The Contour and Smudge

The Contour and Smudge in Animated Film

In the early 1960s, making an animated film still required contour drawing that was considered by Jiří Brdečka nothing less than“ an iron principle”[1]. His colleague Eduard Hofman[2] indeed claimed that anything could be given life in an animated film, and that the result had to look as if“ the graphic artist had made the film all by himself”, but at the same time, he admitted that while drawing movement, it was often necessary to“ simplify the artist’s style if it was not simple by itself”[3].

Even though the graphic solution of animated films was deemed very important, it was also inevitable to adjust the design according to the production process already in place: first, the animator divided each character into closed, rounded shapes so that he or she could sequence the individual phases of movement more easily. These drafts, so-called“ pebbles”, gave the original drawings a different character, which was later emphasised even more by phase artists who started drawing continuous lines on the basis of the approved“ pebbles”, transferred these onto translucent acetate sheets and filled the areas with color. An imprint of the production process is clearly visible in the attempts to animate Josef Lada’s drawings for the film Čert a Káča (The Devil and Katie, 1955) or in the case of Eduard Hofman’s film Tucet mých tatínků (A Dozen Dads of Mine, 1959) where designs by no fewer than 13 graphic artists were used. They were usually not employees of the studio but worked on their own, bound by individual contracts. They would design particular characters, as required by the script, and also all the backdrops, and often the puppets as well. Animators then worked with the completed designs in accordance with their own intentions, and graphic artists usually had no influence on the process of animation. At first, the ideal graphic artists working on animated films were those who were used to drawing continuous contour lines and surfaces with clear contrast divisions. In the late 1950s, Svatopluk Pitra was one of them - a caricaturist who constructed his clear-cut figures using a ruler and French curves. He was the graphic artist for Jiří Brdečka and Břetislav Pojar’s film Sláva (Glory, 1959) and was given a difficult task — to design a painting created by a painter who would approach the canvas with the energy of an abstract expressionist. Pitra’s artist applied the paints directly from the tubes and, at one point, smeared the canvas with a piece of cake which had so far been a feature limited to slapsticks. The painter’s frenetic activity did not, surprisingly, result in a painting full of colour smudges, but in a decorative panel with an array of meticulously stylised motifs. We do not know whether it was the intention of the script writers or the decision of the artist, but it is certain that people primarily appreciated the very process of making a tachiste painting.

Frames from Břetislav Pojar’s animated film Glory, 1959. Graphic artist: Svatopluk Pitra.


Artists who spilled paints or spread them onto the canvas with their feet were suitable subjects of parody. An important role in this regard was played by the French caricaturist Mose and his book of ironic guidelines called Wie malt man abstrakt? (How to Paint in an Abstract Manner), which was well known in Czechoslovakia[4]. Following Mose’s instructions, one could“ easily grasp the art of creative intoxication”[5] and create paintings out of traces left by the soot deposited by a smouldering paraffin lamp, or using aquarium fish soaked in paint, or rain and mud sticking to pedestrians’ soles, or automobile tyres. His illustrated manuals inspired Czech caricaturists to try out numerous variations. Adolf Born improved on Mose’s“ pedalism” by mounting the rear wheel of a bicycle onto a tripod and fitting brushes onto the front one so that they would splash paint onto the canvas while the wheel was turning. Oldřich Jelínek went even further when he had one of his sculptors shoot cannonballs through an organically shaped plastic structure[6].


Jiří Kalousek, drawings from the magazine Výtvarná práce VIII, 1960, 21, 10.


Adolf Born, a drawing from the magazine Výtvarná práce X, 1962, 16, 10.

Caricaturists did give up their academic virtuosity but they were not willing to give up certain craft standards of their work. This art of drawing was also the subject matter of one of the most successful animated films of the sixties called Špatně namalovaná slepice (literally A Hen Poorly Drawn but shown under the title Gallina Vogelbirdae[7] abroad, 1963) directed by Jiří Brdečka and considered“ a brilliant satire on the suppression of imagination”[8]. The film was based on Miloš Macourek’s short story that had supposedly attracted Brdečka’s attention when he had“ spotted a potential platform in it for confrontation of art that slavishly copied nature, and imaginative art full of poetry, i.e. art in the true sense of the word”[9]. In this story about a schoolboy who drew a hen in an unconventional manner and got scolded for that by a narrow-minded teacher capable of seeing and accepting only things that have been officially approved and systemised, Brdečka made the individual characters more complete and precise, while Jaroslav Malák contributed to the whole thing through his exact and steady line complemented with collage. The preserved drafts indicate that he also tried to design the poorly drawn hen, but since the result was too similar to the other characters and did not guarantee the intended clear contrast between the mundane reality and artistic imagination, the animal was eventually created by the fellow artist Zdeněk Seydl.


Jaroslav Malák, a draft for Jiří Brdečka’s animated film Gallina Vogelbirdae, 1963. A scene from Jiří Brdečka’s animated film Gallina Vogelbirdae, 1963. Graphic artists: Jaroslav Malák a Zdenek Seydl.


[1] Jan Hořejší,“ U kulatého stolu s tvůrci kresleného filmu”. Film a doba VIII, 1962, 2, 60.

[2] A director, script writer and graphic artist; in the fifties, a leading personality at the Bratři v triku studio.

[3] Vladimír Bystrov,“ Eduard Hofman: Osobnost Čs. kresleného filmu”. Film a doba IV, 1958, 10, 675.

[4] Mose [Moise Depond] — Anton Sailer, Wie malt man abstrakt?. Feldafing: Buchheim Verlag 1958.

[5]“ Autoprojekcionismus — čili Jak malovat abstraktně”. Květy X, 1960, 13, 20—21.

[6] Oldřich Jelínek’s drawing, Výtvarná práce VIII, 1960, 20.

[7] The film was awarded the Grand Prix at the 1963 Annecy film festival.

[8] Oldřich Adamec (ed.), Czechoslovak Film Annual, Cartoon and Puppet Films. Prague: Czechoslovak Film Institute — Press Department, 1964, 1.

[9] Jiří Brdečka, Jsem režisér animovaných filmů. In: Tereza Brdečková — Jan Šulc (edd.). Jiří Brdečka. Řevnice: Arbor vitae, 2013, 254.


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