Monday, 21 March 2011

The Animation Timeline: Jan Svankmajer(born September 1934)

Jan Svankmajer is a Czech surrealist stop motion animator and film maker. His is mostly well know for his stop motion animations using mixed media and his weird taste in storytelling. Being raised in Czechoslovakia where surrealism has been a continuous presence since the 1930's and has profoundly effected the film culture unlike the rest of Eastern Europe, he mentioned:  "I am not interested in people who are 'influenced by surrealism'. For them Surrealism on the whole signifies aesthetics-Surrealism is everything else world views, philosophy, ideology. psychology, magic"  (Richardson.2006:121)
As a Sourrealist Svankmajer is fascinated by the power of dreams and evokes these through everyday objects and events. He uses food, materials and objects that we usually take for granted. Yet through those daily routine objects he creates magnificent animation and totally changes our prospective on daily facts. "He revels in getting an interior life out of objects and materials, ranging from real organs such as liver, to food and clay often mixing live action actors with the animation. If it can move, Svankmajer will move it." (Purves.2008:150). His use of sound and editing disoriented the viewer;s expectations which made his work so unique and interesting to watch.
FIG.4 Alice (1988)
His animations are packed with randomness. One of his work called Dimensions of a Dialogue(FIG.2)(1982) shows two animated clay figures who devour eachother until the process turns them into a homogeneous group. After that the lovers claw eachother to pieces over their recently produced offspring. Through this short film it could be claimed that Svankmajer tries to symbolize the aftermath of a love affair: it can either end well or with the lovers destroying one another over an unwanted offspring. 
Probably one Svankamjer's most famous film could be Alice(1988)(FIG.4), a fairly faithful retelling of the Lewis Carol classic followed by his surreal touches. Wonderland from Svankmajer's point of view is a series of rooms in a rundown house and the path into it is a running gag of stuck desk drawers. There are no typical Disney cute animals involved but real animals skulls with animated eyeballs.  "Svankmajer here rejects both the model that figures adaptation as literature in performance and the conventional monosyllabic visual symbolism that so reduces literature in adaptation."(Camilla, Elliot). Svankmajer mastered the tedious art of puppet animation to achieve an even more unreal effect than even the Carrol original.
Today. Jan Svankmajer works in Prague, where he is active as a surrealist artist in a number of mediums, including sculpture and live-action film-making and as well as animation. He carries the name of one of most important animators of the 20th century and still fascinates with his work.


Richardson. Michael(2006). Surealism and Cinema. New York: Berg Publishers
Elliot,Camilla.Rethinking the Novel/Film Debate .Cambridge University Press
Purves, Barry(2008) Stop motion: passion, process and performance.USA: Elsevier Ltd

List of Illustrations

FIG.1: Svankmajer At: (accessed on 20/3/2011)
FIG.2: Dimensions of  a Dialogue At: (accessed on 20/3/2011)
FIG.3: At:  (accessed on 20/3/2011)
FIG.4: Alice At:  (accessed on 20/3/2011)

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