Zagreb Film – the house of animated film


The history of modern animation immediately after World War II states the Czechs (Trnka, Zeman, Brdecka), the Americans (Bosustow and UPA) and the Canadians (McLaren) as the pioneers of media avant-garde after the already worn out Disney’s monumental feature-film concept of animated drawing. A surprising new contribution to that trend was provided in 1957 and 1958 by films from Zagreb, with an original approach to drawing, animation, content and an overall view of the animation art. After the first joint appearance abroad, at the Cannes Film Festival in 1958, the program made up of 7 films by Zagreb Film achieved great success. French critics George Sadoul and André Martin have already coined the label “Zagreb School of Animated Film”.


In 1953, the Croatian Union of Film Workers founded a film company Zagreb Film, which was supposed to deal with all kinds of film activities, from distribution to production of shorts and feature films. It began with ordered and commercial films, then feature film co-productions. The company soon specialized in documentaries and shorts which made Zagreb Film well-known at film festivals around the world. Krsto Papić, Ante Babaja and other author’s works will contribute not only to the reputation of Zagreb Film and Croatian cinematography but also to the artistic dignity of this film genre in the world.


In 1956, Zagreb Film opened the Studio for Animated Film, where the continuous work on animated films in Croatia was resumed after a several year break. Thanks to the artistic film animation, this film company will soon achieve world fame in film industry.


Croatian animation before Zagreb Film


Zagreb has a long tradition in art disciplines related to cartoons (illustration, caricature, comics, graphic design). That is why attempts at film animation have already been made since the 1920s, mostly in the fields of advertising and education. But the first realization of an artistic cartoon in Croatia, i.e. Yugoslavia, did not happen until 1950, when the attempt was made by a group of caricaturists from the satirical weekly magazine called Kerempuh Vladimir Delač, Borivoj Dovniković, Ivan Pušak, Ico Voljevica, Milan Goldschmidt and Branko Karabajić – supervised by Walter Neugebauer and the editor-in-chief and director Fadil Hadžić. After a year of mastering the technique of animation and film work, a 20-minute animated film, The Big Meeting (Veliki miting), was finished. Based on that success, the state founded a specialized company for the production of cartoons called Duga Film, where the team from Kerempuh gathered and trained new cartoonists, animators, copyists, colorists, scenographers and other specialists, and made 5 new cartoons, still in black and white technique. This marked the beginning of the continuous professional production of animated films in Croatia, i.e. Yugoslavia. Many authors now famous and significant in Croatian and world animation have started their careers in Duga Film: Dušan Vukotić, Borivoj Dovniković, Vlado Kristl, Aleksandar Marks, Vladimir Jutriša, Nikola Kostelac, Zlatko Grgić, Boris Kolar… After only one year, the state decided to liquidate Duga Film, considering that cartoons were a luxury during a period of economic crises (1952). Several attempts have been made later on to continue the suspended production of animated films (Zora Film, Studio Interpublic…). In 1954, Dušan Vukotić and Nikola Kostelac teamed up with several colleagues and associates from Duga Film for the production of 30-second commercial cartoons (now in color). At the same time, another group formed around the Neugebauer brothers, who founded the Cartoon Animation Studio within the advertising company Interpublic. They intended to do only advertising and informative animated films. They were the first ones in the country who started doing commissioned films for foreign markets (BMW, Germany). Vukotić’s group was extremely important for the further development of animation in Zagreb because it based its creativity, with cartoon artists Aleksandar Marks, Boris Kolar and Vjekoslav Kostanjšek, on researching new directions in animation, which will become the fundamental value of the Zagreb School of Animated Film.


Zagreb Film’s Studio for Animated Film


In 1956, the management of Zagreb Film and Vukotić-Kostelac group founded the Studio for Animated Film. Soon, they were joined by the Neugebauer brothers’ group from Interpublic. From that moment on, the unstoppable production of Zagreb artistic animation began at 70 Vlaška Street (in 1976, Zagreb Film expanded their premises onto a large building at 18 Nova Ves Street). The new studio gathered not only the employees from the previous period (Dušan Vukotić, Nikola Kostelac, Vjekoslav Kostanjšek, Neugebauer brothers, Ico Voljevica, Vlado Kristl, Aleksandar Marks, Zlatko Bourek, Zlatko Grgić, Vladimir Jutriša, Borivoj Dovniković) but new faces such as Vatroslav Mimica, Branko Ranitovic, Pavao Štalter, Dragutin Vunak, Nedeljko Dragić, Ante Zaninović, Zdenko Gašparović, Milan Blažeković, Zvonimir Lončarić, and later Joško Marušić, Krešimir Zimonić, Zlatko Pavlinić and others. The production of artistic animated films bloomed in every sense of the word. Late 1950s and 1960s were marked by huge international successes of Zagreb School of Animated Film. Along with many awards and accolades, Dušan Vukotić won the Academy Award with his animated film The Substitute in 1962, as the first non-American Oscar winner. Next Oscar nominees were Nedeljko Dragić with his Tup-Tup! and Zlatko Grgić (and Bob Godfrey from Great Britain) with their short animated film Dream Doll. Except domestic awards and accolades, during the 30-year production, animated films from Zagreb have won numerous awards and accolades at international festivals: Acapulco, Annecy, Atlanta, Baltimore, Barcelona, Vienna, Bergamo, Berlin, Bilbao, Birmingham, Bogota, Bourgh-en-Bresse, Cannes, Chicago, Mexico City, Cork, Edinburgh, Espinho, Gabrovo, Gijón, Gottwaldov/Zlín, Hollywood, Karlovy Vary, Kraków, Leipzig, Locarno, London, Los Angeles, Lucca, Mamaia, Mannheim, Mar del Plata, Melbourne, Milan, Montevideo, Moscow, New York, Oberhausen, Ottawa, Prague, San Antonio, San Francisco, Sidney, Tampere, Tehran, Tours, Treviso, Trieste, Vancouver, Varna, Venice, Zagreb…


Every Zagreb author has always worked in his unique style and had his own vision of the animation art (it remains so today). That is why it has to be said that the term “Zagreb School of Animated Film” is not accurate enough. Croatian Film Encyclopedia states: “… neither the Studio for Animated Film by Zagreb Film ever functioned as a school in a literal sense (a place for learning the profession and the art of animation), nor can the authors within it be called members of the school in a figurative way. However, the fact remains that the achievements of creators gathered around Zagreb Film are different from others and that they can be described as spiritually specified.”  Many people in the world associated with animation claim they can recognize Zagreb’s animated films by one sequence.


Zagreb Film also produced 4 cartoon series: Hound for Hire, Inspector Mask, Professor Balthazar and The Little Flying Bears. The latter two, especially Professor Balthazar, have achieved great international success.


In 2000, the renowned Italian critic, Giannalberto Bendazzi, made a list of 88 greatest animated films in the history of animation. He included 8 films made by Zagreb Film on that list.


Zagreb’s World Festival of Animated Film


The World Festival of Animated Film – Animafest Zagreb, established in 1972, is the second oldest film festival in the world completely dedicated to animation. Launched thanks to the global reputation of the filmmakers sprung from the Zagreb School of Animation, founded based on the decision of ASIFA, International Animated Film Association, Zagreb Film production company and City of Zagreb. The festival is one of the four biggest festivals of animated film, together with Annecy (France), Hiroshima (Japan) and Ottawa (Canada). It is known by its catchline Z is for Zagreb (Z znači Zagreb).


Borivoj Dovniković Bordo