A video recording of the synchronous sessions for the week will be uploaded after each class to this folder (https://www.dropbox.com/sh/zjuxktfzizh7pdf/AAC7dFC5cauIsRRk6ft8rSoIa?dl=0) (the password can be found on the “Welcome” page of this course’s Blackboard site – email me if you can’t find it)
International Development in Post War Animation
We will look at how different national animated productions developed in the aftermath of WWII, and how they were shaped by geo-political factors.
Jump to the different sections with the links below:
WWII (1939-1945) left much of the world in turmoil. The trauma of the Holocaust, the destruction of European cities, civilian casualties, the fall of fascist regimes, and the rise of Communist governments and censorship would lead to a complete shift in world economics, politics, and cultural output.
In contrast to Europe, the USA (who had won the war with their allies: Great Britain and the Soviet Union) were experiencing a social and economic boom: policies encouraging returning soldiers to get an education and to buy homes led to the “baby boom” (a period marked by a significant increase of birth rate). Jobs were plentiful as factories which had been used to manufacture weapons were repurposed to produce consumer goods.
It is important to note that these socially-minded policies did not apply to African-American veterans. Segregation, racial violence, and state racism were still the conditions under which African-American citizens lived for much of the late 1940s – 1960s. While the civil-rights movement led to many important legislations in the fight for equality, systemic racism is still alive and well today. The fact that African-America families weren’t given the same benefits as their white counterparts after WWII, accounts for a lot of the social disparities in today’s America.
A sense of foreign threat, and belief in the need to maintain a strong military, was still very present in the USA after WWII’s victory. The Soviets (who had been the USA’s allies during the war) were now perceived as enemies as the two global powers vied for influence and control over the post-war world. While this fight never reached US soil (thus the term “Cold War” (1947–1991)), it devastated many countries (i.e: Korea, Chile, Vietnam, Afghanistan – to name just a few) where the Soviet and American government provided resources to their respective supporters. The threat of a nuclear attack was also an everyday reality as the USSR and China acquired the bomb which had been used by the US to destroy Hiroshima & Nagasaki during WWII. While Communist regimes were very restrictive and punitive – in some cases responsible for mass murder – America led its own type of censorship during the Cold War: the US government started investigating, prosecuting, and in some cases executing, its own citizens who were suspected of having communist ties. Artists such as Charlie Chaplin (filmmaker), Langston Hughes (poet), and Leonard Bernstein (composer) were “Blacklisted” (meaning that they weren’t allowed to work, publish, and/or get funding), and some left the country.
While the fight for political power was difficult at times, the US was winning on the cultural front: American popular-culture was flowing into many nations and becoming increasingly popular – including American animation which dominated worldwide distribution. Many nations emulated the Disney style, as in Italy’s first feature-film “La Rosa di Bagdad” (“The Rose of Baghdad”) (1949) by Anton Gino Domenighini (the film was released in the US in 1952 and Julie Andrews even provided the princesse’s voice. See excerpt (3 min) below). Governments were aware of the power of cinema and animation – both economically and culturally – and wanted local alternatives to American films. In some countries, government funding was provided to encourage production and led to a thriving animation culture.
“At the end of WWII, Great Britain found itself at a major crossroads. Millions of its young men were returning home from fighting on the continent and needed jobs, medical care and help returning to the normalcy of peacetime. Furthermore, parts of Britain needed to be rebuilt after having been heavily bombed during the war, especially London, where Germany dropped thousands of bombs in less than a year during the London Blitz. Among Britons, there was a general consensus that the country’s first post-war priority should be meeting the domestic needs of its citizens and cities before anything else. (…) [Clement] Attlee, who had been appointed Britain’s first ever Deputy Prime Minister during the war, won the election through claiming the Labour Party could rebuild Britain after the war better than the Conservative Party, whom he branded as a party fit only for wartime leadership. He was elected based on campaign promises that the Labour Party would focus on achieving and maintaining full employment in Britain, nationalize key industries and create an entirely free National Health Service.” (from study.com)
In the 1940s, England became home to the largest private animation studio in Europe: Halas & Batchelor Cartoon Films – named after its founders Hungarian John Halas (1912-1995) & Joy Batchelor (1914 – 1991) (who were also husband and wife). They balanced work in advertising, government-sponsored projects, entertainment films and more personal productions. They created 70 war-effort themed films during WWII. After the war, the studio moved into educational and public-relations films. One popular series was centered around a character named Charley and was meant to introduce new government initiatives – such as urban planning in “Charley in New Town” (1948) by John Halas and Joy Batchelor (8 min) (see below) – to the public.
They were also commissioned to create work for the US government to promote the Marshall Plan (an aid program wherein the US gave billions of dollars to European countries to rebuild after the war in an effort to stem the growth of Communism), including “Shoemaker & the Hatter” and “Think of the Future” (both from 1949). The CIA partially financed the production of the studio’s first feature film (1 h 12min) (and the first widely released British animated feature) “Animal Farm” (1954) by John Halas & Joy Batchelor (see below) – based on George Orwell’s anti-communist parable. The film did well at the box office and the reviews were favorable. The film was later distributed around the world by the United States Information Agency (USIA) through its overseas libraries. You can read more about the political context of the film’s production in “The cartoon that came in from the cold” by Karl Cohen.
Canada did not have to rebuild its cities like European countries did, but its leaders used the end of WWII as an opportunity to modernize the nation’s industry and to strengthen its economy. Similarly to the USA, the fear of Communism led to repression against “left-wing agitators” who were investigated and deported.
The NFB (National Film Board of Canada) was established in 1939, and was initially focused on documentary films. In 1941, they hired Scottish-born Norman McLaren (1914-1987) who laid the grounds for the animation unit. McLaren stayed at the NFB for his entire career and became one of the most influential animators in history. To this day, the NFB is one of the most important government-funded film institutions (particularly for animation) in the world.
McLaren Experimented with several techniques, including drawing, painting, scratching, pixilation (animation created using the movements of animate figures – usually people), modified-base technique (drawing, erasing and redrawing on a single surface), optical printing, stereoscopy etc. He documented all his films in a series of notes which explain his technical processes in detail and are available for free from the NFB website. He made effective public-information films but also personal films (60 in total). Some of his most famous works include:
“Now Is The Time” (1951) (3 min) (see below) ” along with “Around Is Around”, one of two 3-D films commissioned by the British Film Institute for the Festival of Britain. Photographed paper cutouts and images drawn directly on film stock were given single-frame animation. Stereoscopy was achieved by photographing and drawing two visuals (one for the left eye, one for the right eye) with controlled displacement of the elements in relationship to each other. The hand-drawn sound was also composed and recorded on two separate bands for stereoscopic playing.” (from nfb.ca)
“Neighbours” (1952) (8 min) (see below) In this Oscar®-winning short film, Norman McLaren employs pixilation. He also did the sound design by using a technique called “direct-sound” wherein he created images on cards that were photographed into the optical-sound region of the filmstrip, where they could be read by the projector. The result is a synthetic soundtrack that sounds somewhat like early video-games. He continued to experiment with direct sound throughout his career.
McLaren also served as an important ambassador for the NFB and for Canada in general, traveling to other countries to develop projects that would foster international understanding and collaboration. He took a year-long leave to work for the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) which promotes world peace and human rights through creative projects.
To dive further into McLaren’s work, watch the full-feature (1 h 56 min) documentary “Creative Process: Norman McLaren” (1990) on the NFB website.
The NFB has funded many important animated films over the years – and still does. Evelyn Lambart (1914-1999) and René Jodoin (1920-2015) are two other important figures associated with the organization and McLaren in the post-war years. Evelyn Lambart was a close collaborator of McLaren but also made her own films, including “Fine Feather” (1968) (5 min) (see below) for which she used paper cut-outs.
René Jodoin co-direcetd some films with McLaren and directed abstract animated shorts – such as “Ronde Carrée” (“Dance Squared”) (1961) (3 min) (see below) – of his own.
The French animation industry was relatively small during the 1930s. Before the war, the most prominent studio was Les Gémeaux (see week 7). It was Founded by Paul Grimault (1905-1994) and André Sarrut in 1936 and received financial support during the German occupation. At the end of the war, Grimault teamed up with poet and screenwriter Jaques Prevert (1900-1977) to adapt a tale by Hans Christian Andersen into an animated short “Le Petit Soldat” (“The Little Soldier”) (1946) (10 min) (see below). The team also wrote a full-feature film that was completed years later, in 1979: “Le Roi et L’Oiseau” (“The King and the Mockingbird”) (see trailer for restored version (1 min) below). Grimault makes very little use of dialogue ( “The Little Soldier” is entirely told in pantomime), and while the characters don’t have the fluidity or physicality of their Disney counterparts, the poetic narration, lavish backgrounds, and expressive movement was extremely influential in France and abroad (“The King and the Mockingbird” has been cited by the Japanese directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata as an influence).
Imre Hajdú, better known by his stage name, Jean Image (1910-1989). Worked in his native Hungary and in England before opening an animation school and studio in France – Jean Image Productions – in 1948. He produced the first color, feature-length animated film in France: “Jeannot l’Intrépide” (“Johnny the Giant Killer”) (1950) (see trailer (1 min) below). After which he made one more feature-length film and transitioned to TV in 1960s. He was integral in the creation of the Annecy International Animated Film Festival (still one of the most renowned International animation festivals) in 1959.
After the War, the Allied Forces installed a new order in Japan: the Japanese Army was dismantled, feudal culture (a very hierarchical system wherein land ownership and its use was exchanged for military service and loyalty) was denounced and the emperor became a figurehead with no political control. All aspects of Japanese society, including the production of animation was affected. Films deemed feudalistic or anti-democratic were criticized and sometimes destroyed.
Japanese animation already had a long animation history by the time of WWII. Noburo Ofuji (1960-1961) was known for cutouts made of traditional Japanese chiyogami paper influenced by Lotte Reiniger (see week 2), such as in “The Golden Flower” (1929) (17 min) (see below).
Other animators worked in a variety of styles. The trailer below (2 min) offers a sample of pioneering pre-WWII Japanese films by Noburo Ofuji, Kenzo Masaoka, and Mitsuyo Seo:
The filmmaking industry became much more restrictive during the 1930s when Japan was engaged in several wars. In 1934, the Film Control Committee was initiated to put the film production under the jurisdiction of the government and it became increasingly difficult to import foreign films.
One of the country’s most important studios, Toei Doga was formally established in 1956 but its origins can be traced back to immediately after the war, when a lot of the artists that would become Toei Doga’s leading figures were hired by the Shin Nihon Dogasha studio. After a series of changes and mergers, the studio was finally purchased by Toei which had been focused on live-action productions until then. The studio quickly started creating films for the theatrical distribution, using tools and visual tropes similar to those used by Disney at the time (i.e: princesses, cute animals, linear narrative etc.). These were ambitious works that foreshadowed the great growth that Japan would experience over the next two decades and onward, eventually making it a world leader in animation production (see week 13).“Hakujaden” (“The Tale of the White Serpent”) (1958) (see video analysis (5 min) below) by Teiji Yabushita (1903 – 1986) and Kazuhiko Okabe is a great example of the post-war productions at Toei Doga. It was the first full-feature color anime, and was extremely influential. Some of the young animators who worked on the film would later become leaders in the industry. For example, Yasuo Ōtsuka (1931-2021) who worked on the catfish character later became a mentor and close collaborator of both Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata.. Miyazaki himself has said of the film “I first fell in love with animation when I saw “The Tale of the White Serpent” (…). I can still remember the pangs of emotion I felt at the sight of the incredibly beautiful young female character, Bai-Niang, and how I went to see the movie over and over as a result.”
The video and commentary by Stevem below (5 min) offers a good overview of the film, its production, aesthetic, and influence:
After WWII, China, which had been occupied by Japan until the end of the war, was torn between two political parties – the Kuomintang – led by Chiang Kai Shek, and the Communists – led by Mao Zedong. In 1949, Mao’s forces defeated Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalist government. But Mao’s promise of a class-free society, quickly turned into an authoritarian regime that would starve and murder its own citizens, and censor speech and culture. In the late 1950s, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution – an effort to “purify China of Western influences”, and to further suppress freedom of speech and information: not only were Western books, music, films etc. banned, but universities were closed, and citizens who were considered intellectuals (i.e: lawyers, engineers, professors etc.) were sent to “re-education” camps on collective farms. During the cultural purge, a lot of China’s history was destroyed, including animated films made before 1940.
It’s likely that the first Chinese animation dates to the early 1920s. The four Wan brothers were the most prominent animators at the time. They were exposed to and influenced by the Fleischer brothers’ work (see week 6), and created the first Chinese animated films with sound: “The Camel’s Dance” (1935) – an adaptation of an Aesop fable. Although they were influenced by Western productions, the also warned against relying too much on American style and were strong advocates for developing a national aesthetic, and embracing Chinese traditions and humor instead. They directed the first Chinese full-feature animated film, “Tie Shan Gongzhu” (“Princess iron Fan”) (1941) (1 h 12 min) (see below) – based on a character from a well-known story written in the 16th century. The film touches on Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist principles.
After WWII, the Dongbei Film Studio became a gathering place for some of China’s most important animators: Chen Bo’er (1907–1951) was one of the central creative and administrative figures there. She was also the first woman to direct an animated film in China: “Huang Di Meng” (“The Emperor’s Dream”)(1947) – a stop-motion propaganda film critical of Chiang Kai Shek’s party. The Wan brothers also eventually joined the studio in the late 1950s. In April 1957, Mao’s central government would begin funding and controlling the studio making it the nation’s first and official animation studio. Its official mission was to create films that were “entertaining, educational and Chinese in character”. For example, “Xiao ke DouZhao Ma Ma” (“Where’s Mama?”) (1960) by Te Wei & Qian Jajun (15 min) (see below) uses a technique that evokes traditional Chinese ink brush paintings.
In the late 1960s, As the Cultural Revolution became more and more repressive and disastrous for the country’s economy, the animation industry, like many other aspects of Chinese culture, nearly stopped and wouldn’t recover until the 1980’s.
The Soviet Army under Stalin’s leadership was integral in the Allies’ victory during WWII. After the war, the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) vied for global power against the USA.
Socialist Realism had been the required style of Soviet art since 1934: It was used as a propaganda tool to glorify the Communist agenda, and to emphasize optimism, bravery and patriotism. “Socialist Realist paintings and sculptures used naturalistic idealization to portray workers and farmers as dauntless, purposeful, well-muscled, and youthful.” (from Britannica). Soviet leaders recognized the popular appeal of films and animation and their power as educational and propagandist tools, thus supporting and controlling both industries heavily.
The government-run animation Studio Soyuzmultfilm was founded in Moscow in 1936. Animators were paid by the government. It would become the largest studio in the USSR. At first it only produced hand-drawn animation, but stop-motion productions were also added to their roster in 1953.
Adaptations of traditional stories were common because they tended to gain approval easily: Soviet ideology saw traditional stories as a means of promoting national pride that would appeal to all ages. For example, one of the studio’s most popular films, “Ivashko i Baba Yaga”(“Ivashko and Baba Yaga”) (1938) by the Brumberg sisters (see below), is based on a well-known folktale. Perhaps the most well-known film produced during this era is “Snezhanaya Koroleva” (“The Snow Queen”) (1957) by Lev Atamov (see below)- a full-feature film (1 h 10 min) based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen. In 1959, the film was dubbed into English and released by Universal Pictures.
The volume of filmmaking increased (at the peak of production, by the beginning of the 1970s, the studio released more than 30 films a year), including annual production of feature films.
Valentina (1899 – 1975) and Zinaida (1900 – 1983) Brumberg (also known as the Brumberg Sisters) were leading figures at the Soyuzmultfilm Studio which they joined in 1936. In half a century they created around 50 films as animation directors, animators and screenwriters, always working together. While they worked in the Disney style during the first half of their career, they were amongst the first Soviet artists to embrace a modern, minimalistic style – as in “Bol’shie Nepriiatnosti” (“Great Troubles”) (1961) (10 min) (see below).
Yuri Norstein (born 1941) was trained at the Soyuzmultfilm vocational animation program and joined the studio when he graduated in 1961. His work is amongst the most unique, poetic and lauded in animation history. Many of his films are based on Russian children folktales. He used unhinged painted-cel cutouts to allow for fluid movement and easy replacement of body parts, as well as multi-layered backgrounds. Francesca Yarbusova (born 1942) – Norstein’s wife – is the art director for most of his films and created many of the character and background designs. “Hedgehog in the Fog” (1975) (10 min) (see below) is a great example of Norstein and Yarbusova’s attention to detail, poetic narration, use of depth/multiplane, and atmospheric elements.
“A Tale of Tales” (1979) (29 min) (see below) is the filmmakers’ best known work (it has been called “the greatest animated film of all the times” on many occasions). “It is Norstein’s ruminations on the ruthlessness of World War II, “though it’s not really my memories because I was only 4 when the war ended. It’s taking a few things that I remember from my very early childhood, but more generally, it’s a consideration of what is peace and what are those things that a person standing on the edge of a precipice of death cannot exist without — what are the things that are most essential and important?” (from “The Animator’s Ideal” by Richard Harrington).
A section of the documentary “Magia Russica” (2004) by Yonathan and Masha Zur (see excerpt – 5 min – below) offers a behind-the-scene look at the making of “A Tale of Tales”.
Norstein and Yarbusova have been working on an animated feature film adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s “The Overcoat” since 1981. Around 25 minutes were completed by 2004. However, as of 2021, the film remains unfinished, and its production time of 40 years is the longest for any animated motion picture in history.
From the Communist coup d’état in February 1948 to the Velvet Revolution in 1989 (a non-violent transition to a parliamentary republic), Czechoslovakia was ruled by the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and belonged to the Eastern Bloc (“the group of socialist states of Central and Eastern Europe, East Asia, and Southeast Asia under the influence of the Soviet Union and its ideology (socialism) that existed during the Cold War (1947–1991) in opposition to the capitalist Western Bloc.” – from Wikipedia).
Czechoslovakia’s long tradition of puppet theater can be felt in its animation output. The 18th century is considered a golden age of Czech puppetry: Typically, the puppets were intricately crafted wood characters with a detailed, exaggerated Baroque aesthetic, but nondescript facial expression, which meant they had to convey feelings through movement.
Itinerant puppeteers traveled throughout Eastern Europe, performing well-known theatrical works and operas. Since they were itinerant they were hard to censor and were able to address political topics. While these performances were banned by the Nazies during the occupation, anti-fascist shows continued underground. Many puppeteers were arrested and sent to concentration camps.
Jiří Trnka (1912-1969) is one of animation’s most heralded artists – he was considered a national hero because of the recognition he brought to Czechoslovakia with his puppet animation. “After graduating from the Prague School of Arts and Crafts, Trnka created a puppet theater in 1936. This group was dissolved when World War II began, and he instead designed stage sets and illustrated books for children throughout the war. In 1945, he founded the animation studio Bratři v triku with Eduard Hofman and Jiří Brdečka. While hist first films used 2D animation, Trnka did not feel comfortable with traditional animation, which in his opinion required too many intermediaries that prevented him from freely expressing his creativity.” (from Wikipedia) In the fall of 1946 he started creating puppet animation films. While he created the characters featured in his films, he never animated himself. He also didn’t create replacement heads for his puppets, following in the footsteps of traditional Czech puppetry wherein feelings had to be expressed through motion. His most famous (and last) film is “Ruka” (“The Hand”) (1965) (18 min) (see below) – a parable for an oppressive government (not unlike that of Czechoslovakia’s communist party at the time) hindering the artist’s creativity. The Czech government saw the film as subversive and refused to distribute it. Trnka died a few years later without making another film.
The short documentary (12 min) “Jiri Trnka – Czech Pupper Animation Master” (1967), provides a good overview of his life and work.
Bratři v triku is still active today and has released many award-winning films over the years created with an array of different techniques, including “Munro” (1960) by Gene Deitch (1924-2020) and written by Jules Feiffer (a famous American cartoonist and author) (8 min) (see below) which won the won an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film in 1961. The UPA (see week 9) animator Gene Deitch became associated with the studio after a 10-day business trip in the late 1950s during which he met his wife, Zdena Deitchová (born 1928), an animator who would become the studio’s director of operations. In his memoir he wrote: “We (UPA) were doing something completely different than Disney did. If you worked for Disney you had to learn how to draw Mickey Mouse, if you worked for Warner Brothers you had to learn how to draw Bugs Bunny, MGM, you had to draw Tom and Jerry. But UPA came out with the idea that we didn’t want to have standard characters, we wanted to be able to have a different style for every film according to the story. And so when I came here to Prague, the amazing thing was that they were doing exactly the same thing, and we’d thought we were just absolutely the originators of this idea! And the Czechs had been doing it all the time. And I thought, my god, it’s amazing, here we are behind the Iron Curtain, they’re seemingly fifty years behind us in everything else, but when it came to art, they were right up there.”
Jan Švankmajer (born 1934) is another leading figure of the Czech post-war animation scene. His animated films are also influenced by the Czech theater tradition. “Mr. Svankmajer was 13 when Czechoslovakia came under Communist rule. He studied theater directing and puppeteering, and worked at the Semafor playhouse in Prague before joining the Laterna Magika, an experimental company sometimes called the world’s first multimedia theater. In the 1960s, he joined the Czech Surrealist Group and applied its principles to his art. “The audiences were leaving my productions disgusted,” he said, because they couldn’t understand the avant-garde aesthetics.“That was when I realized that cinema is like a kind of time capsule, like a can where you can preserve a stage production and wait for the viewer,” he said. “I decided to focus on using the language of cinema.” But making films in the Czech studio system meant that Mr. Svankmajer had to submit his proposals for approval, then submit the scripts, then the final film, and the censors could always reject the film at any stage. In 1974, after his film “Leonardo’s Diary” was presented at the Cannes Film Festival, his work was condemned by a pro-government newspaper. The movie he was working on at the time, “Castle of Otranto,” came under greater scrutiny, and censors demanded he make many changes. Mr. Svankmajer refused and as a result was banned from filmmaking. He could not finish his movie until 1979 when the prohibition was lifted. (…) Mr. Svankmajer’s films combine many animation techniques, including claymation, drawn animation, montage, puppetry and stop-motion, sometimes using actors for live-action as well. He often darkens the mood by incorporating exaggerated sounds, like high-volume slurping or chewing, or juxtaposing lilting classical music over unsettling images.” (from “The ‘Godfather of Animated Cinema’ Makes More Than Just Movies” by Nina Siegal)
“Dimensions of Dialogue” (1982) (11 min) (see below) is a great example of Švankmajer aesthetic and tone.
After the war, Yugoslavia was led by Tito – a dictator who established rule through tight military control. He did not follow strict Communist party lines and Yugoslavia was regarded as relatively liberal compared to other Eastern Block countries. Artists did not have to adhere to “Socialist Realism” and were thus able to develop a unique approach to animation early on.
During the 1950s, artists using a modern-art style and subject matter geared at mature viewers became known as the “Zagreb School” of animation (named after the capital of Croatia). They worked in a state-run studio “Zagreb Film”. It operated like an artist’s workshop, producing many creator-driven, short personal films, as well as animated series and educational films. Its directors rejected Disney methods and were looking towards the mid century aesthetic taking hold in the 1950s (see week 9). Their approach was characterized by the use of streamlined, geometric forms, stylized characters, graphically oriented layouts, and limited animation, as in Dusan Vukotic‘s (1927 – 1998) “Ersatz”(1961) (10 min) (see below) – which won the Oscar for best animated short.
Borivoj Dovnikovic‘s (born 1930) – another leading figure of the Zagreb School – worked in several media and started animating films in the early 1960s. In “Znatiizelja” (“Curiosity”) (1966) (8 min) (see below), the images are created from relatively simple line drawings on white paper, allowing for a lot of experimentation with depth and changing environments, which are drawn into the scene and then removed. He helped establish the Zagreb International Animation Festival – still one of the most respected Animation Festivals in the world – in 1972.
- Quiz 2 will consist of 10 multiple choice questions taken on Blackboard. You will have 20 minutes to complete it once you start. Please review all films and concepts covered during weeks 4 – 8.
- Respond to the journal entry prompt(s) on this page.