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In 2010 we celebrated several important anniversaries related to Polish animation. 100 years ago the first experimental puppet animation entitled “Walka żuków” (“The Battle of Beatles”) was shot by Władysław Starewicz and then he started work on the first film with a plot - „Piękna Lukanida” (“Beautiful Lukanida”). 50 years ago (1960) the studio adopted the name Se-ma-for, while 10 years ago (december 1999) a new private studio was created after the state-owned studio was liquidated.
Władysław Starewicz – a pioneer of puppet animation made his films as early as befranfore the First World War. At first, he shot them in Kaunas, then in Moscow and after the Bolshevik revolution in France. In 1912 his first film with a plot “Piękna Lukanida” was premiered in Moscow. Starewicz is the only Pole who created a new film genre – stop motion puppet animation. Unfortunately, he is completely unknown in his homeland, probably due to the fact that in the times of the Polish People's Republic it was impossible to undermine information included in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, according to which Starewicz was a Russian animator, who, in addition, escaped from the pursuit of Bolsheviks in Russia to France.
The beginnings of animation in our country is the film „Za króla Krakusa” (“In Times of Krakus King”) from 1947. The history of SE-MA-FOR studio and the history of Polish animation are counted from its premiere. Zenon Wasilewski (1903-1966) – a film director and animator had been known as a painter, a caricaturist and a press graphic designer publishing his works in “Cyrulik Warszawski" and “Szpilki” magazines as far back as before the war. The caricatures which he made with the use of plasticine figures date back to this period. The first more serious attempts employing puppet animation also date from the time before the war, but no trace of “Król Krakus” shot at that time was preserved.
After the war, Wasilewski, like many other filmmakers came to Lodz, where the film industry was located. Probably as early as in 1946, he started to work on the first puppet film. He arranged his studio in his own apartment at Radwańska Street.
The book by Antoni Bańkowski and Sławomir Grabowski issued on the 50th anniversary of establishing Se-ma-for comprises memoirs of the assistant cinematographer Wacław Fedak, describing work on “Krakus” in the following way: „A small team was eager to work although they were deprived of many basic tools and complete knowledge about this unknown animated film technique. A group of a dozen or so enthusiasts for animation were outdoing each other in providing ideas of how to solve numerous technical and artistic problems.
The puppets were made of various materials – wood, plaster, wire, rubber or even bread. They invented different ways to fix the puppets on set, either with screws driven into the dolls feet from under the sets, where usually one of employees was forced to stay, with clamps, or with spring clasps, which hit the ground with such force that they unstuck elements of the scenery or broke the structures of puppets.
An old “Erneman” camera was adjusted to stop motion shots, taking the advantage of gravitation, that is – a string was wound on the camera’s flywheel and a 2-kilo weight was fixed to its end. After lifting a special blockade, the weight fell down, pulling the string, which unwound making the wheel go round in a circle, exposing one frame of the film. Such a method was employed to shoot, frame after frame, the film “Za króla Krakusa”.
This black and white film was 18 minutes long. It was premiered in the fall of 1947 and made a big impression. Critics praised Wasilewski for his ingenuity and wit. Of course, now the film is a bit out-of-date but archive films should not be evaluated according to contemporary standards.
These were the beginnings – prehistory of Se-ma-for.
Since that time over 1400 films (including about 800 puppet ones) have been made in Se-ma-for, which have received several hundred awards and distinctions, with two OSCAR awards at the head for the films “Tango” by Zbigniew Rybczyński in 1983 and „Peter and the Wolf” by Suzy Templeton in 2008.
Apart from numerous directors and animators, various Polish artists and creators from various fields of art have cooperated with the Studio in different periods of its activity: composers – Krzysztof Penderecki, Krzysztof Komeda, Michał Urbaniak, Piotr Hertel, Janusz Hajdun, Marek Wilczyński, Jerzy Matuszkiewicz, Piotr Marczewski, Waldemar Kazanecki, Zofia Stanczewa, Andrzej Rokicki, Adam Walaciński, Jan Kanty Pawluśkiewicz, Wojciech Lemański; screenwriters - Sławomir Grabowski, Antoni Bańkowski, Adam Ochocki, Czesław Janczarski, Marek Nejman, Maria Kossakowska; film set designers: Zbigniew Rychlicki, Adam Kilian, Karol Baraniecki, Edward Lutczyn, Eryk Lipiński...
In the beginning, Se-ma-for was famous as the first and only puppet films studio in Poland, then it has developed a full range of its artistic potential in all genres, including a documentary and a feature film. Among the extremely popular puppet series for children that should be mentioned there are: “Miś Uszatek (Teddy Floppy-ear)”, “Les Avantures de Colargol”, “Pinguin Pik-Pok”, “Three Bears”, “Maurycy and Hawranek”, “Coloured World of Pacyk”, “Moomins”, “The Wizard of Oz”, “Plastuś” etc. Se-ma-for has also created cartoon series for children such as: “Filemon The Cat”, “Magic Pencil”, “Few Adventures of Sparrow Tweet” and experimental films (by, among others, Zbigniew Rybczyński, Stefan Schabenbeck, Hieronim Nauman).
The studio had many names – at first it was called the Puppet Film Studio of the “Polish Film”, then the Puppet Film Department of the Lodz studio, later the independent Puppet Film Studio in Tuszyn, from 1960 the Se-ma-for Studio of Small Film Forms, from 1990 the Semafor Film Studio. After the decision to liquidate the state-owned Semafor Film Studio in November 1999, a group of producers from this institution, under the leadership of the producer Zbigniew Żmudzki, established a commercial law company, which is not, however, a legal successor but a program and ideological continuator of the famous state-owned studio. The Company’s name: “Se-ma-for” Film Production, refers to the tradition by employing the old, dating from before1990, logo. The head of Committee in the letter of 16.12.1999 approved the intention to name the company „SE-MA-FOR”.
Se-ma-for, despite various turbulences exists and prospers, making more and more films, especially debuts of the Lodz Film School graduates. In may 2008 the studio moved from Pabianicka Street to 1/3 Targowa Street to a postindustrial warehouse building of the old EC1 heat and power plant. In this year the Se-ma-for Film Foundation was also established, gaining the status of a public utility organization. Among important objectives of the foundation, there is running the Se-ma-for Muzeum Bajki (Se-ma-for Museum of Fairytale), where visitors can see puppets and scenery from famous animations, as well as film equipment; they can listen to interesting stories about filmmaking and see films on screen.
Short history of Se-ma-for
Beginnings - 1947 -1960
The beginnings of Se-ma-for date back to 1947, when Zenon Wasilewski, a visual artist, with the help of his friends – enthusiasts for animation, made his first puppet animated film in Lodz "Za króla Krakusa" in his own apartment at Radwańska Street. The film was premiered in the fall of 1947. This is how the Puppet Film Studio of the “Polish Film” was created.
Another stage of the Studio development was opening the Puppet Department as part of the Lodz Wytwórnia Filmów Fabularnych (WFF) (Feature Film Studio). Its seat was first located in the basement under a filming room and then in a postindustrial hall. In January 1950 the Cartoon Film Department was opened in WFF.
In 1956 the Puppet Film Department was transformed into the independent Puppet Film Studio with its seat in Tuszyn near Lodz.
The main creators who made their debut at that time are Zenon Wasilewski, Włodzimierz Haupe, Halina Bielińska, Edward Sturlis, Jerzy Kotowski, Lidia Hornicka, Janina Hartwig.
In 1959 Tadeusz Wilkosz (the later creator of Colargol and Pik-Pok), Lucjan Dembiński (the later main producer of the series with Miś Uszatek) and Wacław Kondek made their first films.
The Studio of Small Film Forms - 1960 - 1990
In 1960 the then director Ryszard Brudzyński carried out extensive plans of producing short films, and not only animated ones in the studio. He offered a job to young graduates of the Lodz Film School, who gained an opportunity to debut. The name of the studio was changed into the Studio of Small Film Forms Se-ma-for and the Lodz branches at Pabianicka and Bednarska Street started to operate. The first cut-out and cartoon films were made that year.
Among those debuting in animation in the 60s there were: Zofia Ołdak, Daniel Szczechura, Kazimierz Urbański, Alina Kotowska, Andrzej Piliczewski, Ryszard Brudzyński, Katarzyna Latałło, Zbigniew Czernelecki, Stefan Schabenbeck, Henryk Ryszka, Ludwik Kronic, Stanisław Lenartowicz.
Debuts in other genres (actor, experimental and documentary films): Roman Polański (short film „Mammals”), Jadwiga Kędzierzawska, Janusz Nasfeter, Janusz Morgenstern, Janusz Majewski, Andrzej Kondratiuk, Jerzy Antczak, Stefan Matyjaszkiewicz, Jerzy Passendorfer, Marek Nowicki, Andrzej Brzozowski, Janusz Kubik, Jan Laskowski, Wadim Berestowski, Władysław Ślesicki, Wojciech Marczewski.
In the 60s, the production of popular series started: a puppet one „Colargol”, a cartoon one „Magic Pencil” or ones with actors, for adults „Klub Profesora Tutki”. The series for children were also produced in the seventies and eighties: puppet ones „Miś Uszatek - Teddy Floppy-ear”, „Three Bears”, „Pinguin Pik-Pok”, „Moomins”, cartoon ones „Filemon the Cat” and „Few Adventures of Sparrow Tweet”, plasticine ones „Plastelinki” and ones with actors e.g. „Merry Devil’s Friend”. Debuts from the seventies involve, first of all, the directors of particular episodes of the series: Marian Kiełbaszczak, Dariusz Zawilski, Teresa Puchowska-Sturlis, Krystyna Kulczycka, Eugeniusz Ignaciuk, Janusz Galewicz, Jadwiga Kudrzycka, Ryszard Szymczak, Jerzy Stępień,Wacław Fedak, Danuta Adamska - Strus, Eugeniusz Strus, Ireneusz Czesny.
At the beginning of the seventies, young experimentalists appeared in Se-ma-for: Józef Robakowski, Zbigniew Rybczyński, Ryszard Waśko, Władysław Wasilewski, Janusz Połom, Hieronim Neumann, Jerzy Kopczyński,Stanisław Śliskowski. The greatest success was achieved by the films of Zbigniew Rybczyński „Nowa książka (New Book)” and Tango – the first Oscar award for the studio.
Future feature film producers made their debut in the studio: Krzysztof Nowak, Filip Bajon, Krzysztof Krauze, Andrzej Brzozowski. The eighties involve another inflow of talented creators: Zbigniew Kotecki, Józef Piwkowski, Grzegorz Rogala, Andrzej Barański, Piotr Dumała, Jerzy Łukaszewicz, Andrzej Warchał, Leopold Rene Nowak, Marek Skrobecki, Krzysztof Rynkiewicz and puppet animators: Wojciech Gierłowski, Krzysztof Brzozowski and Adam Wyrwas.
Semafor Film Studio- 1990 - 1999
In 1990 the then director Jacek Gwizdała led to the transformation of the name of the studio into “Semafor Film Studio”. From then on, the studio was supposed to produce full-length films, including ones with actors. Unfortunately the plans failed. Only two full-length animated films were made: “Siedmiomilowe Trampki" by Krzysztof Rynkiewicz and "Mamo czy kury potrafia mówić" by Tadeusz Wilkosz and Krystyna Krupska. Polish animation came to a standstill in production due to the withdrawal of Polish Television from making series for children. There also appeared competitive private studios. The best films from this period are "DIM" by Marek Skrobecki, "O największej kłótni” by Zbigniew Kotecki (produced for the Poznań Television Studio of Animated Films), "Nerwowe życie" series by Piotr Dumała and the first episodes of "Mordziaki" series by Marian Kiełbaszczak.
In the 90s Piotr Trzaskalski, a later director of feature films, had a job producing television programs.
In November 1999 the Cinematography Committee decided to liquidate the state-owned Semafor studio.
Se-ma-for Studio – since December 1999
The company was registered in the Commercial Court in Lodz on December 20, 1999.
Despite puppet animation (films: “Ichthys”, “Fantastic Flower Shop”, “Peter and The Wolf”, “Danny Boy”, “Maska”, series for children „Flapper the Hare”) other genres are produced in the studio - 2D animation (films: “Caracas”, “Joyets”, “Return”) or those combining various techniques (films: “The Lost Town Of Świteź”, “City Flows”). Also documentaries are produced, e.g. a poetical film “Out of the depths i cry...” on the basis of diaries of children from the Lodz ghetto or “The Bug Trainer” – a story about Władysław Starewicz.
Among the producers cooperating with the new studio, there are: Marek Skrobecki, Balbina Bruszewska, Wojciech Gierłowski, Anna Błaszczyk, Paweł Partyka, Daria Kopiec, Kamil Polak, Anna Cywińska, Kacper Shikeli, Jacek Łechtański, Marta Pajek, Paulina Majda, Krzysztof Brzozowski, Adam Wyrwas, Andrzej Jaroszewicz, Mikołaj Jaroszewicz, Marian Kiełbaszczak, Jarosław Konopka, Suzie Templeton, Quay Brothers…
In February 2008, short animated films, "Peter and the Wolf", received the Academy Award for best animated short film. It was the second Oscar-winning film made by the studio - the first came in the same category in 1983 - "Tango" by Zbigniew Rybczyński.
Se-ma-for Film Foundation – since June 2008
The Se-ma-for Film Foundation was established in April 2008 by the studio Se-ma-for Film Production and so far it has concentrated on the accomplishment of the main statutory goal, that is extensive advertising, supporting and promoting the activity within the range of culture and film art, and in particular an animated film and a children’s film. The foundation carries out non-commercial undertakings connected with the art of animation and runs Museum of Animation and Film Festival.
Se-Ma-For Film Festival (international festival of puppet animation and other three-dimensional stop-motion animation techniques) is the second worldwide and the only European festival dedicated to stop-motion, especially puppet and three-dimensional animation.The foundation is a Public Utility Organization, due to which it can make a profit on 1% from tax deductions when used for statutory goals.