Trnka, Jiŕí (1912–1969) By Leskosky, Richard J.
Jiŕí Trnka (pronounced “Yershy Trinka”) was the foremost Czech puppet animator and a major influence on all subsequent Eastern European puppet animators. He trained under master puppeteer Josef Skupa, but his attempt at running his own puppet theater failed. After successes in painting, stage design, and children’s book illustration, though, Trnka turned to animated film in 1945. Eschewing the Disney model, he directed a few cartoons, notably Pérák a SS [The Chimney Sweep] and the surrealistic Dárek [The Gift] (both 1946), employing modernist elements which significantly influenced Eastern European animation (more angular character design, simple backgrounds, emphasis on end poses). He then founded his own puppet animation studio and made the first Czech animated feature, Špalíček [The Czech Year] (1947). Trnka’s shorts and features often dealt with traditional Czech subjects and virtually always featured human characters rather than anthropomorphic animals and displayed a satiric component. His wooden puppets’ faces generally had immobile painted features; personalities and emotions were conveyed through gesture, framing, and lighting. Though most Trnka films earned awards and critical praise, his last short, Ruka [The Hand] (1965), remains his most renowned work—a grim tale of artistic freedom and oppression. It depicts a little sculptor/potter confronted by a giant hand demanding that he make a monument in its image. Resisting to the end, the artist dies and then, ironically, is memorialized by the hand. The communist Czech government banned The Hand for two decades.