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Dušan Vukotić (1927.-1998.)

Dušan Vukotić Vud – A Great Career

A biographical paper on the late filmmaker Dušan Vukotić, a renowned animation author and the first Oscar winner for a foreign animated film (Surrogate 1962). The paper specifically clarifies the early days of Croatian animated film production.

Dušan Vukotić, nicknamed Vud (born on February 7, 1927 in Bileća, Bosnia-Herzegovina, The Kingdom of Yugoslavia, died on July 8, 1998 in Zagreb, Croatia.) came to Zagreb to study architecture in 1948. To support himself he contributed caricatures to dailies in Zagreb, and eventually became a contract caricaturist for the satirical weekly Kerempuh.

This paper initiated the production of cartoon films, and after the first film directed by the brothers Neugebauer was released, the animated film company Duga was established in Zagreb in 1951. It was there that Dušan Vukotić made his first cartoon film Kićo (How Kićo Was Born, 1951). In spite of the fact that the company was quite successful as a production house, it was ruthlessly liquidated as a result of the national economic crisis. The filmmakers were scattered, but Dušan Vukotić, infected with the possibilities of animation, continued to make 30-second trailers (13 in total) with collaborator Nikola Kostelac in his apartment. In the trailers he experimented with stylized design, minimized animation and timing. On the basis of this work, Vukotić became one of the leading figures in the newly established Cartoon Film Studio (Studio crtanog filma, 1956) of the company Zagreb-film which specialized in short films.

The stylistic features of the trailers became a pattern on which the studio’s style was shaped for some time. The studio started a dynamic production with numerous authors. Its first film was Vukotić’s The Playful Robot (Nestašan robot, 1956). The studio’s first appearance at foreign festivals was at the Cannes Film Festival in 1958 and that was a tremendous success. Three of Vukotić’s films were shown among seven other studio films, and the studio’s production was dubbed »The Zagreb School of Animation«. Vukotić’s permanent defiance of tradition and routine, his eager search for new thematic, stylistic and production pathways eventually led him to further innovations.

In Picollo (1959), deviating from the previous division of labor between a director and »executors«, Vukotić assumed all the main creative functions (script, direction, design, animation), thereby introducing the practice of »complete authorship«. The international success of the Zagreb »School« and Vukotić personally was crowned by an Academy Award for Vukotić’s Surrogate in 1962, the first Oscar for a foreign animated film. As a result Vukotić became not only famous abroad, but he was treated as a kind of a hero in the ex-Yugoslavia. He was invited to hold lectures, to be a member of various juries and committees, as well as a member of the party elite in Croatia and Yugoslavia. In his new position he turned to feature film production and from 1966, he made a total of three feature films while occasionally working on short animated films as well.

In these animated films, his experimental bent became even more manifest. He also made combined feature and short animated films (Oscar nominated The Play, 1963; A Stain on the Conscience, 1967; Ars Gratia Artis, 1970). He eventually became a professor of feature film direction at Zagreb’s film school (The Academy of Dramatic Arts) and remained there until his retirement in the late 1980’s. Death caught up with him during final preparations for a feature-length animated film he was set to make in the Czech Republic. Vukotić won a total of 146 awards, including three life achievement awards. The last one was awarded to him at the Zagreb International Animation Festival in 1994. His work is proof that great works of art, the core of the world’s cultural inheritance, can be created in small national environments too.

An exhaustive filmography is supplied in an addendum to the paper.

Borivoj Dovniković-Bordo

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