Legendary Eastern European Animation Studios Struggle to Survive
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For ten years in the 1970s while a new modern facility was being built, Kratky animators worked in this structure -- proving that beautiful surroundings are not needed to make such classics as Nudnik, Popeye and Krazy Kat! Courtesy of and © Gene Deitch.

Other Eastern animation studios have had greater success in getting their library films into distribution. Early next year Rembrandt Films and Image Entertainment will be releasing on both DVD and VHS, five hours of animation from Zagreb Film, including such classics as Satiemania and Ersatz, the first non-U.S. animated film to receive an Academy Award. But the most successful studio in this regard has been Moscow's Soyuzmultfilm, which in 1992 licensed much of its 1200-film library to the California-based company, Films by Jove. Jove has subsequently spent more than US$3 million to restore the prints digitally, and, for the children's films which make up most of the library, add new music and redub with the voices of such Hollywood stars as Amy Irving, Tim Curry, Jessica Lange and Gregory Hines. Films by Jove has also footed the large legal bills required to successfully defend the library from the piracy of Sovexportfilm, which in pre-Perestroika times exercised the state's monopoly on foreign trade.

Competition and Co-Productions
Another problem these old line studios face is that they are being challenged by spin-off companies that don't have the same bureaucratic or financial baggage. In Budapest, for example, in 1988 Andras Erkel and Csaba Varga saw the handwriting on the wall and left the state-owned production company, Pannoniafilm Kft. to form their own Varga Studio. One of Varga's early jobs was for Gabor Csupo, a Hungarian animator who came to the United States in 1975 and later founded the successful company, Klasky Csupo. Csupo commissioned Varga to make the video for the song, "Do the Bartman," based on the hit TV series, The Simpsons. That proved to be a breakthrough for Varga because it led to work from both Warner Bros. and Viacom's MTV.

As Moscow's legendary Soyuzmultfilm was hitting hard times toward the end of 1989, award-winning animator Yelizaveta Babakhina established Christmas Films, which was immediately jumpstarted when Welsh television channel S4C commissioned a dozen Shakespeare films, which have since been shown in 80 countries in 55 languages. S4C also financed the studio's first feature-length animated film, In My Father's House, a biblical story using the voices of Miranda Richardson, Julie Christie and Ralph Fiennes.

Zdenka Deitchova and Gene Deitch at their home in Prague in 1994. (Notice the Oscar sitting on the top shelf in the background!) Courtesy of and
© Gene Deitch.

At these new studios, state-of-the-art equipment is crucial. The work the New York studio Ink Tank does in Poland, for example, can be sent to New York by email, and since the same animation tools are used on both continents, the work can be done simultaneously. "Our producing paradigm is the same," says Ink Tank after effects animator, James Dean.

It will be up to a new generation of Eastern European animators to combine the experience and artistry of these fabled studios with the newest animation technologies: "The talent is still here," says Zdenka Deitchova. "We just need to market ourselves better so we can attract new customers and co-producers."

Special thanks to Gene Deitch and Zdenka Deitchova.

To purchase the Zagreb Film Collection, visit the AWN Store.

Adam Snyder is President of Rembrandt Films, producer of Nudnik and Friends, distributed by Sunbow Entertainment, and several other series distributed by Palm Plus Productions, including classic animation from Zagreb Film and the Sofia Animation Studio, which are packaged into two thirteen part series, Maxicat and Friends and Three Fools and Friends respectively.

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