26 May 2021
The Czech animation scene spans everything from classic puppetry to the most modern 3D animation and everyone from colleagues of Jiří Trnka to the freshest film school graduates, covering all genres and offering full production servicing. Now more than ever, Czech animation is open to the world and ready to collaborate. This series of articles presents individual production studios and companies active in the Czech Republic, as well as their capacities and project portfolios.
Article by Vojtěch Rynda for CZEH FILM magazine / Spring 2021
In addition to the Czech Film Center, the development of animation as an industry and its presentation abroad is the mission of the Association of Czech Animated Film (ASAF), founded in 2014. ASAF is committed to building support for the animation industry and helping to provide a stable environment in the short and long term alike, in cooperation with broadcasters as well as with the ministries of Finance and of Industry and Trade.
Former ASAF President Martin Hovorka is also executive producer of the Eallin Creatives, founded in Prague in 2000 as an animation studio with its own post-production. “Eallin primarily specializes in short format and advertising, but we’ve also taken part in producing several animated shorts and serials. Perhaps the most well-known is the bedtime story The Littlest Elephant in the World, which we coproduced with Czech Television,” says Hovorka. Eallin’s videos for charity, seen by over 20 million viewers, have also generated considerable buzz. The company mostly focuses on combining various technologies, with digital technology prevailing over classical animation techniques. About 12 people currently work in the studio, but it used to be 30, before the pandemic began.
One way Czech animation studios can survive today, Hovorka says, is by collaborating abroad: “We’re interested in getting contracts abroad and working with foreign studios. That’s part of the reason why we’ve established offices in Bratislava, Tokyo, and London.” Eallin is currently finishing a project for the Vivaldianno 3D multimedia show, produced in the Czech Republic and appearing in venues around the globe.
Other ASAF members include studio Anima, founded in 1991 by Marcela and Milan Halousek. Anima is firmly rooted in the tradition of Czech animation: Marcela has collaborated with Jiří Trnka, lead animator David Filcík had a hand in Jan Švankmajer’s Dimensions of Dialogue, and the staff and technology of Anima has ties to the legendary Krátký film studio. Right from the start, the studio has strived to preserve classical film and creative methods, making its work unique in today’s electronic world. Anima offers complete visual production from A to Z. It primarily concentrates on puppet animation, but also works with techniques such as cut-out films, relief, clay, and pixelation. In addition to fulfilling orders from clients, Anima has recently been focusing on coproductions with Radim Procházka’s Kuli Film, and is currently working on a Czech-Portuguese coproduction of the animated document Lawrence of Moravia and the children’s puppet arthouse work Babu in the Night City.
Another company focusing on stop-motion is Animation People, operating since 1995. It consists of both a production company, which develops and produces animated films, and a studio, which handles filming. The studio has the capacity to produce about 30 minutes of puppet animation annually. Among Animation People’s greatest successes are its productions of the films of Břetislav Pojar and Jiří Barta. They also actively seek out foreign coproductions:
“Nowadays, you can't just slap together a little film in the kitchen. The world has moved on to higher standards of quality, and the only way to catch that train is through collaboration,” says owner and producer Michal Podhradský.
The company is currently working on a coproduction project with Great Britain titled Salvation Has No Name, directed by Joseph Wallace; filming animation for a project coproduced with Aardman Animation; and developing two fairy tales: one with an environmental theme, called The First Tree, and one a fantasy about saving the world from greed, titled The Precious Gift.
On the other hand, the Bare Bear studio, in business since 2013, is digitally oriented. “We do all forms of digital animation, from very basic flat 2D to 3D cartoon things to more realistic visualizations,” says Bare Bear cofounder Radovan Surý. The studio, which consists of six core members and a broader circle of animators, has worked with Czech Airlines, is responsible for the Frosty Secrets animated series for older viewers, and recently created a large Christmas campaign for online retailer MALL.CZ. It is currently focused mainly on television commercials and spots, but is also developing its own ideas for series aimed at foreign distribution.
Bare Bear was also involved in the children’s animated series Barney the Piglet, produced by Filmový uzel Zlín and warmly received in 2019 at Cartoon Forum in Toulouse. The series uses the technique of flat scenery in space, inspired by the innovations of animation legend Karel Zeman. Filmový uzel Zlín has been in operation since 2016. In addition to its own creations, the studio manages an exhibit on the history of Zlín film ateliers, and has also coproduced acted films, including Smiles of Sad Men and the fairy tale The Greatest Gift.
Also founded in Zlín in 2012 was the Kouzelná animace studio, which focuses on animation and visual post-production of films, advertisements, and series. It is dedicated to all types of 2D animation, cutout films, and production of visual effects for fairy tales. For example, it created the effects for The Greatest Gift, mentioned above. “Our short film At the End of the World is being distributed internationally by Cinekid, and we also did some of the key animation for Fritzi: A Revolutionary Tale,“ says CEO Petr Babinec, recounting his studio’s successes. “Right now we’re finishing up effects for a feature-length film and also preparing A Little Pilot children’s animated series.” The studio has 16 departments and collaborates abroad as a coproducer and as a provider of post-production and animation services.
COFILM has been in existence since 2016. “We develop projects from concept to storyboard, but we give the first animation steps for trailers or pilots to some of the Czech animation studios — ideally ASAF members,” says company founder Jiří Sádek. COFILM is currently developing two animated series for adults, but the flagship for him is Baldies, a series by Eliška Podzimková intended for children with cancer. “The purpose of the series is to use entertaining stories to talk about the treatment process and alleviate the fears of pediatric patients and their families,” says Sádek. Interest in Baldies has been shown by Belgian public broadcasting and companies from Great Britain, France, and Canada. The project was also pitched at Cartoon Forum and Cartoon Springboard, and won the viewers prize at the CEE Animation Forum.
Since 2013 Studio PFX has been dedicated to VFX, post-production for film and television, animated production, and advertising. “We primarily focus on 3D animation, especially LRC (Lighting, Rendering and Compositing) and the animation itself,” specifies producer Jiří Mika. The studio employs over 100 people and is actively engaged abroad. “We work very intensively, for example, with the Human Ark studio from Poland and the Israeli-Canadian studio Snowball,” says Mika.
At the moment, PFX and Human Ark are preparing the film Diplodokus, while working on The Last Whale Singer with the German company Telescope Animation. In the Czech Republic, PFX is developing a feature-length animated version of Proud Princess with producer Luminar Films, another feature-length film (Rosa & Dara) with Bionaut, and is helping produce The Websters along with Fool Moon, 13ka, and Czech Television (more on these companies in the next part of our series).
Since 2011, film tricks and visual post-production for advertising and short formats has been the domain of R.U.R. Studio, whose 20-member team focuses mainly on 3D modelings and 2D composition. Jan Všetíček from R.U.R. is most proud of the studio’s collaboration with Ondřej Trojan on his films The Banger and Toman, with Jiří Strach on the fairy tale Angel of the Lord 2, and with Hollywood director Robert Dornheim on his cycle of films about Maria Theresa for several European televisions. “We’re also proud of ourselves for all the Nutcrackers from Prague and Lions from Cannes we’ve won for the many advertisements that we’ve had the opportunity to be a part of,” Všetíček notes.