Animation at Umprum – The Cradle of the Amanita Studio Creators

Exploration, experiment, animation, audiovisual work, short film, artistic solution, search and finding, joy! All this is the Animation and Film Department at the Academy of Arts, Architecture, and Design in Prague today. But it is also more than seventy years of tradition and its transformations. It is a friendly place, a destination for many male and female applicants and an oasis for students. It is a place where one can cultivate a love of more than just film. At the turn of the millennium, those who today form a solid part of Amanita Design, a Czech independent development company founded in 2003, gradually emerged there as students. In addition to its founder Jakub Dvorský, these are Jaromír Plachý, Václav Blín and Radim Jurda. This text presents their selected student films, through which they explored the possibilities of animation and audiovisual work as such. 

At the turn of the millennium, UMPRUM and Czech animation were undergoing transformations and a digital revolution; raw material was rarely shot in the studio, but equipped computer classrooms were also lacking. The students were still experimenting with classical animation techniques, but the first computers and the possibilities of digital animation were already penetrating the studio. Jakub Dvorský was one of those who came to the school already digitally literate and continued to develop in this way. He had already brought his interest in games to the entrance exams and returned to it at the end of his studies. Only two of his school exercises can be found in the studio’s archive, namely Mucha and Šnek, both from 1999 and both lacking sound and poor quality VHS transcriptions. The only full-length surviving film is Nusle (2000), where we can enjoy Dvorský’s cartoon animation full of situations and characters from the Prague district of Nusle, including the dominant Nusle Bridge. The simple and playful cartoon position is typical for Dvorský, but in the thesis he completely abandons it and takes the path of collage. He finished his studies in 2003 with Samorost, which became a viral sensation and built on the lasting success of Amanita. Samorost went on to spawn two sequels, and if we want to recall Dvorsky’s art style, we can find it in Pilgrims (2019). In fact, the author rarely devotes himself to drawing as such anymore.

While still studying, the founder of Amanita met the artist and animator Václav Blin, with whom he created Samorost 2 (2005) and with whom they have been collaborating ever since. As well as with musician Floex and sound engineer Tomas Dvorak, with whom they also teamed up for the Samorost sequel. From Blin’s school work, I would like to highlight the Networking (2001) exercise, which plays with a now forgotten toy – a magic board, a golden plate that can be drawn on by turning two knobs on its edge, which indicate the direction of the line upwards or sideways. It is impossible to break the line here, and that infinity also appears in Blin’s simple animation exercise.  He combines cartoon animation and collage here, and uses the same techniques in his master’s thesis, the video Kamil Jasmín: Na tu svadbu (2002). The video for the ska band’s biggest hit visually combines folk motifs with those typical of tekno, as well as exuberant illustrated musicians in costume.

The most prolific creator during his studies was clearly Jaromír Plachý. He gradually moved from simple animation on paper to working with digital animation, at that time still in Flash. His very first exercises, Kosmonaut (2006) and Vizitka (2006), show his sense of humour, lightness and simple animation, which are still typical for him today. Čas (2007), his longest film, can be read as a humorous pun or seen as a poetic response to what awaits us after death, which, according to the film, can only be the next phase and adventure.

Joe (2009) draws on a Czech film classic, Oldřich Lipsky’s Lemonade Joe (2009), or rather the refrain of the title song So Far, which Joe, performed by Karel Gott, made famous. Here, Plachý uses his typical, simplified, well-animated characters in his sub-camera animation, which are characterised by, for example, a large lumpy head, small body and ropey limbs. An absolute simplification occurs in Hrouda (2007), which works with greyscale colouring and the protagonists are just black lumps of two sizes. This simple art form was also used by Plachý in his comics at the time, examples include Koule a krychle. The film Na větvi č. 1. (2009) is a simple pun of a dialogue between two birds, and artistically it already uses shading, textures and colour, which Plachý further develops in his work, especially in the artwork he applies in the computer games that are created in Amanita.

While still at school, Plachý also teamed up with the music group Dva, for whom he created several successful music videos and whose music can be heard in all of his plays. Plachý finished his studies at UMPRUM in 2011 with the adventure Botanicula, which Amanita published the following year. The game became a success, as did Chuchel (2018) and Happy Game (2021) that followed. In addition to his work on game development and production at Amanita, Plachý also works in illustration and comics, most recently behind series such as Our Piggy (2022).

The last creator is Radim Jurda. An artist and animator who is characterized by care, delicacy and precision. This precision is already evident in his first exercise, Vizitka (2006). He is also the only one of the foursome represented by a film created using stop-motion animation. In the film, detailed sculpted puppets of a dragon and a knight are set in a story full of affectionate humour and lightness. The same can be found in Avoidance (2011), a gentle animation concert that gives a glimpse beneath the surface of interpersonal relationships and encounters that sometimes seem fatal to only one party. In 2013, Jurda also ends his studies not with a film, but with a concept in progress for the computer game Blik – Putování tmou, which Jakub Dvorský subsequently takes under his wing in Amanita. Since defending his thesis, it subsequently took another eight years to complete the game and release it under the title Creaks as another successful studio title.

The common denominator for all the creators is the novel artistic solutions and their search for ideas, lightness and humour, which is typical for the whole Amanita Design work. So if you want to take a break from the short film format and enjoy purely artistic animation in a different form, I recommend you visit the game world of Amanita and let them take you away.

Texty by Michaela Režová