Jakub Dvorskř creates Design for Puppet Film
With "Kooky", Czech filmmaker Jan Sverák presents a movie that tells the story of the teddy bear Kooky, who was thrown away after his child friend Andra turned asthmatic. The film follows his journey into the magic forrest, where he becomes a key protagonist in a fight about power and repression... Beside the films qualities regarding the content, its combination of life action and puppeteering stands out from other actual productions. Only a hand full of puppet films made it to the big screen (Thunderbirds, The Dark Crystal, Meet the Feebles, Team America - only to name the most important ones). The approach to combine life action with puppets is also quite unique and generates a unusual look and feel.
Responsible for the design of Kooky is Jakub Dvorský who is co-founder of the Czech game and animation studio Amanita Design, that became well known in the indie-game scene with titles like Samorost I + II or Machinarium. Regarding his work for Amanita Design it´s been clear, that Jakub bases his work on a great tradition in Czech puppeteering and (puppet) animation film.
The Czech puppet theatre can be traced back to the middle age and has been a popular art form ever since. In the 20th century Josef Skupa (Spejbl and Hurvínek are unforgotten!), Josef Kaláb, Jan Malik and Miroslav Trejtnar have to be named amongst many other great activists. Also Josef Krofta should not be forgotten here, as he can be seen as one of the most influental contemporary puppet theatre activists, who introduced many experimental techniques and dramatic structures to this still fresh art from.
Spejbl and Hurvínek
Talking about Czech puppet animation film, means talking about a long history of great filmmakers and many all time film classics, they devoted to the audience. The field is to wide to be covered here in detail, but i´d like to name just the most influential personalities of Czech animation like the famous Jirí Trnka - his name is the synonym for Czech puppet animation and Karel Zeman, whos "Journey to Prehistory" and early adaptions of Jules Verne (The Fabulous World of Jules Verne) can be seen as equally important as the work of Ray Harryhausen in the area of visual effect cinema. Then there is of course Zdenek Miler, who´s mole has a rank amongst the greatest characters to be created for animation film (classic toon animation) ever, and the great Jan Švankmajer who introduced surrealism to the Czech film and became one of the most important personalities in the global after war animation film community. It is obvious that the international audience is still quite open for puppet films. Latest examples are "Fantastic Mr. Fox" by Wes Anderson (2010), "Coraline" (2009) by Henry Selick or Suzie Templetons "Peter and the Wolf" (2006) - for 2011 the debut of "The dark Crystal II" is announced. So something seems to be "magic" about puppets that come to live...
I invited Jakub Dvorský to answer a hand full of questions about "Kooky" and his personal reflections about the analog world, animation film and what this has to do with making video games.
BB: "Kooky" is your first feature film work (as far as i know) as a production designer. How did you experience this process in comparison to your previous game projects?
The main difference for me is that my part in the production of the film was limited only to designing the characters, cars, little houses and other props, so I was only the artist-designer. On the other hand my part is much wider when I'm working on games in our small studio - there I'm in the role of a writer, lead designer, director, art-director PR and business manager and tester. So I would say it was quite pleasant and refreshing to have a boss and to be less responsible this time:)
BB: Recently we saw many animation films that used analog production techniques (or analog elements in digital animation). Where do you think does this come from? Is this some kind or renaissance, a fashion or do we face a future of anything goes?
ps: Game titles like "Little Big Planet" also celebrated the beauty of cardboard...
Jakub Dvorský: I think it's because people are already a bit tired from all that flawless 3D animation which we can see in so many family movies and computer games these days. I don't want to say these films or games are boring or ugly but the problem is that it look quite similar and there's a little personality and visual invention. Some artists and designers are going their own way and try to come up with something new - that's why we can see something really different now and then, e.g. film A Town Called Panic or game Little Big Planet. I don't think these analog production techniques will become a widely accepted fashion but I would say we will see more and more distinctive and original approaches of using computer animation which still has vast and unexplored possibilities and the same goes for video games.
BB: Can you give us a short insight in the production process? Where did you experience the the biggest challenges? How "creative" was the the whole course of making the film?
Jakub Dvorský: The whole process of designing was a dialog between me and the director Jan Sverak. First we talked a lot about the script and the characters, in the beginning all the characters were blurry and often nameless beings and we knew a little about them so we had to make clear who are they, what is their name and why they are doing what they are doing. At the same time I started to make quite rough and sketchy drawings of those creatures, their cars and houses and when we agreed on the final appearance of each character I made some better drawings for puppet makers. In the second stage of the puppet production I was discussing my drawings with puppet makers who had to improvise a lot because almost every creature is made from different material and we used many old things which we found somewhere in a dump or in a forest.
Probably the most challenging task was to make all the creatures look like they really live in the forest (or waste dump in one case), because in the film we can see real live forest so the appearance of the puppets had to be believable and realistic even though they look weird and funny.
BB: As the puppets are non-human characters there is of course no fight with the uncanny valley. But the grade of life that they represent is so much more intense then most digital colleagues ever reached! What is it about their magic and what can we learn from them for our game characters?
Jakub Dvorský: I guess the magic you are talking about is the similar one when you read a book - you must involve your own fantasy so the final picture in your head is better than what you really see on the screen. Also there's a real world in the film - real trees, birds, flies, smoke, fog etc. - that's why you know you are in real forest and therefore you can also believe for a while that those weird creatures are also real:)
BB: Designwise there are many interconnections between your non-linear projects and your film work! Can you tell us about how Czech puppet theatre and animation film influences your style?
Jakub Dvorský: Of course I grew up here watching many puppet films, reading illustrated books and visiting puppet theatre so I'm definitely influenced a lot by many Czech artists you mentioned in your article and also many others. However I don't try to knowingly come out from these artists, it works subconsciously I guess.
BB: Many games (especially AAA titles) relate visually strongly to role models from the film world. How do you personally see this situation? Is this a dead end street? Where might new visual (and auditive) concepts come from?
Jakub Dvorský: It's difficult question. There are so many genres and kinds of games these days that the visual concepts for it should come from many different places. I have nothing against the "film world games" where you can play as James Bond or Batman but there should be also completely different games with other aesthetics and it could be almost anything - some abstract black spots in a green liquid are fine as well as hyper realistic science fiction world or hand-drawn cartoon for kids. This different approach is quite rare among AAA titles but it's absolutely usual and inevitable among indie games which are more and more interesting and worth following in my opinion. Indie developers can't compete with big companies in the field of CGI so they are trying to be original, inventive and different and that's very good for the whole evolution of the game industry.
Prof. Bj├Ârn Bartholdy ist Mitbegr├╝nder des Cologne Game Lab an der FH K├Âln und lehrt an der K├Âln International School of Design audiovisuelle Gestaltung. Davor leitete er das Department "Virtual Design" an der Filmakademie Baden-W├╝rttemberg und f├╝hrte die Design Agentur "cutup" als Gesch├Ąftsf├╝hrer. Bartholdy ist Vorstandsmitglied von "Eyes & Ears of Europe", der europ├Ąischen Vereinigung f├╝r Design, Promotion und Marketing der audiovisuellen Medien.