06 December 2021
2D, 3D, animated–live-action hybrids, documentaries, computer games, classic puppetry; feature films, shorts, series, commercials — Czech animation studios cover the spectrum of techniques, genres, and formats. Some have decades-long traditions, some are relative newcomers. Together they make up a platform with tremendous potential.
Article by Vojtěch Rynda for CZECH FILM magazine / Fall 2021
One of the newest studios is Last Films. Founded in 2019 by producer Kamila Dohnalová, the studio actively seeks international collaboration in bringing to life projects that appeal to festivals worldwide, both live action and animation. “As an independent film production company, we focus on stories that reflect current social issues and reveal hidden features of our everyday life,” says Dohnalová. Before Last Films, her production work included the Oscar-shortlisted animation Happy End by Jan Saska.
“I am proud to keep collaborating with directors I’ve worked with in the past, including Saska and Jan Vejnar, as well as establishing new working relationships with up-and-coming female creators, like Michaela Režová,” says the producer. Aside from live-action films, the company has several short projects in development, such as the animated romance Hurikan (dir. Jan Saska) and the anidoc (animated documentary) Desire to Win (dir. Michaela Režová).
“Anna works primarily on larger-scale projects for children and families while I work on anidocs for teens and adults,” says Davidová. “We do animation first and foremost, but almost always in combination with other techniques. Aside from production, we are heavily involved in creative development of projects and screenwriting, including for other producers.”
13ka works with foreign companies on all its projects, particularly in Slovakia, Hungary, France, and now in Finland as well. Currently, Davidová is developing a multiformat film–radio documentary–podcast project by Magdalena Hejzlarová about life with insomnia, while Vášová is completing a family film by Katarína Kerekesová called The Websters.
Founded in 2015, Hausboot has most recently been involved through its founder and main producer in the production of Even Mice Belong in Heaven (Denisa Grimmová, Jan Bubeníček). “This is the biggest and most expensive stop-motion animation ever made in the Czech Republic,” says producer Vladimír Lhoták. The film had its world premiere in Annecy, won awards at Anifilm and Shanghai, and screened in Karlovy Vary.
“Hausboot focuses on developing and producing films, series, and interactive content with an emphasis on animation, documentaries, and live-action special-effects films. We focus on distinctive original projects, but we also like to develop and work with a combination of different animation techniques,” Lhoták says.
All of Hausboot’s projects are international co-productions. Currently, the studio is developing the feature films Golem (Jiří Barta) and Timeless (Bezčasí, Denisa Grimmová and Jan Bubeníček). In addition, it is preparing the anidoc Hidden From Plain Sight (Očím skryté, Maria Procházková) and the series Veggierado (Jan Bubeníček), which was presented at the Cartoon Forum in Toulouse. As a minority coproducer, Hausboot is also working on the Icelandic series Ormhlidur the Brave (CEE Animation Forum 2020).
The studio Alkay Animation Prague, founded in 1999, has enjoyed tremendous success, coproducing the 2D animated film My Sunny Maad (Michaela Pavlátová), which won the Jury Prize at the Annecy Festival, while its 3D project The Oddsockeaters (Galina Miklínová) was distributed in countries all over the world.
“Our focus is on creating, and in recent years also producing, 2D and 3D animated films. We create and produce animated feature films, series, and original short films,” says producer Petr Horák. “We aren’t a studio that merely provides services, but also seek partners for the production of our own films and offer ourselves as a partner for interesting animation projects from other producers and studios. We try to stick to the tradition of the Czech school of animation, so we stand out for our emphasis on artistic concept.”
Alkay’s permanent team consists of around 40 people and produces about 13 minutes per month; the studio can produce a feature film in three years. Most of its projects are coproductions; Alkay has worked with entities from Slovakia, France, Germany, the UK, and the US. For larger projects, they also use the capacities of much larger studios in Hong Kong.
Currently, Alkay is completing the 3D film Journey to Yourland (Peter Budinský), the first feature film using the computer game engine Unity. At the beginning of 2021, the studio started work as a majority producer on the 3D children’s sci-fi film Crystal Raiders (Arsen Anton Ostojić), which has received support from the Czech Film Fund, the Croatian Audiovisual Fund HAVC, and the MEDIA program.
Studio ZVON follows in the tradition of Czech puppet animation. It was founded in 2002 to represent filmmaker Aurel Klimt, who previously collaborated with Studio Jiří Trnka. Aside from puppetry, ZVON also focuses on other types of stop-motion animation and films using combined techniques. The company has a capacity of 15 minutes of finished animation per year but also managed Klimt’s feature film Laika, which won a Czech Lion. In addition, ZVON is involved in coproductions, having produced a quarter-hour of puppet animation for the German-Austrian-Chinese combined film Mozart in China.
Klimt himself is still an adherent of the “old world” school of animation: “We are now developing a feature film, The War With the Newts, based on the 1936 novel (Válka s mloky) by Karel Čapek, in the mold of the illusionary trick films of Georges Méliès and Karel Zeman,” he says.
“We’re proud we’ve been able to show Czech puppetry all over the world and promote Czech puppetry skills and history,” says Jakub Červenka of Bedna Films production company, which has been around since 2009. Although they made their mark in animation primarily with their feature The Little Man (dir. Radek Beran), they also do live-action and documentary films, at a pace of one per year. Their international collaborations have been mostly with Slovakia, and they are currently preparing The Little Man 2.
Studio 3Bohemians has specialized in 3D cartoon-style character animation since its establishment in 2005. The 2014 short Wildlife Crossing! (dir. Noro Držiak) is one of its more notable successes to date. The studio produces 3D animated commercials for clients such as Škoda Auto, and created the ad campaign for the animated feature Harvie and the Magic Museum, but as 3Bohemians producer and cofounder Marek Toušek explains, “Our main focus at the moment is on providing animation servicing for games studios.” The studio also created an educational initiative called Anomalia, which has been offering master classes in 3D animation since 2008, and since 2010 it has enjoyed the support of the MEDIA program and experts from Pixar and other major companies.
Another “anomaly” in the Czech animation industry is Athanor. Founded illegally, under communism, when the state had a monopoly on filmmaking, the studio came about as a collaboration between artist, filmmaker, and surrealist Jan Švankmajer and producer Jan Kallista, and its films Alice, Faust, Conspirators of Pleasure, and Insect are known worldwide.
“They’re usually live-action films combined with animation, since flat and spatial animation methods are only some of the techniques Švankmajer employs. We’ve learned to do everything,” Kallista says. Athanor has a studio in Knovíz near Prague, and proudly sticks to old-fashioned equipment.
“We’re in the process of making our ninth feature film, Kunstkamera, and we won’t be making any more,” Kallista says, noting that both he and his creative partner are over 80 years old. Still, there are plans to continue publishing Švankmajer’s books, to hold exhibitions, and to distribute films.