The history of animation immediately after World War II mentions the Czechs (Trnka, Zeman, and Brdečka), Americans (Bosustow and UPA) and Canadians (McLaren) as the pioneers of media avant-gardism after the weary Disney monumental feature film concept of animated drawing.
In 1957 and 1958 a surprising new contribution was given to this trend by films from Zagreb – with an original approach to drawing, animation, content and generally a view on the art of animation. After the first joint performance abroad, at the Film Festival in Cannes in 1958, a seven film programme of Zagreb Film enjoyed a huge success. French reviewers, George Sadoul and Andre Martin already then launched the syntagma Zagreb School of Animated Film.
In 1953 the Croatian Union of Film Workers established a film company, Zagreb Film, which was engaged in all kinds of film activities – from distribution to producing short and feature length films. It all started with commissioned and commercial films, feature film co-productions, after which the company specialized in documentaries and short feature films. In 1956 Zagreb Film formed the Studio for Animated Film, where after several years of break continuous work on animation was established again. Thanks to the art film animation, this film company will soon reach world fame.
Croatian Animation before Zagreb Film
Zagreb has a long tradition of visual arts that are related to animated film (illustrations, comics, graphic design, and caricature), so there were a lot of attempts dating to 1920s to start film animation, mainly in the field of commercial and educational film. Merely, in 1950 in the satiric weekly Kerempuh a group of caricaturists (Vladimir Delač, Borivoj Dovniković-Bordo, Ivan Pušak, Ico Voljevica and others, headed by Walter Neugebauer and the editor-in-chief and general manager) Fadil Hadžić, started the making of the first animated independent film in Croatia / Yugoslavia. After a year of mastering animation skill and work on the picture, a 20 minute film The Big Meeting has been finished.
On the basis of this success, the Croatian Government founded the specialized company for animated film Duga Film (Rainbow Film). The group from the Kerempuh gathered around this company and trained new drawers, animators, inkers, painters, backgrounders and other specialists, so they produced five new, still black-and-white, animated films. This was a start of a continued professional production of animated film in Croatia/Yugoslavia. Many important authors of Croatian and world animation began their career at Duga Film: Walter Neugebauer, Borivoj Dovniković-Bordo, Dušan Vukotić, Vlado Kristl, Aleksandar Marks, Vladimir Jutriša, Nikola Kostelac, Zlatko Grgić, and Boris Kolar.
The government dismantled Duga Film already after one year, considering animated film a luxury in the period of economic crises (1952). After that there were several attempts to continue the production of animated films. In 1954 Dušan Vukotić and Nikola Kostelac assembled couple of associates and fellow workers from Duga Film on the production of 30 second (now in colour) animated commercials. At the same time another group formed around the Neugebauer brothers established the Studio for Animated Film by Interpublic, with the intent to engage in commercial and informational animated films. They were the first ones in the country to produce commissioned films for foreign partners (BMW, Germany).
Vukotić's group was very important for the further development of Zagreb animation, because its creativity (with designers Aleksandar Marks, Boris Kolar and Vjekoslav Kostanjšek) was based on exploring new ways in animation, which will become the fundamental value of the future Zagreb School of Animated Film.
Zagreb Film's Studio for Animated film
In 1956 the leadership of Zagreb Film and the Vukotić-Kostelac group founded the Studio for Animated Film. Soon the Neugebauer brothers group from Interpublic joined them. That moment marked the unstoppable rise of art animation production at the address Vlaska 70 (in 1976. Zagreb Film expanded on the big building at Nova Ves 18).
The new studio started gathering not only personnel from the previous period (Dušan Vukotić, Nikola Kostelac, Vjekoslav Kostanjšek, braća Neugebauer, Ico Voljevica, Vlado Kristl, Aleksandar Marks, Zlatko Bourek, Zlatko Grgić, Vladimir Jutriša, Borivoj Dovniković-Bordo), but new members as well (Vatroslav Mimica, Branko Ranitović, Pavao Štalter, Dragutin Vunak, Nedeljko Dragić, Ante Zaninović, Zdenko Gašparović, Milan Blažeković, Zvonimir Lončarić, Zlatko Pavlinić, and later Joško Marušić, Krešimir Zimonić and others). The production of independent animated films erupted. The late fiftieths and early sixtieths were characterised by huge international success of the Zagreb School of Animated Film.
Among many prizes won by Zagreb Film, in 1962 Dušan Vukotić won the American Academy Award for the animated film Ersatz and became the first non-American Oscar winner. After that Nedeljko Dragić with his film Tup-Tup and Zlatko Grgić (in collaboration with Bob Godfrey, Great Britain) with the film Dream Doll were nominated for the Oscar. In thirty years of rich production independent animated films from Zagreb won a number of international awards and recognitions (e.g. Annecy, Atlanta, Barcelona, Berlin, Bogota, Cannes, Chicago, Ciudad Mexico, Edinburgh, Zlín, Hollywood, Karlovy Vary, Krakow, Leipzig, Locarno, London, Los Angeles, Milano, Moscow, New York, Oberhausen, Ottawa, Prague, Vienna, Zagreb).
Each author from Zagreb worked in its own, unique style and had its own view on the art of animation (today is the same case), so we have to point out that the term Zagreb School of Animated Films is not precise enough. The Croatian Film Encyclopedia says: "... nor did the Studio for Animated Film in the context of Zagreb Film function as a school in its virtual meaning (as a place o receive knowledge of animation), nor could the authors be put in a context of school figuratively. But the fact remains that the artwork of authors gathered around Zagreb Film is different and can be characterised with some spiritual peculiarity".
The highly regarded Italian reviewer and publicist, a specialist for animated film Giannalberto Bendazzi in 1999 made a list of 88 biggest animated films in the history of world animation and he included no less than 8 films by Zagreb Film. In its history Zagreb Film produced four animated series: Hound for Hire, Inspector Mask, Professor Balthazar and The Little Flying Bears, and the last two, especially Professor Balthazar, had great success on TV screens worldwide.
In an Independent State
After 1991, in the new independent Croatian state, Zagreb Film found itself with the rest of the cinematography in a huge social, political and economical turmoil that was characteristic for all transition countries of Eastern Europe, and after that in a war in the region. The production of art animated films is trying to keep the fifty year long tradition, with the help of Republic of Croatia and the City of Zagreb.
From the new generation in Zagreb animation there are directors/animators that already gained international reputation: Magda Dulčić, Daniel Šuljić, Nicole Hewitt, Stiv Šinik, Goran Trbuljak, Darko Bakliža, Dušan Gačić, Davor Medjurečan, Marko Meštrović, Simon Bogojević Narath, Dino Krpan, Tomislav Gregl, Milan Trenc, etc.
The World Festival of Animated Films
Zagreb Film, based on the internationally recognized Zagreb School, started in 1972 the World Festival of Animated Films and was organizing it until 1990. Although other companies took over the festival organization, Zagreb Film has stayed involved as their basic partner. In the year 2005 Animafest introduced the feature animated film into its programme and thus transformed its biennial rhythm into the annual edition – the odd years has been devoted to feature, and the even years to the short film.
In 1986 the Festival established in the prestigious Life Achievement Award for authors from all over the world who contributed with their work to the development of the art of animation (the first laureate was Norman McLaren).
Zagreb Festival is considered one of the four most significant animated film festivals in the world, along with Annecy (France), Hiroshima (Japan) and Ottawa (Canada), and it is known under the slogan Z is for Zagreb.
— Borivoj Dovniković-Bordo