Thursday, 22 March 2012

Unit 5: Animation - Animator Profile - Jan Svankmajer 1934 - present

Figure 1. Jan Svankmajer

One could say that Svankmajer’s surreal eye is the more domineering aspect of his trade. His models border very close to the uncanny while scaring on familiar levels. One could argue that Svankmajer’s stories benefit from his style, creating a strange insecurity within us all. With that being said he is still a great contributor to the animation medium.

Best known for:

•His Surreal Uncanny stop motion technique
•Animated Feature “Alice”
•Animated Feature “Faust”
•Animated Feature “Conspirators of pleasure”

Figure 2. Surreal clay Sculpture

Jan Svankmajer’s passion grew from early childhood with a gift that would send him into the animation medium. Having been gifted a puppet theatre Svankmajer went on to establish his body of work through forging custom made puppets (much like Ladislaw Starewicz). However, it is established that Snakmajer never wanted to succeed as an animator but to succeed by giving life to otherwise everyday objects. From this one could argue that Svankmajer never intended to tell a story but to just establish humans interacting with artificiality. When asked about his technique in an interview animator Jan Svankmajer replied:
“Animators tend to construct a closed world for themselves, like pigeon fanciers or rabbit breeders." Svankmajer stated in an interview, "I never call myself an animated filmmaker because I am interested not in animation techniques or creating a complete illusion, but in bringing life to everyday objects”. (Svankmajer: 1997)
Still when one thinks of Svankmajer’s work it is quite fair to say that that a story is still somewhat at the heart, even if it is not his goal to deliver an animated film. Perhaps what Svankmajer’s work signifies is just how far one can push an audience before their thoughts on a concept change. One could argue that his work is just a testament to his understanding of the human psyche to which some of his more Freudian interpretations are to be considered. Svankmajer’s work is a lesson to us all, to establish what is right & what is wrong in terms of animation.

Figure 3. Alice

One cannot help but also lay homage to Svankmajers fascination to the act of eating, turning a usually fruitless on screen act into a cursed reality. Let us consider Svankmajers work “Alice”, in which you have a girl not questioning the food on display, eating cookies which inevitably change her in size. It is even fair to consider the rabbit that is forever late, constantly eating its own stuffing which ejects through its chest. These acts are slightly ambiguous mostly a testament to Svankmajers importance of the food to his narrative. Still it is fair to say Svankmajer had a goal in mind for “Alice” one that would transcend the Disney classic. Jeremy Heilman of Movie Martyr observes:
“Instead of dumbing down Carroll’s novel, as Disney’s animated feature did, Svankmajer tries to understand what it is that makes its youthful protagonist tick. If he doesn’t seem to come to the same conclusions that Carroll did, he certainly makes a film that offers a compelling alternative reading”. (Heilman: 2002)
Svankmajer focused on the protagonist of Carroll’s classic novel as opposed to the wonders of the life down a rabbit hole. One cannot help but wonder why a seemingly sweet girl would follow a scary rabbit into a drawer, or for that matter understand where that drawer came from. One could argue that Svankmajer wanted to focus on that sweet girl even going so far as to make her somewhat ambiguous. The story is entirely about Alice & does not revolve around certainty; objects feel as though they choose when to appear & what role they are to play in the next shot.

Figure 4. Faust

With the allure of Alice aside let us return to Svankmajer whose work originated with the concept of puppetry. Svankmajer explores realms some would consider to be distasteful or unsettling; still it is not without renown. Some have to be bold to find their true place of their chosen medium; Svankmajer’s goal is to understand how the human psyche reacts to his work & why. Svankmajers work is a celebration of creativity & the modern world in general, for each scene of his work is not only a reflection on him, but a reflection on us. Chris Buckle of The Skinny Cultural Journal observes:
“Whether live action, animation, or, most often, a combination of the two, Svankmajer’s work celebrates the power of imagination in all its facets: absurd, fantastical, allegorical, and often unsettling. Svankmajer takes mundane reality and sculpts something uncanny”. (Buckle: 2012)
The uncanny is most certainly something that Svankmajer battles with on a continual basis, mostly due to some of his more true life subjects (the rabbit in Alice for example). One can only attribute this once again to Svankmajer’s continual identification of the psyches interpretation of Uncanny. This claim is less true of Svankmajer’s more creative projects in which the characters are based of usual inanimate objects that have somewhat come to life, after all the Uncanny is only felt when a familiar object feels unfamiliar (moving in a funny way, etc). Jan Svankmajer will forever be an animator of note for generations to come.


List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Jan Svankmajer. (com) [Online image]. At:
(Accessed on: 21/03/12)

Figure 2. Surreal clay Sculpture. (com) [Online image]. At:
(Accessed on: 21/03/12)

Figure 3. Alice. (com) [Online image]. At:
(Accessed on: 21/03/12)

Figure 4. Faust. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 21/03/12)



Svankmajer, Jan. (1997) The Surrealist Conspirator: An Interview With Jan Svankmajer. At:
(Accessed on: 21/03/12)

Heilman, Jeremy. (2002) Alice (Jan Svankmajer) 1988. At: (Accessed on: 21/03/12)

Buckle, Chris. (2012) GFF 2012: 85A Presents Jan Svankmajer. At: (Accessed on: 21/03/12)

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