. The country’s productions gradually increased in number, from the one film in 1951 to ten in 1956. Until then Popescu-Gopo and his colleagues had followed a traditional style, without much fantasy. In 1956, with a sudden change, Popescu-Gopo got rid of his ‘classical’ heritage and directed an innovative short, Scurta istorie (Short History, 1956). The protagonist is a primitive naked little man, with an oblong head, who goes through all the evolutionary stages of history until he reaches Space and discovers a new life. A philosophical film, cleverly fanciful and characterized by compact editing and by drier-than-usual drawings, it was well received both in Romania and abroad. 7 arte (Seven Arts, 1958), Homo Sapiens (1960) and Allo, allo (Hallo, Hallo) in a series of similar comic, gnomic films. Meanwhile, Popescu-Gopo concentrated on language problems, developing a theory of expressive synthesis which favoured minimal-length films. He entitled his offering ‘pill-film’ and presented it in a series of lightning-like animated sketches (often no longer than fifteen seconds) which opened the evenings at the Mamaia Film Festival of 1966.

In 1967, Popescu-Gopo released a second anthology of Pills, followed by Kisses (1969) and Hourglass (1972), and by a quite pale production which included some live-action feature films as well as experiments with various materials (pins, hair). Popescu-Gopo’s best period was the span between 1956 and 1962, when he filmed the four-part work on the naked little man. A clever essayist, he used the history of human kind, the birth of the arts and the history of communications as themes on which to develop his variations.

Popescu-Gopo’s somewhat professorial, pedantic tone emerged whenever he neglected plot to rely exclusively on expedients. Then his humour came out as gratuitous or expected, no longer supporting the subversive and somewhat absurd taste he displayed in his early works. Kisses marked a return to the style Popescu-Gopo had displayed in 1956 (although his leading character did not appear in this film). The bare apologue is vaguely moralistic, however it does convey Popescu-Gopo’s point on the subjects of cheating and exploitation.

Popescu-Gopo’s proposal of making animation the place for cinematographic epigram was certainly prolific. In 1967, the Montreal Expo held a competition with a fixed theme for one-minute maximum films. This confirmed that Popescu-Gopo’s revolution had come at the right time, summarizing a need – the detachment from standardization, even in footage – which was greatly felt in the fast expanding world of animation.

More About It 1

At first, Don Quixote irritated everybody with its unintelligibility and was considered unworthy of any attention. But it was sufficiently imposing and powerful that younger critics re-evaluated it. Midhat Ajanovic´’s ‘Pokušaj eˇitanja i razumijevanja animiranog filma Don Kihot Vladimira Kristla’ (An Attempt at Reading and Understanding the Animated Film Don Quixote by Vladimir Kristl), Hrvatski Filmski Ljetopis, No. 40, 2004, is especially remarkable. Here are the last two paragraphs of it:

Perception/The true work of art always lives in the future, and Don Quixote is, above all, exactly that; the instinctive glance into the future. Kristl is calling upon the ‘ideal’ spectator, the imaginary person who knows very well conventions, trends, art history, theory of film and animation, the basics of perception of the space; the spectator who, most of his time, is exposed to the influence of the media.

In the age when media were coming to life, he finds that kind of spectator in the future. The ideal perception of the film Don Quixote is the one in which the spectator is interactively involved with it, and that became possible with the arrival of the film in our homes, in forms of video or DVDs, when we could watch it closely as it if were a building or a painting.

The first important element concerning the perception and total experience of Don Quixote is related to the rule that says: in order to recognize something we ought to have previous experience or knowledge about it.

That rule applies to all films, whether they are photographic, artificial (animated) or digitalized. We elaborate information received from the film according to our experiences, beliefs and faculties.

Today we can talk about new perception where our experiences gained with senses are only one component of our perception formed by accumulated information and pictures, films, TV, music clips, digitalized pictures, Hollywood and the Internet. We find ourselves in the fictitious world most of the time because of the presence of media in our lives. Media prolong but also direct our view, media potentiate our hearing but also select what we want to hear; thanks to the media our perception is in the condition of constant transformation. In everyday, natural perception we see only details; consciously or unconsciously we choose the ones to focus on. In the media someone else made a selection for us – hence our experience of the world is constantly exposed to the influence of someone else’s choice of information and representations. Modern people turn from those who choose information by themselves into those who only receive it. The boundary that divides physical and semantic, perception and recognition, has almost faded away.

Another important component of the film perception is the treatment of time. In over one hundred years of the moving pictures history the concept of time has been changed; twenty seconds in a real life and on the screen are experienced differently. The mute burlesques at one time were called ‘accelerated films’ because of the projection of twenty-four pictures in a second instead of 16 pictures shot in a second. In animation the time is even more compressed; the transfer of the molecule from one to another state, the complete existence of a single individual in uninterrupted course or the story about the duration of the human species has already been shown in the compressed time of animation and its uninterrupted duration. The duration of the film Don Quixote is ten minutes, but its ‘real’ time, the one that describes events in the film, spreads one entire day, from dawn to dusk. The time of metaphorical dimension of the film sums up two eras, the one in which the idea of Don Quixote is originated and the one being developed in the course of making of the film.

Set design is the next important element of perception of this film. The events of Don Quixote are settled in two sets, in a city and in something that could be defined as natural environment, because of the lack of urban indicators. The first space is overloaded with cars, traffic signs, whistles, firemen, cannons and airplanes, while the second one is practically void, with natural elements such as the stone that falls on Don Quixote where he, like Sisyphus, is pushing it uphill. Kristl constantly relativizes space; he creates the feeling of continuous instability by rotating the scene upside down: all of a sudden the upper line of the screen becomes the standing line where the characters move. Kristl obtains such effects by spinning the whole picture or by displaying the horizon as a vertical line in the middle of the screen. The real photographic sights represent a third space in the film, for example in one subjective shot of Don Quixote, where he sees photographically offered (un)reality and in an objective shot in which we see a windmill and a sunflower. A fundamental characteristic of the photography is its superficiality – in the context of the filmic reality it figures as an imprint of the surface of things and beings. The photography functions as a synonym for our conscious experiences, while animation and drawing represent the naked body, essence and construction of the picture itself, its inner sight.

The fourth element is in the characters that don’t possess any human anatomic features but are represented in the form of geometrical sketch of things. Animation is a phenomenon born in the time of industrial revolution and is a result of fetishism of things, its ‘life’ and most probably the first animated film is about making things alive. Don Quixote is represented as a water pipe with a beard and a hat, and his companion Sancho Panza as an egg with a couple of hairs on top and with the hat on. He (or ‘it’) is fitted into the general mechanistic and geometrically shaped film world, and that is evident, for example, in the scene where he uses a gramophone loudspeaker instead of an eye or an ear or when he injects into the ‘head’ the content of the bottle with the inscription ‘acqua destilata’.

The fifth important element is the sound. In his Der Geist des Film, published in 1930, Béla Balázs prophetically wrote that the film picture will teach us to see differently and the film sound will teach us to hear differently. But film in general, and especially animation, will not be able to use the sound potential for a long time. For decades, after the discovery of sound picture, the sound in animated films will appear mainly as or in the form of perfectly synchronized sound illustration (so-called Disney Mickey Mousing concept) or it will be founded on already concluded and independent music forms, where animated film picture functions as a mere music visualization. Don Quixote is a European version of the process initiated in WB Studio and followed by UPA later on, where some important animators like Avery, Cannon and Hubley studied the problem of activating the interrelation between picture and tone. These animators will discover that in animation sound can be divided in congruent and incongruent sounds. Due to the possibility of incongruent sound of the film picture, the animation masterpieces – such as Gerald McBoing Boing (1951) by Cannon and Rooty Toot Toot (1951) by Hubley, which have marked the new era in the history of media – could be realized.

The sound background of Don Quixote is a collage of mechanized sounds, mainly congruous while illustrating swarms of personalized geometric signs that hum in the ‘city’ where paranoia and a constant war situation, chaos and general frenzy reign. The only musical motif in the film is a kind of a military march, in addition with constant explosions, whistles and screeching of automobiles. On the other hand, Don Quixote is mainly ‘sounded’ by incongruent sounds. For example, the moment of his weakness and indecision before the crucial battle is represented in the first moment by the tube that ‘breaks’ to be followed in the second moment by Don Quixote’s encouragement where he reads the book with photographs of Dulcinea depicted at the same time as a woman with a moustache and as an airplane pilot. Glancing through a book is followed by some kind of ‘metal’ sound that doesn’t at all resemble the sound of the paper. By using incongruent sound, Kristl underlines the ‘factory error’ of Don Quixote – his individuality and diversity is thus opposed with the city’s paranoid world and its squared inhabitants that act as his enemy.

The next, sixth element is editing. At a first glance, the editing of Don Quixote looks like a standard process of the chase cartoons with linear directions of movement and connecting of frames according to the simplest rules of editing continuity. But it’s a very complex editing that we are talking about here. In Don Quixote we are practically watching two films whose actions are taking place in two separated pictures that differ in texture. Since two pictures very rarely coincide, it is clear that Kristl is leaning on the characteristic of our conscience to fill in the time and space gap between the frames. By zooming the picture, by activating a frame of a film picture, by hardly noticed subliminal hints and metadiegetic inserts and by reduction of space and time density, Kristl composes the drama dynamics in abstract form. Its aim is to invoke the images that derive from our experience and memory as well as to challenge our instincts and subconscious.

Directly connected with editing is the animation method that could be described as arrangement of signs, mosaic in the process of transformation, putting together pieces of time, the segments of that process. Kristl’s idiosyncratic drawing is fully realized only in animation: ‘a filmic dream about contemporary painting’ (as P. Adams Sitney called it) is thus realized by intuitive topography of his drawing, by fluctuating signs, by rhythmic virtuosity and by parallel spectrum in the background of space prospective. Animation becomes part of total editing of the film: it represents the finest texture of complete editing complex. Each phase appears as a totality (and not as a part of the movement) and when mutually connected by animation technique they figure like consonants of the language that in their interrelation create vowels. Or, as it is formulated in a famous and often quoted definition of animation given by Norman McLaren (written on a wall during the Montreal Expo of 1967): ‘Animation is not the art of drawings that move; but the art of movements that are drawn. What is between each picture is much more important than what is in the picture’.

An interpretation/The theme of the film is not a real text but its medium reduction, which is suggested in the first frame of the film where we see both the title Don Quixote and the drawing of the windmill. In the epoch where books are not being read and their plots are circulating in the media, Don Quixote fights windmills and that is the only known fact about that work. It is not a film based on the book, unlike his former project Šagrenska koža, where the action strictly follows the story written by Balzac. Don Quixote is about symbolic meaning of the work in question and consequently it is impossible to communicate with it without some previous knowledge.

Along with new experiences and understandings come together new points of view and interpretations of an art work, as we have already seen. Some modern philosophers, such as Gérard Genette, consider that not only the text but also the so-called paratext (the title of the work, author’s interviews, critic interpretations and general reception of the work) influences conventions that make possible a communication with the work of art and define our way of reading it and experiencing it. We have paratext examples in the literature – in Joyce’s Ulysses, where the title is of extreme importance, and in the history of film in disputes held in the circles of avant-garde films. Forty-five years after its release, the following paratext interpretations undoubtedly gain importance in the film Don Kihot: historical and cultural circumstances, author’s known ‘eccentricity’ as well as myths about his work, comparisons of time in which the film was born and the time in which we read it and analyze it.

We could easily imagine that Kristl could feel just like Don Quixote, since he belonged to a middle class in an environment that was affected by the chaotic wave of emigration from villages to town, followed by new ideology whose visible manifestations were massive meetings and collectivization that often eroded the difference between people.

We suppose that his anticommunist attitude derives from that. Nevertheless, it would be banal indeed to try to interpret this film merely as a reaction against a certain political system. This film is not about a certain ideology (or maybe it is, but only marginally), but it treats a man’s life contradictions as a social being on one side, and the individual being on the other. It’s about the artist’s response on important philosophical query given in the form of animation.

Vibeke Tanberg’s exhibition The Faces, held in 1998, treats a similar subject. Twelve large-format photographs represent twelve persons in their middle thirties, with identical short hair, with identical grey shirt on and in identical pose against the identical background. Upper elements are constant, but they slightly differ in face shapes, noses, eye colours, eyebrow thickness, while their poses vary from en face to profile. Each photo caption says that we are looking at a computer image and that the photos are manipulated, and that enhances our feeling of uncertainty. There is no possibility to determine whether the photograph represents one person or several different persons, possibly close cousins; we cannot even determine the sex of each of them. According to the artist’s words, the idea for the exhibition was born during her move to a big city (Berlin), where she experienced herself how unstable postmodernist subject is being suffocated by processes that annihilate all its individuality.

The film Idioterne (Idiots, 1998), directed by Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier, is based upon the idea of a liberation of the inner ‘idiot’, imprisoned in our body and conscience, chained by society norms and media terror.

The two cited examples of important contemporary artists, among numerous others, illustrate the same problems that interested Kristl almost half a century ago.

Don Quixote is a work that describes (pictures) a mechanized and dehumanized world characterized by loss of subjectivity, violent erasing of cultural differences between people; it is, we could put it this way, a picture of modern globalization. Kristl announced a self-cantered, cynical world in which individualism and humanism will be appraised as much as a discarded, rotten water pipe.

But far from everything has been said about this film.

Art is alive if it is good, and everything that lives is growing old. If the average number of years of a human’s life is, let’s say, seventy, then the work of art could persist less than double, but also ten times more, let’s say about seven hundred years. With the passing of time it inevitably loses the characteristic of art work and eventually gains historical value. Films and other works of art last as long as we understand them completely, as long as they contain secrets that induce us to return to them again and again.

There is no doubt that Don Quixote will last for a long time and that it will outlive many a recent work of art.

More About It 2

Dušan Vukotic´ was a young Montenegrin who came to Zagreb in Croatia to study architecture. This was not unusual, since at the time, the late 1950s, Montenegro and Croatia were both part of one state – Yugoslavia. As soon as he arrived in Zagreb, Vukotic´ began publishing caricatures and humorous cartoons. He also participated in the founding of the local animation. His first work at the soon-to-become-famous Zagreb Film was Nestašni Robot (The Playful Robot, 1956). Already during production of The Playful Robot, Vukotic´ began work on Cowboy Jimmy (id., 1957), which was characterized by reduced animation, rhythmically structured movement and geometrically formed figures. The characters in the film were constructed as two-dimensional symbols, which together with the background reflected the current trends in contemporary art. Dialogue was eliminated, communication between the characters being delivered solely through pantomime, sound effects and music. Besides pictorial metamorphosis, Vukotic´ often uses a kind of defamiliarization, where he effectively combines disparate visual elements, which strikes us as extremely contradictory even in a cartoon world. His caricature is clear and pronounced; he is fully aware of the fact that the art of caricature is not about nuance and ambiguity – in a cartoon snow is always white, a lump of coal is always black and so on. He also knows that you cannot caricature the unknown, so he employs easily identifiable motifs and well-known representational conventions, and shows already in this film his affection for parody. In terms of content, the film was a direct answer to Jirˇí Trnka’s puppet western parody Arie prérie (Song of the Prairie, 1949), and the first in a series of films in which Vukotic´ parodied the trivialities of popular culture, particularly American film genres, and satirized both the devastating grip of commercialism on American culture and global Americanization. In 1958 Vukotic´ made three films, Osvetnik (The Avenger), an animated adaptation of Chekhov’s short story of the same title, and two further parodies aimed at capitalism with their starting point in Hollywood genres: Koncert za mašinsku pušku (Concerto for Sub-Machine Gun) – dealing with the gangster movie and with which Vukotic´ achieved his definitive international breakthrough – and Veliki strah (The Great Fear), a parody of horror movies which British critic Ronald Holloway judged ‘the weakest of Vukotic’s satires’ (Ronald Holloway, Z Is for Zagreb: A Guide to the Films of One of the World’s Major Cartoon Studios, New York: The Tantivy Press, 1972, p. 56).

In his following two films, Vukotic´ would fully realize his potential as a cartoonist and combine his stylized imagery with a rhythmically reduced animation under the influence of modern artists such as Klee, Kandinsky and Chagall. With those two films, Piccolo (id., 1959) and Surogat (Substitute, but often translated as an adjective, Ersatz, 1961), he attracted a great deal of attention at several important festivals such as Cannes, Berlin, London, Oberhausen, Annecy, Mamaia, etc., and even won Europe’s first Academy Award for animation.

Unlike his parodies, in which his all-embracing gaze was mainly turned towards the Western Hemisphere, Piccolo was a universal satire, clearly influenced by Norman McLaren’s well-known film Neighbours (1952), which was about the arms race and in that way criticized both sides in the Cold War. As the film opens, we see two neighbours who live in the same house and get along quite well. This is illustrated among other things by a successful defamiliarization scene in which we see one of the neighbours use a pair of scissors to cut off the rain above the other. They call round and help each other, until one of them buys a little piccolo and starts to play. The other becomes jealous and gets a bigger instrument and starts playing louder than the first, who then acquires an even bigger and more powerful instrument and so on. So begins a brutal war in which each neighbour’s whole family becomes involved, and in the end the house collapses. The piccolos and the other bigger instruments act as symbols for the arms race, and in hindsight it is almost inevitable that the piccolo be interpreted as a symbol for nationalism. In this way Piccolo can be seen as emblematic of the war which split Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the two neighbours representing the Serbs and the Croats, the two largest Yugoslavian peoples.

Substitute (or Ersatz) is a satire of life in the modern consumer society and the general emptiness brought about by humanity’s love of money. Everything we see around us is illusory and artificial, the only purpose of existence has become to consume and be consumed. Man is depicted in the film as a consumable being whose fundamental characteristic is replaceability. All characters and objects are inflated balloons which burst in the end. Even the film’s main character turns out to be a balloon puppet, when he eventually treads on a nail and bursts. An effective experimental device which dominates Ersatz is a reduced movement in the form of a distinctive animated jump-cut where the figures are transplanted from one place in the indeterminate space to another without moving. They simply appear in a new position without travelling from point A to point B and consequently completely without in-between frames.

After making Igra (The Game, 1962), a combination of animated children’s drawings and live action and his last to attract international attention, Vukotic´ decided to devote himself to live-action feature films. He returned briefly to animation with, among others, the films Opera Cordis (id., title in Latin, 1968), Ars Gratia Artis (id., title in Latin, 1970), and the special effects he created for the film adaptation of Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margaret (Il Maestro e Margherita, Aleksandar Petrovic´, Italy and Yugoslavia, 1972).

For Vukotic´ animation became, besides an art form with manifold possibilities for self-expression, a political tool. His view of the outside world chimed absolutely with his society’s ideological foundations, but he was considerably more inclined to scrutinize its western hemisphere. He pointed out modern mankind’s insignificance before death, the vulgarization of emotion and the idealizing myths created by the demands of capitalism.

Despite the fact that Soviet-inspired Socialist Realism was embraced by the regime, Poland always managed to save an independent approach to creation. World famous artist, background designer and theatre director Tadeusz Kantor (1915–1990) founded in 1948 the unwelcomed but tolerated Krakow Group (including Maria Jarema, Jonasz Stern and Jerzy Nowosielski) which produced abstract and assemblage works. In 1955 Kantor also created the Cricot 2 Theatre, where Andrzej Pawlowski (1925–1986) presented his light show Kineformy (Kinetic Forms), which became an exciting abstract film by the same title in 1957, with music by Adam Walaciński.

Then Austro-Hungarian Empire, today Poland.

Although Czechoslovakia became a member of the Soviet Bloc in 1948, Czech animators never accepted the style of their Muscovite colleagues. This approach certainly led them to be original and world famous Eduard Hofman expressed very harsh opinions even on Disney, which we quote here for historical documentation, without sharing them: ‘The first aspect of our programming was nationality. We wanted to enliven the Czech landscape, Czech people, Our people, Our thinking. Secondly, we wanted to always be more lyrical, freer – in contrast to the sharpness of the American cartoon. We wanted to be national even in joking. Our humour is not as sharp and as biting as American humour. We intentionally did not take Disney as an example in anything. Disney’s expression is not national; it’s not at all American. It is only tied to that continent by its content. Disney’s artistic expression is actually Munich Art Nouveau. It is cosmopolitan neutrality in art. Also, Disney’s humour is an end in itself, his gags dazzle. Disney influenced the entire world with his animation shorthand, his cliché. And we work with a broad pallet of the most varied artists […]. The difference between Disney and us? To put it precisely: Walt Disney approached animated film technically, coldly, by subjugating illustration to the requirements of movement. And we do the exact opposite. We even work with artists that by merit of their character are not specifically predetermined for animation. For example, Antonín Strnadel, Kamil Lhóták and a number of others. For example, even Jirˇí Trnka himself. And still, after the animated film is finished, they remain, each of them, an artist in this area, without losing their individuality, as we know it from their static art. Speaking for myself: I always try to preserve the artist, not to coerce him into anything or force him into anything and I do so instead of finding the appropriate and absolutely correct movement that would come from his drawing. That is the exact opposite approach to that of Walt Disney’ (Vladimír Bystrov, ‘Eduard Hofman: Osobnost C´eskoslovenského kresleného filmu’ [Eduard Hofman: A Personality in Czechoslovak Animated Film], Film a doba, Prague, 1958).

The Holy Scripture says that, at the Beginning of Everything, there was darkness and God. In this film, God is nicely absentminded, still having a lot to do. To get help with His work ahead, He gets himself an egg that He keeps warm until little angels hatch. But the last egg, which is quite spotted, turns out to have been hiding a restless, little devil. Once the helpers are all there, God needs light for His further work. He flicks a lighter – in vain. As usual, it doesn’t work. The Creator therefore has to use the famous magic formula: Let there be light! There is light and God, with the little angels’ help, starts creating, while the little devil does his best to ruin His plans, using an endless succession of witty ideas. Of course, he does most mischief when God starts creating humans. God keeps a close watch on Adam, but the little devil immediately spoils Eve and teaches her to dance rock ’n’ roll … (and this was the very first ever to sound in a Czech Communist film).

By real name François Lejeune (1908–82), Jean Effel was a journalist, painter and caricaturist. Nothing to do with the Tour Eiffel.

Jirˇí Brdecˇka, letter to the author (1977).

Jan Horˇejší and Jirˇí Struska, Occhio magico – Il cinema d’animazione Cecoslovacco 1944–1969 [in Italian], Prague: Cˇeskoslovensky Filmexport, 1969, pp. 16 and 20.

From 1949 to 1989, the old town of Zlín was named Gottwaldov, after the Czech Communist leader Klement Gottwald (1896–1953). Today is again Zlín, Czech Republic.

Jaroslav Bocˇek, ‘Hermína Týrlová’, Film a doba, Prague, 1964.

Quoted in Jaroslav Bocˇek, ‘Hermína Týrlová’, Film a doba, Prague, 1964.

Vladimir Kolman, Vom Millionär, Der die Sonne stahl – Geschichte des Tschekoslowakischen Animationsfilms, Frankfurt: Deutsches Filmmuseum, 1981, p. 22.

Then in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

A nineteenth-century writer and epigrammatist (1821–56), he wrote this allegorically anti-imperialist poem shortly before he died.

Based on a real soldier’s life, tales, legend and jokes about Baron Münchhausen were collected and published by an anonymous German writer in 1781. Rudolf Erich Raspe made an English version in 1875, and Gottfried August Bürger translated Raspe’s book into German again and expanded it. Gustave Doré (1832–1883) illustrated Bürger’s book in 1862.

From Jules Verne’s novel Deux ans de vacances (1888).

All quotations on this page are from André Bazin, ‘Bruxelles’, Cinema nuovo, No. 134, July–August 1958, Milan; Vittorio Spinazzola, ‘La diabolica invenzione’, Cinema nuovo, No. 139, May–June 1959, Milan; and Jan Horˇejší and Jirˇí Struska, Occhio magico – Il cinema d’animazione Cecoslovacco 1944–1969 [in Italian], Prague: cˇeskoslovensky Filmexport, 1969.

Jirˇí Brdecˇka, letter to the author (1977).

Jan Horˇejší and Jirˇí Struska, Occhio magico – Il cinema d’animazione Cecoslovacco 1944–1969 [in Italian], Prague: cˇeskoslovensky Filmexport, 1969; Maria Benešová, ‘Il cinema di animazione’, in Ernesto G. Laura (ed.), Il film cecoslovacco, Rome: Ateneo, 1960.

Jaroslav Brož, ‘20 let Cˇeskoslovenského filmu – Vypovidá Jirˇí Trnka’ (20 Years of Czechoslovak film – as told by Jirˇí Trnka), Film a doba, Prague, 1965.

Marie Benešová, Jirˇí Trnka, Prague: Cˇeskoslovensky Filmexport, 1970.

Jaroslav Brož, ‘20 let Cˇeskoslovenského filmu – Vypovidá Jirˇí Trnka’ (20 Years of Czechoslovak film – as told by Jirˇí Trnka), Film a doba, Prague, 1965.

In Sen noci svatojánské three worlds meet: the Athenian aristocracy, depicted by Duke Theseus’s court and by the two quarrelsome couples; Oberon’s arboreal realm, full of magic and enchantments; and the down-to-earth world of Athens craftsmen, fond of theatre and intent on the preparations of the show they will give in honour of the Duke’s wedding with Hippolyta, the queen of the Amazons. The craftsmen have chosen to play Pyramus and Thisbe and go into the wood for rehearsals. Lysander and Hermia seek shelter there, too; they are in love, but Hermia has been promised to Demetrius. Demetrius chases Hermia while, at the same time, he’s chased by Helena. But the masters in the woods are Oberon and his servant Puck. By dint of spells, they poke fun of everybody (including Oberon’s wife, Titania), until the Duke lets the true lovers get married, and the play at long last be played.

Ugo Casiraghi, ‘Il cinema cecoslovacco’, Quaderni del circolo monzese del cinema, Monza, 1962.

Ugo Casiraghi, ‘Il cinema cecoslovacco’, Quaderni del circolo monzese del cinema, Monza, 1962.

Trnka drew with his left hand and wrote with his right one; when under pressure, he could draw an image with both hands.

Jan Vicˇar, The Film Music of Václav Trojan, in his own book Imprints: Essays on Czech Music and Aesthetics, Praha: Togga, 2005, pp. 37–49.

Surname first, given name second, according to the Hungarian customary use.

Journalist, cartoonist, playwright and painter, Hadžic´ was born in Bilec´a (Bosnia, then Yugoslavia) on 23 April 1922, and died in Zagreb (Croatia) on 3 January 2011.

‘The film was completed in one year. Within those 12 months we managed to learn animation and make the film. We had just one manual on animation then: How to Make Cartoons by Preston Blair. It was sent to us from the States by Louis Adamich, American writer of Yugoslav origin’. (Borivoj Dovnikovic´ Bordo, Zagreb and UPA, manuscript provided by the author to Giannalberto Bendazzi, May 2002)

Duga means ‘rainbow’ in Croatian.

The first was Norbert Neugebauer’s Veseli doživljaj (The Happy Event), in the style of the Silly Symphonies. Dušan Vukotic´ then made his debut as director, chief artist and animator of Kako se rodio Kic´o (How Kic´o Was Born). Vukotic´ did not try to imitate Disney; instead, he attempted to give animated film a sense of immediacy and involvement in its content.

For a deep study of this film, see More About It 1.

Midhat Ajanovic´ kindly provided some thoughts about Dušan Vukotic´. See More About It 2.

‘Ranko Munitic´ on Yugoslavia’, in Orio Caldiron and Turi Fedele (eds.), Il film d’animazione d’Europa, Festival catalogue, Abano Terme, Italy, 1971.

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