FNE Film Meets Games: Q&A with Czech Animation Director Bára Anna Stejskalová

PRAGUE: FNE spoke with Bára Anna Stejskalová, Czech animation director and scriptwriter, about her animated films as well as the state of the Czech animation industry and its connections with gaming.

Bára Anna Stejskalová began her studies at the University of Arts at Bournemouth and transferred to Prague’s FAMU. In 2018 she participated in the Erasmus internship in the Production Design department at IADT in Dublin. Her bachelor’s film The Fishermen (2017) was nominated for BAFTA Shortlist, while her master graduation film Love Is Just a Death Away (2020) is presently touring worldwide festivals.

Central and Eastern Europe is one of the most important locations for global games developers and studios, and artists in the region are increasingly working for both film and games. FNE looks at how these two sectors of the entertainment industry are converging and why this trend is important for the future development of both.

FNE: Which animated films have inspired you?

Bára Anna Stejskalová: I remember the first film I saw and I was truly amazed, wow, maybe this is something that I would love to do one day. It was Princess Mononoke (1997) by Hayao Miyazaki. What caught me was the combination of beauty and brutality, the blood and the petals. I remember I watched it on the Czech Television when I was probably 7. It was very late and my mom came in and she saw a bit of the film. She forbade me to watch it, so I had to wait a couple of years to finish it. My other inspiration is, of course, the uncanny stop-motion film Madame Tutli-Putli (2007) by Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski.

FNE: What can you tell us about your animated projects The Fishermen (2017) and Love Is Just a Death Away (2020)? What differentiates and connects them visually and technically?

Bára Anna Stejskalová: They’re both very personal stories because I don’t have that much of an imagination. Therefore, most of the things that happen in the films actually happened to me in real life. I just managed to turn them into stop motion films. I think they’re both about love in a certain way, even though The Fishermen (2017) is mostly about accepting yourself and who you are, even with the bad stuff and the good stuff, and that can ultimately transform you.

The idea of transformation is definitely the connection between them. Technically, they are connected by stop motion because that’s the medium I love the most, because you actually get to create something with your hands, and you can move around in the set and just touch the things you make. Playing a tiny God really 🙂

FNE: What can you tell us about the Darkening project, directed by Ondřej Moravec and produced by Czech Frame Films in coproduction with Brainz Immersive and German NowHere Media, for which you were art director on VR?

Bára Anna Stejskalová: Darkening was challenging and beautiful at the same time. It was a completely different medium than the ones I’m used to working with and it has its own boundaries in terms of what you can actually achieve, so you need to be a little bit technologically creative. But at the same time, I think it’s alluring that you can transform the darkness that we, the creators, are bearing inside ourselves, and make it into something magical, as Darkening is.

The story is about depression, and it’s sometimes rough and perhaps even a little bit scary at the same time. But most of the viewers come out of the experience not depressed or very sad, but mostly touched and somehow uplifted. If you are suffering from depression, you’ve got the feeling that you’re not really alone.

FNE: What makes the modern Czech animation industry unique?

Bára Anna Stejskalová: I think I’m very lucky that I come from the generation of next upcoming animation directors. The amount of talent I am seeing around myself is really stunning. I feel like we inspire each other to strive for greatness. Maybe we do have very good universities like FAMU or UMPRUM, which teach you how to become an independent director.

I would say that Czechs are just willing to learn everything. And we enjoy DIYs a lot. And that willingness to keep learning new things, the mastering of  the craft you are making, I think it’s just like we pour our hearts into the films, and it’s not only a job, it’s like an obsession.

FNE: Film and games convergence is a hot topic now. What can you tell us about the relationship between the gaming industry and film in your experience? Do you have any experience using VFX in terms of games and/or what role does it play in your animated films?

Bára Anna Stejskalová: We’ve been using some gaming aspects in Darkening because the interactions help the viewer to be more submerged in the story. The film is controlled by voice, which is still a little bit unusual and perhaps harder for shy people. So we thought it would perhaps be easier for them to start interacting with the film by doing movements with their hands and then start using their voice.

It is supposed to be this nudge nudge towards voice therapy. For me it was very interesting to implement gaming aspects and then to watch how viewers behave while they are immersed in the story.

FNE: How important are full-motion/real-life footage projects to your work?

Bára Anna Stejskalová: Not very important, no. Because I mostly work with figures that are not humans. Last time I used people was in 2016 in The Fishermen. Now I’m orienting myself more towards portraying characters as animals, as they are much more interesting than people.

Sometimes we would use some videos as references for movements, but it is rather rare. I am just working with way too talented animators 🙂

FNE: Are there any Czech films and/or animations that are being turned into games or Czech games that are being turned into films, TV series or animations?

Bára Anna Stejskalová: To be honest I don’t know a lot about our gaming industry. I know Warhorse Studios are based in Prague, but that’s about it. Even though I am a fan of Amanita Design studio. They made beautiful games Samorost and Machinarium, with music made by Floex.

FNE: What can you tell us about your new animation project 9 Million Colors that you are currently working on? What do you want to tell us about this film and what is your achievement as an artist?

Bára Anna Stejskalová: It’s a TV special, stop motion underwater musical. Our main heroines, mantis shrimp Fran and deep-water eye-less fish Milva, are both actually based on real creatures.

I have been fascinated by mantis shrimp from the first time I read about her. Not only is she super aggressive and very strong for its size. But also she has the most developed eyes in the world, and she is able to see a much bigger spectrum of wave-lengths, including UV and IR lights. We can’t even imagine the colours she must be seeing.

But I am still tempted to try to portrait it. And in the most analogue way possible, with puppets and real set. Just to create this amazing moving image which has not been done on screen yet.

It’s a film about relationships again. If you are in a relationship with somebody who sees the world completely differently, can you really be together? And how hard is it to accept ourselves and each other, to overcome the differences and even to celebrate them? I feel like those topics are really important these days, as the whole world feels more divided than ever.

FNE: How do y

ou see the development of the relationship between the film and gaming industries?

Bára Anna Stejskalová: I feel this trend is definitely a good one, to make games more cinematic and beautiful with intriguing design and immersive stories. So I think it’s developing very neatly. I’m seeing all the time that game developers are looking for cinematographers to join them on board. I wish one day I will have enough time to finally play some games as well.


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