Trnka, JirÍ

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Animator. Nationality: Czech. Born: Pilsen, 24 February 1912. Education: Attended Arts and Crafts School (UMPRUM), Prague, 1928–35. Family: Married Ružena Trnková. Career: 1923—began making puppets; 1926—shop assistant, designer in modern puppet theater of Josef Skupa; 1928–35—while student at UMPRUM, newspaper cartoonist; 1936—founded puppet theater "Dřevěné divadlo" (Wooden Theatre); late 1930s—graphic artist, painter, and book illustrator; 1937—Wooden Theatre fails; 1941–44—scenic artist at National Theatre; 1945—began working in animation at invitation of members of studio that becomes "Bratři v triku" Studio; 1946—began making puppet films. Awards: National Artist; Order of Labor. Died: In Prague, 30 December 1969.

Films as Animator, Writer, and Art Director:


Zasadil dědek řepu (Grandpa Planted a Beet) (cartoon)


Zvířátka a Petrovští (The Animals and the Brigands) (cartoon); Dárek (The Gift) (cartoon); Pérák a SS (The Springer and SS-Men) (cartoon)


"Masopust" (Carnival), "Jaro" (Spring), "Legenda o svatém Prokopu" (Legend of St. Prokop), "Pout" (Fair), "Posvícení" (Feast), "Betlém" (Bethlehem) eps. of Spalíček (The Czech Year) (puppet film)


Císařuv slavík (The Emperor's Nightingale) (puppet film)


Román s basou (Novel with a Contrabass) (puppet film); Arie prérie (The Song of the Prairie) (puppet film)


Certuv mlýn (The Devil's Mill) (puppet film); Bajaja (Bayaya) (puppet film); Veselý cirkus (The Merry Circus) (puppet film) (+ paper-cut animation)


O zlaté rybce (The Golden Fish) (cartoon)


Staré pověsti cěské (Old Czech Legends) (puppet film); Jak stařeček měnil až vyměnil (How Grandpa Changed Till Nothing Was Left) (cartoon)


Dva mrazíci (Two Frosts) (puppet film); Kutásek a Kutilka, jak ráno vstávali (Kutásek and Kutilka) (puppet film)


"Z Hatvanu do Haliče" (From Putim to Putim), "Svejkovy nehody ve vlaku" (Schweik's Difficulties on the Train), and "Svejkova budějovická anabase" (Schweik and Cognac) eps. of Osudy dobrého vojáka Svejkova (The Good Soldier Schweik) (puppet film); Cirkus Hurvínek (Hurvínek's Circus) (puppet film)


Proč UNESCO? (Why UNESCO?) (cartoon)


Sen noci svatojánské (A Midsummer Night's Dream) (puppet film)


Vášeň (Passion) (puppet film)


Kybernetická babička (Cybernetic Granny) (puppet film)


Archanděl Gabriel a paní Husa (Archangel Gabriel and Mistress Goose) (puppet film)


Maxplatte, Maxplatten (puppet film); Ruka (The Hand) (puppet film)

Other Films:


Capkovy povídky (Tales By Capek) (Frič) (art d); Liska a džbán (The Fox and the Jug) (Látal) (art d + co-sc)


Perníková chaloupka (Gingerbread Hut) (Pojar, puppet film) (art d); Císařuv pekař—Pekařuv císař (The Emperor's Baker and the Baker's Emperor) (Fric) (art d)


O skleničkú víc (One Glass Too Much) (Pojar, puppet film) (art d)


Byl jednou jeden král (Once Upon a Time There Was a King) (Bořivoj Zeman) (art d); Jan Hus (Vávra) (art d)


Spejbl na stopě (Spejbl on the Trail) (Pojar, puppet film) (art d); Jan Zižka (A Hussite Warrior) (Vávra) (co-costume des)


Proti všem (Against All) (Vávra) (co-costume des); Paraplíčko (The Brolly) (Pojar, puppet film) (des "magic grandpa" puppet)


Bombomanie (Bombomania) (Pojar, puppet film) (art d)


Pulnoční příhoda (The Midnight Event) (Pojar, puppet film) (art d)


Blaho lásky (The Bliss of Love) (Brdečka, cartoon) (art d)


By TRNKA: articles—

"The Puppet Film as an Art," interview with Jaroslav Brož, in Film Culture (New York), no. 5–6, 1955.

"An Interview with the Puppet-Film Director, Jiří Trnka," with Jaroslav Brož, in Film (London), January-February 1956.

"20 let Cs.filmu—vypovídá Jiří Trnka," interview with Jaroslav Brož, in Film a Doba (Prague), no. 6, 1965.

On TRNKA: books—

Benešová, Marie, Od Spalíčku ke Snu noci svatojánské, Prague, 1961.

Boček, Jaroslav, Jiří Trnka, Artist and Puppet Master, Prague, 1963.

Hoffmeister, Adolf, Cas se nevrací!, Prague, 1965.

Benešová, Marie, Jiří Trnka, brochure, Prague, 1970.

Trnková, Ružena, and Helena Chvojková, Muj syn, Prague, 1972.

On TRNKA: articles—

Metzl, E., "Four European Illustrators," in American Artist, December 1955.

Orna, Bernard, "Trnka's Little Men," in Films and Filming (London), November 1956.

Polt, Harriet, "The Czechoslovak Animated Film," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley, California), Spring 1964.

Bocek, Jaroslav, "Trnkovské postskriptum," in Film a Doba (Prague), no. 3, 1966.

"Trnkaland," in Newsweek (New York), March 1966.

Obituary in the New York Times, 31 December 1969.

Fiala, Miloš, "O Jiřím Trnkovi se Stanislavem Látalem a Břetislavem Pojarem," in Film a Doba (Prague), no. 4, 1970.

Fiala, Miloš, "O Jiřím Trnkovi s Václavem Trojanem a Jiřím Brdečkou," in Film a Doba (Prague), no. 5, 1970.

Obituary in Newsweek (New York), 12 January 1970.

Film a Doba (Prague), February 1987.

CinémAction (Conde-sur-Noireau), no. 51, April 1989.

Film a Doba (Prague), April 1990.

Nosferatu (San Sebastian), February 1992.

Meils, Cathy, in Variety (New York), 9 June 1997.

* * *

A puppeteer at heart, a skilled painter and renowned illustrator, Jiří Trnka was 33 years old in 1945 when associates at the animated film studio (later the "Bratři v triku" Studio) asked him to collaborate with them.

In only one year he created four animated films in rapid succession, making a strong impact on the development of the genre. With their naive charm and an artistic conception based on unfettered drawing and a new method of film narration that was well received by the international moviegoing public, these works demonstrated huge innovations in animation, and broke the monopoly in this area of art previously enjoyed by Walt Disney. However, Trnka did not find animated films artistically satisfying, and after leaving the studio he went off to a small atelier to attempt a film with puppets. He immediately produced a magnificent work, Spalíček (The Czech Year), in which he depicted the Czech year from spring through winter in the customs, rituals, work, holidays, and legends of country life. Spalíček is a key work which portrays the Czech attitudes towards life, work, love, faith, and death. It anticipates a number of motifs from his later work, motifs which Trnka would develop at various places in various genres and which resonate throughout his oeuvre.

Along the pathway of the puppet film Trnka would create his own world, but he would also show that the expressive possibilities of the puppet film are boundless. He depicts ancient times in legends and myths, visions of the future, and the worlds of fairy tales and of modern times. He switches genres from comedy through parody, satire, and pantomime to drama and parable. He translates into cinematic form the works of Andersen [Císařuv slavík (The Emperor's Nightingale)], Chekhov [Román s basou (Novel with a Contrabass)], Němcová [Bajaja (Bayaya)], Hasěk [Osudy dobrého vojáka Svejkova (The Good Soldier Schweik)], Shakespeare [Sen noci svatojánské (A Midsummer Night's Dream)], and Boccaccio [Archanděl Gabriel a paní Husa (Archangel Gabriel and Mistress Goose)]. He recognizes the encroachment of technology into human life as one of the greatest threats to mankind [Císařuv slavik (The Emperor's Nightingale)] and returns to this theme again in the film Vášerí (Passion) and in the science-fiction film Kybernetická babička (Cybernetic Granny). In his last work, the philosophical study Ruka (The Hand), Trnka creates a timeless parable about man and the detrimental effects of power.

Until the end of his life, however, he continued to devote himself to illustrating, woodcarving, sculpture, and painting, in order, as he put it, "to capture a story, but in a single phrase." He was awarded the Andersen Prize in memoriam for his illustration work.

Trnka was an extraordinarily talented and hard-working individual. He painted and wrote and was a woodcutter, a sculptor, and an illustrator. In all his films he was not only a writer and graphic artist but also an editor, a designer and builder of puppets, and a designer of puppet costumes. Often misunderstood and attacked by the critics, he never bent to any pressures.

The work he produced was well-rounded, full of human warmth, tenderness, wisdom, humor, and grace. He succeeded in bringing the puppet film out of the periphery and into mature prominence. He brought the masterworks of literature into the purview of the puppet film and expressed philosophical ideas and emotions with such urgency that his films have become not only a landmark but also a yardstick for puppet films yet to be made.

Truly a unique genius of Czech culture in the second half of the twentieth century, Trnka demonstrated by his work that the animated film can convey all the conditions of the human spirit.

—Vladimír Opěla