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Studies and research: contributions on zagreb animation

Little Man on the Borderline of Worlds

An overview of the origin, history and basic characteristics of the phenomenon of the Zagreb School of Animated Film.
In 1962, Surogate by Dušan Vukotić was the first European animated film to win an Oscar, while in 1979, one of the five nominees for the Oscar for animated film was Zdenko Gašparović’s Satiemania also produced by Zagreb film. These two master works, Surogate and Satiemania, more or less denote the beginning and the end of the period we could call the golden age of the Zagreb School of Animated Film. In that period, between the 60s and the 80s, the studio produced dozens of extremely important animated films that, viewed together, represent an important period in the overall development of film animation as an artistic form.

In Croatia, animation first appeared in the early 20s in the animated commercials of Sergio Tagatz. In the 30s, several films were shot with the technique of shadows in the production of scientific-educational films of the School of Public Health (Wizzards, 1928), as well as a long animated film Martin in the Sky, Martin Out of the Sky (1929), while a more significant animated production was produced in the commercial company Maar (1931-1936). However, only after 1945 one can talk about a more systematic animated film production, when several companies appeared that produced first animated films (W. and N. Neugebauer, The Great Rally). This new production was based on the strong and rich comic book tradition that had developed in Croatia in the 30s and the 40s (Andrija Maurović, and brothers Neugebauer), which, in the visual sense, resembled Disney’s animation. However, young animators who, first and foremost, stemmed from the circles of comic books and caricature, gathered around the humoristic magazine Kerempuh, soon discover their own path closer to the European tradition and the tendencies represented in the world animation by a group of authors working in the studio United Production of America (UPA).

In the political atmosphere of searching for the ’third path’, artists from Yugoslavia at that time had more freedom in artistic expression than it was the case with other countries of the Eastern Bloc, as well as being more in touch with the current artistic trends. This enabled the first group of authors (Kostelac, Dovniković, Marks, Kristl, Jutriša, Vukotić, etc.) to take their own path in exploring the possibilities of animation. Dušan Vukotić announced changes already with his film How Kićo was Born (1951), making changes in the process of creation of human character rejecting the use of the usual anthropomorphic, animal character presented in a stylised and simplified drawing, and introducing reduced animation that would become one of the characteristics of the Zagreb School. After the initial learning of the skill and obtaining the space for artistic creation in the studio for animated film of Zagreb Film, the group of Zagreb young animators, with their fresh ideas and unconventional realization, soon gained international acclaim. Besides Vukotić (Concert for a Machine Gun, 1958, Piccolo, 1959, Surogate, 1961), other authors too have achieved success, such as Nikola Kostelac (Premiere, 1957), Vatroslav Mimica (Loner, Happy End, 1958, At the Photographer, 1959), and Vladimir Kristl (Le Peau de Chagrin, 1960, Don Kihot, 1961). Aleksandar Marks stood out as a sketcher, and Vladimir Jutriša as the animator. This first international breakthrough of the Zagreb Studio was definitely confirmed at the Cannes film festival in 1958, when the term Zagreb School of Animated Film was coined.

The second phase of the development of the Zagreb School was marked by numerous authors among which stand out Marks and Jutriša, Borivoj Dovniković, Zlatko Bourek, extremely talented Zlatko Grgić, Pavao Štaler, Boris Kolar, Ante Zaninović, and Nedjeljko Dragić whose international success extended to the later period, when some other authors achieved success, such as Zdenko Gašparović (Satiemania) and several young authors like Joško Marušić, Krešimir Zimonić, and others.

However, in the 80s already, the production of the Zagreb School of Animated Film started to fade. It is no wonder that social and political circumstances at the time of the rise of Zagreb animation had a determining influence on its artistic breakthrough and the configuration of a specific system of values that dominated in the political space the authors have worked and lived in, so have the circumstances around the political crisis and the break-up of the state surely been one of the causes for the downfall of the Zagreb School of Animated Film. Nevertheless, it is certain that even without the Yugoslav catastrophe, Zagreb Film would not be have been able to maintain its high position in the world animation. The main reason for the stagnation of Zagreb Film was that the only technique used by the studio was the classic cel-animated film. The appearance of new techniques, most of all computers, has quickly changed the animation throughout. Great technological progress resulted in the ever-growing presence of animation in every day life.

At the same time, animation became depersonalised, while the essence of the phenomenon of the Zagreb School of Animated Film was the emphasis on the person of the author of the film, which is the practice that does not belong to the time when technique dominates and the authors are anonymous. Classical animation can hardly keep up with the electronics, so that the crisis felt in the Zagreb studio in the last decade, is also present in many other studios around the world.

Midhat Ajanović

Animated Commercial Films Produced by Zagreb Film

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