Marek Skrobecki, photo by Cezary Pecold / SE / East News
Director of animated films - mainly puppet animations - set designer, artist, and screenwriter, he was born in 1951 in Kalisz.
Skrobecki graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Łódź, where he studied industrial design. In 1990 he received a diploma in Higher Professional Studies from the Animated Film Direction department at the Łódź Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre. For many years he has been associated with the Łódź-based Se-ma-for studio.
At Se-ma-for, Skrobecki produced a number of projects, including his two best-known puppet animations: dim and the award- winning Ichthys". Skrobecki was the chief set designer and co-director of the Academy Award-winning film Peter and the Wolf, directed by by Suzie Templeton, which was created as a joint-production by the Se-ma-for studio and Britain's BreakThru Films. In 1992, thanks to a scholarship from the British Council, he completed his training at the prestigious Aardman Animation Studio in Britain and Jim Hanson's Creature Workshop.
Skrobecki made his debut in 1988 with an animation entitled Episode. One year later the director made Birthday Cake and in 1991 he produced Last Sandwich. A career breakthrough came with the 1992 film dim. This puppet animation was applauded and awarded at festivals in Brussels, Zagreb, Krakow and the Portugal. For dim Skrobecki created characteristic life-size puppets with expressive faces. Classic puppet animation, perfected down to the tiniest detail, was combined with elaborate puppets and impressive, uniquely sharp settings - establishing a trademark style for Skrobecki's future films.
The film tells an incisive story about passing and existence, drawing inspiration from the "dim" in diminuendo - music that grows slower and slower, calmly and harmoniously moving towards its inevitable end. The everyday reality of a couple of puppet protagonists, determined by the rhythm of meals and daily routines, is completed by moments of contemplation from a sparrow that appears on a windowsill. Moments of reflection and closeness are revealed in small, subtle gestures. The film's ambiance is built up by complex facial expressions and the dynamic presence of objects that make up the protagonists' universe, a perfected set design that follows the stylistics of pre-war interiors - punched through with a musical score that presents works by Mozart and Michał Lorenc. In an appealing final sequence the tone of which is dictated by Mozart's Requiem, dust and rust cover objects in the flat. A glass ball, which once shone when cared for by the protagonist, is broken into pieces.
In 1995 Skrobecki realised his next film titled Om and 3 years later Marchenbilder (Pictures from Fairy Tales). For the latter he was awarded the Złota Kreska at the Kraków OFAFA festival and in 2004 award for OFAFA's best film of the decade. This elaborate film features impressive puppets and a flawless set design, it tells a magical tale set in the 19th century. It depicts greatness, madness, loneliness and human desires. Its protagonist is an ingenious musician, characterised by the spirit of the Romantic age - and perhaps by Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann.
The protagonist, isolated from the world both physically and psychologically due to his madness, remains underappreciated and left alone to face his own obsessions and fears. In his madness he is accompanied by women - demonic and frightening sisters of mercy at a mental asylum where he is kept prisoner. There is also an unusually beautiful femme fatale who leads him to darker realms of reality and dreams. Along with Mozart's Quintet for Clarinet and the Arpeggione sonata by Schubert, the score comes from Marchenbilder by Schumann.
Puppet animation is later married to the musical works of Wojciech Lemański in Ichthys produced in 2005, another of Skrobecki's successes. Ichthys is a metaphorical tale about failure and human existence, full of irony, yet without many typical elements of dark humor. The themes of loneliness that occurred in the director's earlier films acquire new meanings - although they are not quite optimistic. Ichthys, realised with classic techniques of puppet stop-motion animation that Skrobecki mastered in his earlier films, is enriched through the use of 3-D computer techniques to achieve effects such as snow, rain or fog. The animation, produced in Se-ma-for, enchanted director Suzie Templeton to such a degree that she and English producer Breakthru Films decided to produce Peter and the Wolf in collaboration with the studio in Łódź.
Skrobecki was one of the directors of the Polish-Lithuanian collaboration Treser Żuków / Bug Trainer. Produced in 2008, a documentary made with elements of animation, which presents a story about a pioneer and master of puppet animation - Władysław Starewicz.
The latest original project to come from Skrobecki is Danny Boy (2010). The animated film was produced by Se-ma-for in cooperation with the Swiss-based studio Archangel SA. As reported by the American internet portal Cartoonbrew, this animation is among 33 films that met the requirements for an Oscar nomination for Best Short Animated Film. Danny Boy is a film made in a far lighter tone than the director's earlier works. It is a satirical, ironic portrait of society in which almost everybody is headless. In this anonymous, headless mass, one man - the inventor Danny Boy - stands out from the crowd.
The protagonist's loneliness is enhanced by his unrequited love - unrequited because of his strangeness. Feeling all the more alienated, he takes desperate measures to adapt to others, lowering himself to their level. The artist's ironic view of the "headlessness" that this society faces is accompanied by a film joke - in the cinema, Danny goes to see a 2-D animation written by Mariusz Wilczyński. An elaborate puppet animation - in a 10-minute film - includes a few dozens puppets, with elements of 3-D techniques, accompanied by a score based on the Irish ballad Danny Boy. The song, sung to men leaving Ireland for war or in search of a career, is sung once for the protagonist, a noble soul who gives up his strangeness and is happy to leave. The life of a unified, dumbfounded and stupefied society bound by its "headlessness" goes on. The reflexive, pessimistic undertone of the film is made complete by the final image - a headless pilot steers a plane that hits one of two towers on the horizon.
Skrobecki is co-directing an international joint production in Łódź under the working title Project Chopin, inspired by the composer's music. The director also created the set design for Bajland (2000) by Henryk Dederka and graphic work for Psy 2- Ostatnia krew directed by Władysław Pasikowski. He led the special effects team and contributed to work on the set design for Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List. He also produces animated commercials, sports programmes for television and video clips. Skrobecki has also directed two music videos - Situations and Devil Man - for the Polish band Agressiva 69.
Author: Iwona Hałgas, November 2010.
Translation by Zofia Piwowarska / Se-Ma-For Film Festival
Source: the Young Polish Cinema catalogue, published by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, September 2011.
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