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Karel Zeman

Karel Zeman
Karel Zeman
Born (1910-11-03)November 3, 1910
Ostroměř, Austria-Hungary (present-day Czech Republic)
Died April 5, 1989(1989-04-05) (aged 78)
Gottwaldov, Czechoslovakia
Occupation Film director, animator
Children Ludmila Zeman[1]
  • 1970 National Artist[2]
  • 1980 Order of the Republic[3]

Karel Zeman (November 3, 1910 – April 5, 1989) was a Czech Méliès."[5][6][7]


  • Life 1
  • Legacy 2
  • Filmography 3
    • Feature Films 3.1
    • Short Films 3.2
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Zeman was born on November 3, 1910, in Ostroměř (near Nová Paka) in what was then Austria-Hungary.[8] At his parents' insistence, he studied business at high school in Kolín.[9] In the 1920s, he studied at a French advertising school, and worked at an advertising studio in Marseilles until 1936.[10] It was in France that he first worked with animation, filming an ad for soap.[9] He then returned to his home country (by now the First Czechoslovak Republic, known as Czechoslovakia), after visiting Egypt, Yugoslavia, and Greece. Back in Czechoslovakia, Zeman advertised for Czech firms like Baťa and Tatra.[8] In 1939 he attempted to make an extended stay in Casablanca, but was barred by the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia established by Nazi Germany; unable to get the necessary papers in time, Zeman was required to remain in his home country during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia.[9]

At Baťa's window-dressing school, where he was teaching, Zeman met the animator Elmar Klos and showed him a sample of his work. Klos offered Zeman a job at Zlín's animation studio. After some consideration (his wife and children were already established in Brno), Zeman accepted the job in 1943.[8] At the studio, Zeman worked as an assistant to the pioneering animator Hermína Týrlová, and in 1945 he became the director of the stop-motion animation production group.[11] The same year, in collaboration with his brother Bořivoj Zeman, he made his first short film, Vánoční sen ("A Christmas Dream"). The short, which combined animated puppets with live-action footage, marked the beginning of Zeman's experiments with new techniques and genres.[12]

Zeman then went on to solo work, including a series of satirical cartoon shorts starring a puppet called Mr. Prokouk; the series was a wide success and the character became a Czech favorite.[2] A bet Zeman accepted, challenging him to discover a method of working with glass in animation,[12] led to the unusual short Inspirace ("Inspiration," 1948), which tells a wordless, poetic love story using animated glass figurines.[8] Zeman then went on to the half-hour film Král Lávra (1950), based on the satirical poem by Karel Havlíček Borovský;[11] the film won a National Award.[8] In 1952, Zeman completed his first feature film, Poklad ptačího ostrova ("The Treasure of Bird Island," 1952). It was based on a Persian fairy tale and took its visual inspiration from Persian paintings,[11] combining multiple animation techniques in two- and three-dimensional space.[12]

American poster for Zeman's Vynález zkázy

It was in 1955, however, that Zeman began the work for which he is most well-known: six feature films designed artistically to combine live-action and animation techniques.[4] These were:

He was a member of the jury at the 2nd Moscow International Film Festival in 1961[14] and at the 7th Moscow International Film Festival in 1971.[15] The Czechoslovakian government awarded him the title of National Artist in 1970.[2]

After his live-action films, Zeman experimented with more classical forms of animation, beginning with seven shorts about Sinbad the Sailor which were then expanded into the feature film Pohádky tisíce a jedné noci (1974).[16] His final films were Čarodějův učeň (1977), from the novel The Satanic Mill by Otfried Preußler, and Pohádka o Honzíkovi a Mařence (1980). On November 3, 1980, in celebration of Zeman's seventieth birthday, President Gustáv Husák awarded him the Order of the Republic.[3]

Zeman died in Gottwaldov (present-day Zlín) on April 5, 1989,[2] a few months before the Velvet Revolution.


Zeman's works were influential to the Czech animator Jan Švankmajer,[17] as well as to the American filmmaker Terry Gilliam,[18] who said of Zeman: "He did what I'm still trying to do, which is to try and combine live action with animation. His Doré-esque backgrounds were wonderful."[19] The American filmmaker Tim Burton described Zeman's creative process as "extremely inspirational" to his own work, and identified Zeman and the American animator Ray Harryhausen as his influences "in terms of doing stop motion and a more handmade quality … Karel Zeman did that amazingly."[20] Harryhausen himself also spoke in interviews of his admiration for Zeman,[21] and the films of the American director Wes Anderson have included homages to Zeman's works.[22]

The film historian

He is justly considered Méliès's successor. He undoubtedly brings the old master to mind, not only because he is an artisan impassioned by art, creating his "innocent inventions" with infinite patience rather than with large budgets, but also because of his ingenuous and always ingenious fantasies. Less intellectual than Trnka, but nonetheless his equal, he has great zest and a marvelous sense of baroque oddities and poetic gags.[12]

On the occasion of an animation exhibition in 2010, curators at the Barbican Centre said of Zeman: "although his influence outweighs his global fame, he is unarguably one of the greatest animators of all time."[22]

In 2012 a museum dedicated to Zeman and his work, the Muzeum Karla Zemana, opened near the Charles Bridge in Prague.[23]


Feature Films

Year Original Czech title Standard English title US release title
1952 Poklad ptačího ostrova The Treasure of Bird Island N/A
1955 Cesta do pravěku Journey to Prehistory Journey to the Beginning of Time
1958 Vynález zkázy An Invention for Destruction The Fabulous World of Jules Verne
1961 Baron Prášil Baron Munchausen The Fabulous Baron Munchausen
1964 Bláznova kronika A Jester's Tale War of the Fools[24]
1967 Ukradená vzducholoď The Stolen Airship N/A
1970 Na kometě On the Comet On the Comet
1974 Pohádky tisíce a jedné noci Tales of 1,001 Nights Adventures of Sinbad the Sailor
1977 Čarodějův učeň Krabat — The Sorcerer's Apprentice N/A
1980 Pohádka o Honzíkovi a Mařence The Tale of John and Mary N/A

Short Films

Year Original Czech title English title Notes
1945 Vánoční sen The Christmas Dream Released in the US as A Christmas Dream
1946 Křeček The Hamster
1946 Podkova pro štěstí Horseshoe for Luck The first Mr. Prokouk film[25]
1947 Pan Prokouk ouřaduje Mr. Prokouk, Bureaucrat
1947 Brigády Voluntary work The third Mr. Prokouk film
1947 Pan Prokouk v pokušení Mr. Prokouk in Temptation
1948 Pan Prokouk filmuje Mr. Prokouk Filming
1948 Inspirace Inspiration
1949 Pan Prokouk vynálezcem Mr. Prokouk, Inventor
1950 Král Lávra King Lávra
1955 Pan Prokouk, Přítel zvířátek Mr. Prokouk, Friend of the Animals
1958 Pan Proukock detektivem Mr. Prokouk, Detective
1959 Pan Proukock akrobatem Mr. Prokouk, Acrobat
1971 Dobrodružství námořníka Sindibáda Adventures of Sinbad the Sailor
1972 Druhá cesta námořníka Sindibáda The Second Voyage of Sinbad the Sailor
1973 V zemi obrů. Třetí cesta námořníka Sindibáda In the Land of Giants (the third voyage)
1973 Magnetová hora. Čtvrtá cesta námořníka Sindibáda The Magnet Mountain (the fourth voyage)
1973 Létající koberec. Pátá cesta námořníka Sindibáda The Flying Carpet (the fifth voyage)
1974 Mořský sultán. Šestá cesta námořníka Sindibáda The Sultan of the Sea (the sixth voyage)
1974 Zkrocený démon. Sedmá cesta námořníka Sindibáda Taming the Demon (the seventh voyage)


  1. ^ "Archived - Ludmila Zeman".  
  2. ^ a b c d "Karel Zeman: Animated fantasy in the Czech cinema".  
  3. ^ a b "Havlin presents award, Husak letter to artist". Daily Report: Eastern Europe.  
  4. ^ a b Hames, Peter (2009). Czech and Slovak Cinema: Theme and Tradition. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 188. 
  5. ^ Wellner-Pospisil, Michael (2002). "Le Méliès tchèque" (in French). Festival International du Film de la Rochelle. Retrieved 15 June 2013. 
  6. ^ "Hommages et rétrospectives 2010: Karel Zeman". Angers European First Film Festival. 2010. Retrieved 15 June 2013. 
  7. ^ de Karel Zeman"Sindbad"Journée des enfants: Projection du film (in French). Cinéma Tout Écran. 2002. Retrieved 15 June 2013. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Nováková, Markéta (March–April 2001). "The Fabulous World of Karel Zeman". Ahoy: Newsletter of the Czech Center New York 6 (2).  Published online: "The Fabulous World of Karel Zeman". Jules Verne: Andreas Fehrmann's Collection. Retrieved 2 September 2012. 
  9. ^ a b c "Biography: Karel Zeman". Muzeum Karla Zemana. 2013. Retrieved 1 September 2013. 
  10. ^ Richter, Václav (20 May 2010). "Karel Zeman: le centenaire du magicien du cinéma tchèque" (in French).  
  11. ^ a b c Hames, p. 196
  12. ^ a b c d  
  13. ^ Polt, Harriet (Spring 1964). "The Czechoslovak Animated Film". Film Quarterly 17 (3): 38.  
  14. ^ "2nd Moscow International Film Festival (1961)".  
  15. ^ "7th Moscow International Film Festival (1971)".  
  16. ^ "A Thousand and One Nights (1974) - Connections".  
  17. ^ Harper, Graeme; Stone, Rob (2007). The unsilvered screen: surrealism on film. London: Wallflower Press. p. 61. 
  18. ^ Zipes, Jack (2011). The Enchanted Screen: The Unknown History of Fairy-Tale Films. New York: Routledge. p. 43. 
  19. ^ Gilliam, Terry (2004). Terry Gilliam: Interviews. Mississippi: Jackson University Press. pp. 132–133. 
  20. ^ Willoughby, Ian (27 March 2014). "Karel Zeman’s work inspirational, says director Tim Burton on eve of Prague art show".  
  21. ^ O'Neill, Phelim (1 November 2012). "Ray Harryhausen: the father of fantasy film-making".  
  22. ^ a b "Focus: Karel Zeman". Animate the World.  
  23. ^ Velinger, Jan (26 December 2012). "Visionary filmmaker Karel Zeman".  
  24. ^ "War of the fools (Film, 1964)".  
  25. ^ "Pan Prokouk: Podkova pro štěstí". Česko-Slovenská filmová databáze. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 

External links

  • Karel Zeman at the Internet Movie Database
  • Karel Zeman filmography (Polish)
  • Karel Zeman: Genius of Animated Film at (Slovak)
  • Gallery of Czech stop-action animation including clips from The Fabulous World of Karel Zeman.
  • A Strange Introduction to Karel Zeman: The Czech Visionary (TCM Movie Morlocks)
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