In memory of Dušan Vukotić, an Oscar-winning Croatian director of animated films

Objavljeno 8.7.2015.

It is not the one who graduates from a film academy that directs films, but the one who is able to direct”, said Dušan Vukotić, former professor at the Croatian Academy of Dramatic Art (ADA), at the first lecture on directing he gave to the Academy’s freshmen.

Croatian director, screenwriter, animator, drawer, caricaturist and Oscar winner Dušan Vukotić passed away on 8 July 1998 in Zagreb. He was the first non-US author to win an Oscar for best short animated film for his film entitled Surogat.

Vukotić was born on 7 February 1927 in Bileća, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He completed his secondary education between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, attending secondary schools in Croatian cities Šibenik and Gospić and Bosnian city Bihać. He subsequently studied architecture in Zagreb, during which period he worked as a caricaturist and illustrator for a then popular satirical magazine Kerempuh. After he established an animation studio Duga film, he started working on animated films and in 1951, together with Josip Sudar, he directed his first animated film (Kako se rodio Kićo). In 1956 he started working for the world-famous Zagreb School of Animation, where he initially worked as a film director (Cowboy Jimmy, Čarobni zvuci, Abrakadabra, all made in 1957) and later also as a screenwriter, for example in a gangster-style animated film Koncert za mašinsku pušku (1958) and Cowboy Jimmy, for which he received his first international acknowledgment in Berlin in 1957.

With his first auteur film Piccolo (1959) Vukotić radicalised the concept of limited animation, characterised by stylised, one-dimensional drawings and modernist ellipses, relating it to contemporary themes. The characteristics of his films made him part of the so-called painting faction of the Zagreb School of Animation which strongly influenced the School’s first and most famous period.

With his 1961 film Surogat Vukotić achieved the so far greatest accomplishment in the history of Croatian cinematography – the film won him an Oscar for best short animated film, the first ever awarded for a non-US animated film. Following this success, he continued making acknowledged animated-feature short films such as Igra (1962), which was also nominated for Oscar, Mrlja na savjesti (1968), Opera cordis (1968) and Ars gratia artis (1970). They all won Vukotić the highest accolades at various international animation and short-film festivals.

Vukotić was one of the founders of Animafest, the Zagreb-based World Festival of Animated Film, which he also managed as artistic director, and he taught film directing at the Croatian Academy of Dramatic Art since the very establishment of the Academy’s Department of Film Studies.