Exhibition brings Czech animation to life

Czech animation has a long history dating back to the 1920s, but its so-called “golden age” was between 1945 and 1989, bringing the world-famous television series such as Bob a Bobek, Pat and Mat, Little Mole and Maxipes Fik, and films such as The Hand by Trnka, The Pied Piper by Barta and Invention for Destruction by Zeman, which combines live action with various forms of animation.

At first glance, it may seem surprising that the golden age of Czech animation coincides almost exactly with the country’s communist era, but this can be explained by the fact that at that time the films of animation, like all productions, were state-funded, which meant funding was not an issue and they could be produced in large numbers. On the other hand, of course, movies were also censored and some projects couldn’t be made at all.

Jan Bubenicek |  Photo: Martin Hrnčíř, Czech Radio

However, světy české animace (Worlds of Czech Animation), an exhibition taking place in the Holešovice district of Prague, wants to show that animation is not just something of the past.

“The aim of our exhibition is to give visitors an insight into Czech animation, but not just as something that is already finished and preserved, i.e. artifacts, images, puppets and decorations . We want to show it as something alive, and present the process of animation, the people and professions involved in it, we want to show them the present and the future as well as the past”says the curator of the exhibition, Jan Bubeníček.

Bubeníček, born in 1976 in Prague, is an animator and director himself, working for many years in digital post-production as a 3D animator and later as a tour supervisor, winning numerous domestic and foreign awards for his films. He likes to combine classic animation techniques with digital trick techniques and live action.

But animation is much more than just film, as Kateřina Riley, one of the exhibition’s organizers, explains.

“I think we have a lot of creatives working either on movies, or commercials, or games as well. Warhorse Studios, for example, or Amanita Design, they make a lot of games, and I think that industry is now much bigger than the film industry.

The venue itself is a light, pleasant and airy space with glossy white walls in hall 17 of Pražská tržnice in Holešovice. The design is charming, with two charming characters created especially for the exhibit, a pair of gentlemen in top hats and tailcoats, appearing throughout, and the text describing the exhibits is written in a font that looks like a handwriting. Arrows in the same handwritten font guide you through the two floors of the exhibition. There are nice little touches, like hidden nooks and crannies where you can glimpse what a typical animator’s workspace looks like, or view videos of animators at work. The exhibit is interactive, with walls you can draw on and handles you can turn to spin slides with images that, when spun quickly, create the illusion that the characters depicted on the slides are moving .

But creating the exhibit wasn’t without its challenges, Riley tells me.

“We spent three years preparing it, because there were a lot of rights issues. Also, it took us a while to find a way to present it – we actually had to switch curators in the middle because we still didn’t feel like it was the right person, it would be boring, etc. And then covid happened, so we got a little slow too. And then Honza Bubeníček, the curator, finished his film, and we knew we wanted it. So a year was very hard, we worked very hard I would say. Because we had to take all these items from all over the republic.

'Czech Animation Worlds' |  Photo: Art Movement

Sometimes there were also issues with parents of deceased animators being uncooperative. This was the case, for example, of Břetislav Pojar, the Czech puppeteer, animator and director who died in 2012, Riley tells me while showing me around the exhibition.

“These two bears are very famous, they are from Břetislav Pojar, but unfortunately he died and his relatives live in Switzerland and they don’t want to cooperate at all, so we only have that.”

The exhibition covers all of Czech animation, past, present and future, starting with its prehistory, showing how early hunter-gatherers and ancient Egyptians and Greeks tried to represent movement in their art.

The early years of cinema are also represented, including photographer Edward Muybridge, who in the 1870s captured a moving horse through a sequence of images, laying the foundations for the invention of film, and the Lumière brothers, who launched the field of cinema with their invention of the cinematograph in the 1890s.

'Czech Animation Worlds' |  Photo: Art Movement

The association of animation and cinema has created the strange and marvelous world of animated film that the exhibition explores from every angle. It guides you through the process of producing an animated film in real life, different animation techniques and the work of various famous Czech animators such as Karel Zeman, Jiří Trnka and Jan Švankmajer. In addition, it offers a chill-out zone, a hall of fame, a children’s corner and a cafe where you can not only have a bite to eat or have a drink, but also watch historical animated films in semi-cabins. -private, as Riley explains.

“We have about two hundred films here, for children, for adults, from the past to contemporary student films. And if you want, you can sit down, choose something and watch it. Also this cafe – you can go there whenever you want, even without tickets.

On Sunday afternoons, animation mini-courses are available for children from 6 years old (and their parents), where you are shown the basics of classic cartooning, flat animation and semi-flat, let alone the traditional animation of objects and materials, and then have the ability to create something yourself.

The exhibition is organized by Art Movement, the non-profit organization founded by Kateřina Riley and Markéta Matoušková in 2009, responsible for successful exhibitions in Prague on Tim Burton, David Cronenberg and Pixar. Although Worlds of Czech Animation is in Czech, English-speaking visitors can scan the QR codes located next to each exhibit using their smartphone to read relevant information in English.

The exhibition is open to visitors from Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on weekends from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., until July 3, 2022. Tickets cost 190 crowns for adults on weekdays and 220 crowns on weekends, with reduced prices for children and concessions. Children under the age of three can enter for free and since March 10, in solidarity with Ukraine during the ongoing war in the country, free entry has also been offered to Ukrainian refugees.

Berta D. Wells