The Master of Stop-Motion Puppet Animator, Jiri Trnka


Jiri Trnka is one of the masters of stop-motion puppet animator also he is known as an illustrator, motion-picture animator, and filmmaker. People often described him as the ‘Walt Disney of the East.’ His animation style and right initially influenced animation world. Trnka was born in Czech Republic in 1912. Young Trnka liked art since young age and enjoyed puppet making from his grandmother. He attended the Prague School of Arts and Crafts during 1929 to1935. He established a puppet theater after he graduated yet couldn’t continue it because the World War II began at that time. Therefore, he became to be an illustrator for children’s book. Soon after he became a successful illustrator and published many children’s books. The illustration for the tales of The Brothers Grimm is one the unforgettable works.



After the war, Trnka started working at the animation studio; ‘Bratři v Triku’ with Jiří Brdečka, Eduard Hofman, and others. They created successful 2D animated shorts such as Zasadil dědek řepu (1945), Zvířátka a Petrovští (1946), Pérák a SS (1946), and Dárek (1946). Some of the films awarded the Cannes Film Festival. However, Trnka decided spending time to work on creating his puppet-animated films more soon after he succeeded as a 2D animator.



In 1947, Trnka released his first stop-motion puppet animated film; Špalíček. The film got many attentions and received many awards at several film festivals including the Venice Film Festival. What is the most interesting about his puppet animation is his animation doesn’t relay on any lip sync and facial expressions to tell a story. He tells a story by focusing the lights, camera angles, music, and puppets’ gestures. His 18 minutes puppet animated film; Ruka (1965) is known as the Trnka’s last film and is his masterpiece. A puppet and human hand appear in this film with no dialogues. You see the puppet has only one face expression with no eyebrows, and the hand simply wears a white glove. However, you can feel the characters’ feelings through their gestures. If you understand an animation, you know that it’s challenge to tell a story without face expressions and any dialogues, yet you clearly understand the story of Ruka when you watch it. Another highlight of the film is the hand character’s amazing gesture. The white-gloved hand moves like a human body, and the body language is very entertaining and fun to watch it. It may remind you the hand character from The Adams Family (1991). You will enjoy the gesture and communication between the puppet and the hand in Ruka. Very classic and fantastic film.


Ruka (1964) by Jirí Trnka

His animation style impacted many animators in the world. The stop-motion became growing during the 1960’s to 1970’s. Especially, Czechoslovakia and Japan with North America. The Japanese animator, Kihachiro Kawamoto visited Czechoslovakia in 1963 for working under Trnka after he got an experience to learn the puppet animation from one of the lead puppet animator, Tad Mochinaga in Japan. According to the book; The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation by Kenneth A. Priebe, the author mentions, “Kawamoto brought this influence back to Japan and inspired the puppet movement there. Meanwhile, the films of Mochinaga inspired an entirely new partnership that would bring the Japanese animation style to America”(15). This movement made stop-motion animation became more expand in the media during the 1950’s in the US.


Short Films by Jiri Trnka:

Ruka (1964)

Archandel Gabriel a paní Husa (1964)

Song of the Prairie (1962)

Kybernetická babicka (1962)

Vásen (1959)

Cirkus Hurvinek (1953)

Dva mrazíci (1953)

The Golden Fish (1951)

The Merry Circus (1950)

Story of the Bass Cello (1949)

The Devil’s Mill (1949)

Dárek (1946)

The Chimney Sweep (1946)

Zvírátka a petrovstí (1946)

Zasadil dedek repu (1945)


Film by Jiri Trnka:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1955)

Dobrý voják Svejk (1955)

Old Czech Legends (1951)

Bajaja (1949)

The Emperor’s Nightingale (1947)

Spalicek (1946)




(Book) The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation By Kenneth A. Priebe

(Website) IMDb – “Jirí Trnka” by Jiri Trnka

(Video) Ruka (1964) by Jirí Trnka