Interview: Denisa Grimmova & Jan Bubenicek about Czech Animation Industry

Animators, artists and directors Denisa Grimmova and Jan Bubenicek are working on the production of the feature animated film Even Mise belong to Heaven (Fresh Films). In the interview, you will read not only about the making of the Mice, but also about the evolution of animation studies in FAMU (Film and TV Academy in Prague), the possibilities of financing animated movies, the usual animator´s/parent´s day, or rivalry in the animation industry.

When someone says the word animation – what are you thinking about at the moment?

Denisa: At the moment, everyday activities that make me happy.

Jan: Our vocation…a stack of work, often very ungrateful, but when it is successful, it is worth it. Variety, joy.

How does your animator´s day look like today?

6:30 a.m. wake-up call

7:00 a.m. breakfast

7:30 a.m. delivery of children to schools

8:15 a.m. working meeting with coffee with the free entrances of the youngest son

9:00 a.m. we’re working, at home or at Barrandov Studios

2:00 p.m. – 20:00 p.m. we divide between family and work as needed

8:30 p.m.  – when we do not fall asleep, we work until 12 p.m., who does not have to get up in the morning, as long as it goes. A night in a quiet house is the best working day of the day. So if you do not face the keyboard and do not delete your work in the last two hours.


Can you as an animation graduate at FAMU evaluate how the study at this school has changed?

We have very little contact with FAMU, so our assessment is probably not very objective. However, there is certainly a huge difference in where technology moves. Without exaggeration it can be said that today’s mobile phones offer more technical background than the entire animation studio in FAMU at the time of our study. We have fought with ridiculous problems from today’s point of view, like scanning and playing phrases at all, and their subsequent modification could hardly be said. At that time, the Department used a tape recorder on VHS cassettes and only black and white. Each mistake meant the overriding of the exercise. Puppet animation was a question of 35mm film, we only got to it in the third year. Computer animation was in the Czech Republic absolutely in the infancy. Even today, as a matter of course, like Photoshop, we stood a front in the cabinet of multimedia production. Today, absolutely no problem in these respects. Digital technologies are available to practically everyone and offer a huge degree of independence to those interested. Our ten-year-olds are animating, cutting and sounding their own movies at home. It can not be absolutely the case that someone who only has the impression that they are interested in a given field would report to college.

It is also seen in exercises from the last years of the animation department. They do not stick to technology. The computer is home to everyone. We will never forget what it is like to cut individual windows from real-speed material, and then make an animated sequence in the editing window, because it was not available for a shot.

Another huge difference is the availability of information, professional backgrounds and films from around the world. This option is key to education.

What did you miss while studying at FAMU and vice versa?

At FAMU, the practice was most lacking. He was at the school (like any university). a so-called credit system, where each student had to collect a certain number of points for passing the exam and gained credits or realized practical exercises during the semester. The number of points for exercises (movies or animation etudes) was so small that it was necessary to pass a number of tests and credits from theoretical subjects, which affected the animation only marginally or at all, that the animation alone was too little time left. This was also why we almost all of the animation were studying to make the yearly works.

On the other hand, FAMU, unlike other animation schools, is based on interdisciplinary collaboration, where future film makers from the beginning learn to be members of teams including, in addition to themselves, at least production, cinematographer, editor and sound engineer. This experience is unpaid for the future.

Another huge KAT (Department of Animation Studies) exchange at FAMU was the composition of the teaching staff. We had the honor to meet the best in our field – Bretislav Pojar, Pavel Koutsky, Jiri Barta, Michael Pavlatova, Jiri Kubícek, Jan Klos, Libuse Ciharova and many others.

Last but not least, at the time of our studies, the FAMU has a huge advantage of having enough resources to implement our exercises. Some schools had to deal with the lack of opportunities for joint exercises throughout the year, etc.

Czech animation is slowly awakening to life and new projects are being created. Are you working on something new?

Together, as a director, we are involved in the creation of a feature family film based on the book written by Iva Prochazkova “Even Mice belongs to Heaven“.

What is the film about and what animation technology did you choose?

The Even Mice belong to Heaven is the story of two slightly sore heroes – the tiny mischievous mice of the Supito and the stinking fox of the Belobrich. On the ground, they were the enemy’s enemies. Unfortunately, they both lost their lives, and the circumstances brought them together again in the animal sky.

In a broader sense, the film discusses what will be “then”. He talks about rather difficult topics such as the death or loss of someone very close, about courage, heroism and the power of true friendship. All this is already in the book written by Iva Prochazkova made in the form accessible to the smallest audience, it is a story full of hope and optimism. The script contains a number of adventurous scenes, poetic moments, and comic situations.

The film is based on a classic puppet animation technique, but it will be complemented by a number of other techniques and post-production tricks – from 2D to 3D renders to full-blooded 3D animation. But it will be implemented into the film so that puppet animation is indistinguishable from animation. It will help us to make the scenes in the puppet very complicated.

A feature animation film needs a big budget. How do you get funds for the development and production of such a film today?

It depends a lot on what kind of movie you are preparing, what its target group is, how much its creator or producer is established, and how big the chance it is to make a movie.

In the case of art film, you are basically absolutely dependent on domestic resources (with the only exceptions in the Czech Republic, perhaps, are the world-renowned creators Jan Švankmajer and Michaela Pavlátová). As a rule everything starts with SFK, then comes to a series of co-productions with CT or other television, co-operation with a distributor, and the use of film incentives. In addition, they are co-productions with the specific entities directly creating the movie – animation studios, picture or sound postproduction, eventually microfinance through servers such as KickStarter, Starter, etc.

In the case of the “Mice” movie, where the film is for international distribution, there is also international funding. In our case, other co-producers from the Czech Republic (Czech Television, Hausboot, Barrandov Studio), the distributor CinemArt and co-producers from other partner countries – France, Belgium, Slovakia and Poland – also participate in the financing of Fresh Films. Such an internationally distributed project can then reach support at European level – Media and Eurimages.

In any case, it is a long-distance run. In the Czech Republic, the way to fund more challenging animated projects is long, thorny and uncertain. In the case of Mices, we talk about about five years of continuous work by producer Vladimir Lhotak. In this case, the result was successful. But many ambitious projects end in failure.

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What all do you do like film directors Even Mice belong to Heaven?

The fact that we are on the film two gives us a great deal of time to share our tasks.

Denisa is besides film director, designer of all puppets, author of key art design environments.

Jan is engaged in the technological side of shooting, he is the architect of the post-production site of the film, he prepares to shoot technically.

We both work together to convert literature into a storyboard and then to translate it into a film. We supervise the realization of puppets and decorations, communicate with animators, cameraman and editor.

At which stage is the project located and when does the film appear in cinemas?

The project is currently in the phase of the closed part of the funding, and the implementation itself is triggered. We have a finished literary scenario, storyboard, technological and, to a great extent, artistic preparation. We are currently working on animation – a moving storyboard with a working soundtrack. At the same time, scenario and artworks are translated into numbers – working days, number of animators and cameras, dimensions and number of decorations, number of puppets, props, used machines, data of realization and subsequent postproduction – picture and sound. In the autumn of this year we start shooting. The film will be featured in cinemas in 2020.

What animated movies do you like and which have not caught you?

We like them all. With the kids, we have also found out many of them that we could not have voluntarily reached, but they were surprised. In general, we enjoy movies that are well written, not just an action show or a demonstration of technological prowess.

Both of us definitely agree with a number of Czech films on Aardman Animation, Tim Burton and Wes Anderson.

What animated movies do you like and which have not caught you?

We like them all. With the kids, we have also found out many of them that we could not have voluntarily reached, but they were surprised. In general, we enjoy movies that are well written, not just an action show or a demonstration of technological prowess.

Both of us definitely agree with a number of Czech films on Aardman Animation, Tim Burton and Wes Anderson.

Do you think there is rivalry in the animation industry? Have you ever met with it?

The animation industry is like any other business. Everybody has their ambitions and they often overlap with someone else’s ambitions. Rivalry is thus logically created. When it comes to healthy rivalry, it moves the entire field forward and is completely in place. In the Czech Republic, there are generally few resources for animated films, so the rivalry may be somewhat stronger than in the more profiled ones. On the other hand, our country is so small that practically all of us are personally known and many of us have long been friends. The result is so joyous when everyone succeeds, stronger than rivals.

What practical advice do you give to beginners in animation?

Think about what you are strong and what you really enjoy and go for it. There is no point in going round the fields or activities that you do not like – usually you will stay forever. Make the most of your time until you are unpaid – no better conditions. If you have a good idea, implement it. He sooner or later attacks someone else, and then you scold. Bear each other – the feeling of belonging is important. Howgh 🙂

Thank you for your questions. rules!

We thank you too! 🙂

Denisa Grimmova and Jan Bubenicek


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