Thursday, 12 April 2012

Animator Profile : Jan Svankmajer

Fig. 1
Jan Svankmajer (1934-present) is a Czech artist and film creator, who prides himself in working with several different medians in one production. Labeled as a surrealist, his works reflect his passion in exploring various untapped themes and very questionable metaphorical imagery. His surreal animations have been majorly influenced by the Brothers Quay and Terry Gilliam. When a child, Svankmajer was given a puppet theatre, where it is believed to be the source of inspiration sparking the stop-motion innovation. He studied College of Applied Arts in Prague, where he progressed within the creative industry. Svankmajer gained a reputation for his distinctive use of stop-motion technique, where he encapsulates a surreal nightmare with erotically entertaining images.
Zeitgeist Films states, "Svankmajer made his first film in 1964 and for over thirty years has made some of the most memorable and unique animated films ever made, gaining a reputation as one of the world's foremost animators, and influencing filmmakers from Tim Burton to The Brothers Quay." (Zeitgeist Films 1988) Zeitgeist films sing Svankmajer's praises and express why, like them, so many others love his unique and quirky creations. There's something so engaging, yet annoyingly irritating about the surrealist features he has created. The overwhelming compassion to hate, yet be hypnotised by his work is prominent. Definitely down to taste and influential backgrounds.
Fig. 2
Alice (1988) is a visual masterpiece in its own right, something so endearing about the 'vintage' set design. There is definite surreal and sexual references portrayed throughout, which is expected. The fact there's a mix of stop-motion and live action is beautifully entwined, bringing out the narrative. The original story was pretty much as mad as the 'Mad Hatter's Tea Party', Svankmajer just brings this visually to life. Geoff Andrew suggests, "Nobody who has seen even one of Svankmajer's shorts is likely to doubt that the Czech surrealist would make the definitive version of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. For no other film-maker - and that includes David Lynch - is so consistently inventive in his ability to marry pure, startling nonsense with rigorous logic, black wit with piercing psychological insights ... A wonderland, indeed, imbued with a grotesque, cruel, and menacing dream-logic at once distinctively Svankmajer's and true to the spirit of Carroll." (Andrew 2006) Andrew expresses wonderfully Svankmajer's dark and 'cruel' style, as well as describ what makes the film itself so distinctive. 
Fig. 3
Svankmajer's recent works have been highly praised and admired by many, it is clear his unique and extreme style is still beloved by many. Barbara Frigerio argues, "Psychoanalysis in stop-motion by Jan Å vankmajer, a landmark for Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam, funny with sarcasm and his Surviving Life hits with the strength of its images. As always surreal, the animated movie genius uses photographs of his actors, with pauses of some real scenes, to build a plot that is between dream and reality, between consciousness and unconsciousness." (Frigerio 2010) Frigerio admires Svankmajer's style and his passion on bringing in genius ideas that contrast to create a truly thought provoking feature. The film portrayed in Fig. 3 appears throughout as if it is an artist's work in a gallery, something so fresh and exhilarating about the bold, contextual imagery - like a painting in motion.

List of illustrations

Figure 1. Jan Svankmajer. At: (Accessed on:2/4/12)

Figure 2. Svankmajer, Jan (1988) Alice. At: (Accessed on:2/4/12)
Figure 3. Svankmajer, Jan (2011) Surviving Life. At: (Accessed on:2/4/12)


Zeitgeist Films (1988) Jan Svankmajer Biography. At: (Accessed on:3/4/12)
Geoff Andrew (2006) Alice (1988). At: (Accessed on:3/4/12)
Barbara Frigerio (2010) The animation genius Jan. At: (Accessed on:3/4/12)

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