Billion Dollar Location: Czech Republic – Animation and Visual Effects Take Root and Grow

Bolstered by state subsidies, creativity thrives in a friendly environment

While the czech Republic’s historical architecture, scenic landscapes and state-of-the-art soundstages have made it a favorite location for international filmmakers, the country’s long tradition of animation, along with its high-tech visual effects and post-production sectors, have helped solidify the nation’s place as a cinematic hub in the center of Europe.

As with production, the Czech vfx and post industries have benefited from the country’s film incentive program, which continues to lure major film and TV projects. “International productions in the Czech Republic are very dependent on rebates and subsidies,” says Vit Komrzy, managing director of Prague-based Universal Production Partners (UPP), the country’s leading post-production and vfx house.

UPP has handled vfx services for such recent shows as the FX series “Tyrant,” BBC’s “The Musketeers,” and Netflix’s “Marco Polo” while also continuing to work on major studio films such as “Gods of Egypt” and Robert Zemeckis’ “The Walk.”

Smaller vfx outfits include Progressive FX, which recently worked on Roel Reine’s Dutch historical epic “Admiral”; Dazzle Pictures, whose credits include Giuseppe Tornatore’s “Best Offer,” with Geoffrey Rush; and I/O Post, which focuses largely on domestic productions.

In animation, the Czech Republic’s toon tradition continues to make its mark. Animation company Maur Film co-produced the experimental short “Superbia,” which unspooled at this year’s Cannes’ Critics’ Week, and Lucie Sunkova’s short “The Tree.”

Like many of the country’s animators who embrace the traditional craft and individuality of hand-drawn animation, Sunkova’s paint-on-glass technique is labor-intensive: one second of film involves repainting a scene 24 times. In an interview with Monocle, Sunkova says the technique serves her artistic style well, although financing remains a struggle because Czech cinemas do not show short films.

Veteran animator Jan Svankmajer, meanwhile, is working on his latest film. His Athanor production company has started an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for the 81-year-old’s surreal film “Insects,” which he says will be his final film.

Recent productions from young up-and-coming animators have also wowed auds on the festival circuit, including “Zoo Story,” by Veronika Zacharova, which next screens at this year’s Munich Film Festival, and “Happy End,” Jan Saska’s black comedy about death, which unspooled this year in Cannes’ Director’s Fortnight and won best student film at this year’s Anifilm in Trebon.

Building on Czech traditions of puppet animation established by the likes of Jiri Trnka and Bretislav Pojar, Filip Posivac and Barbora Valecka’s short “Deep in Moss” premiered on Czech internet TV platform Stream.cz. It also saw limited distribution in selected domestic cinemas earlier this year before winning the best Czech film prize at Anifilm. Producer Pavla Janouskova Kubeckova of production shingle Nutprodukce says the collaboration with Stream.cz made it possible for “Deep in Moss” to reach new viewers.

Other emerging animators include Aurel Klimt, who is currently making “Lajka,” an animated puppet sci-fi musical with Studio Zvon, UPP and Studio Bystrouska that re-imagines the voyage of the star-crossed Soviet space dog. Jan Balej impressed critics last year with “Little From the Fish Shop,” a stop-motion adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” from Miracle Film.

Meanwhile, Prague-based 3Bohemians is playing an integral role in training and skill improvement for domestic and international animators. Working with professional mentors from Pixar, DreamWorks and BluSky, the company organizes the Anomalia series of educational courses in the small Czech town of Litomysl.
 
(Pictured above: Aurel Klimt works on “Lajka”)

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