His films use technical tricks, often based upon innovative solutions. They constitute a distinct phenomenon in Polish animation, at the same time being a part of its experimental trend and pushing boundaries of the form.
His films use technical tricks, often based upon innovative solutions. They constitute a distinct phenomenon in Polish animation, at the same time being a part of its experimental trend and pushing boundaries of form.
Born in 1948 in Poznań, Hieronim Neumann is considered among the prominent members of the experimental trend in Polish animation, a group that includes Zbigniew Rybczyński. Based to a large extent on actors’ performances, and skillfully incorporating after-shot photography, they broaden and sometimes shatter the genre boundaries of animation.
There is a problem defining genre, in the case of Neumann’s works, as Marcin Giżycki notes (Hieronim Neumann, Poznań 2009), referring to the definition of the art of animation formed by ASIFA (Association International du Film d'Animation):
Are movies such as ‘5/4’, ‘Block’ or ‘Remote Control’ animated movies? After all they use to a large extent photographs of actors. (…) It is safer to call these works experimental, because it’s a very broad term. On the other hand there is a large dose of after-shot photography in them, a method that is the essence of film animation. Only that these photographs, when ‘stopped’, aren’t visible to the nonprofessional eye.
Neumann graduated from the National Higher School of Plastic Arts in Poznań, where he studied in the Department of Painting, Graphics and Sculpture. In 1977 he obtained his diploma in Professor Antoni Zydroń’s workshop in the field of graphic design with a specialization in visual communication. He realized his diploma film, Counting Rhyme, at the Se-ma-for Studio of Small Film Forms in Łódź.
There he encountered Zbigniew Rybczyński’s works and collaborated with him on the realisation of his movie Oh, I Can’t Stop. For another decade he was involved with Se-ma-for, where he created his animated films 5/4, Block, Fig and the repeatedly awarded Event. From 1980 he also collaborated with the TV Studio of Animation Films in Poznań. There he realized The Cold, Galapagos, Ptaszor, Flight of the Bumblebee and also On Children’s Toys – an episode of the animated film series Fourteen Tales from the Kingdom of Lailonia by Leszek Kołakowski. Also Magritte,was created at the studio in Poznań, one of the movies from the cycle Impressions, which consisted of animations inspired by paintings.
In the mid-1980s Neumann began to work at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań, lecturing at the Animated Film Workshop, which was led by Kazimierz Urbański. Since 1994 he is the director of the 2nd Animated Film Workshop at the Department of Multimedia Communication of the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań. At present, after receiving the academic title of professor of plastic arts, he works as full professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań. He is also a lecturer at the Department of Graphics of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, where he leads the Animation Workshop. In the years 1990-1991 he lectured at the Bilkent University in Ankara as a visiting professor. His two latest movies Remote Control and Zoopraxiscope were realized at the Mansard Studio, with which he is involved since 2002.
Neumann skillfully uses various animation techniques, from the classic, drawing and cut-out methods, to ones that involve the use of a computer. But he also made films that are far from being experimental, such as for instance Magritte or On Children’s Toys. In his authorial movies the director consistently, from the beginning of his career, bases on technical experiments and ingenious, innovatory solutions. To Neumann form isn’t merely a goal, it’s rather a tool, which enables reaching the viewer in a more complete and vivid way.
His debut, Counting Rhyme, is the director’s most abstract work alongside Zoopraxiscope, his latest film realized in 2005. Both animations are landmarks of his career and have another thing in common – the name of the photography artist and pioneer of cinematography Eadweard Muybridge. In both productions, a fascination with the prehistory of cinema is to be seen as also with flickering images, which are the basis of after-shot animation.
In Counting Rhyme, amongst the many images of animals creating a whirling collage, one can distinguish a galloping horse from a photograph by the English master. The figures of animals created from squares are accompanied by the words of a children’s counting rhyme, which don’t give the visual level a clear sense, but rather provoke illogical associations. Zoopraxiscope is a film wholly devoted to Muybridge’s memory and based on his photographs, from which Neumann composes his own, funny story. Also the originally sounding title of Neumann’s work was derived from the name of a device invented by the pioneer of cinematography, which was used to project his works.
Counting Rhyme, which was created as a diploma film, received the special award given by the Festival Newspaper at the Short Film Festival in Kraków. Zoopraxiscope was distinguished as the best experimental film at the OFAFA festival also in Kraków.
Another theme important to Neumann, present in a few of his movies, is the motif of a housing project and cramped flats, where the action takes place. Such scenery appears in the realized in 1979 film 5/4, in which we observe the preparations for a party. A playing child, a shaving man, at last the lady of the house bustling around the kitchen. When she cracks open the shell of an egg, the screen splits into four sections. In them we observe different fragments of the flat as well as events which are unsynchronized. The film reality gradually becomes less compatible with itself, the frames begin to vibrate and come apart. The atmosphere of a "polite" party vanishes, when the hostess carrying another tray falls, arousing prolonged bursts of laughter. In the last scene, as in the beginning of the film, the boy’s face appears, only this time in all of the four sections of the screen. It disappears quickly, together with the shattered mirror in which it is reflected.
Neumann’s movie under the suggestive title Block is another variation on the topic of life in a communist housing project. In this case however the view is much wider and extends over the entire apartment block – the scrutinizing eye of the camera enables us to see the inhabitants of the housing project, when it travels through storeys and flats. Therefore we get to see the entire material and spiritual misery of communist Poland, with its lack of space, makeshifts, deficiencies, rubbish and urban coarseness of that time. We observe also wickedness and human weaknesses: the fight for a chicken, leaving the trash in front of the door of a blind neighbour, peeping through the keyhole. This specific panopticon from the era is shown with a master shot, which follows the tenants living in and moving about the apartment block. The technical mastery, which required the synchronization of many elements and a precise arranging of the plan, was achieved by Neumann without the use of computers, which at the time were not available in Poland.
Once again the concrete jungle returns in the movie Event. It starts with an idyllic picture from the life of the backward Polish countryside, which suddenly is struck, as if by a tornado, by a cataclysm of changes. However it turns out that the dramatic, almost epochal modifications in the external landscape and architecture aren’t followed by changes in the customs or lifestyles of the inhabitants. The alleged social advancement proves to be nothing more than a superficial remodeling of decorations, which doesn’t bring any positive change. In the suggestive final scene of the film a peasant waves his hand in resignation, puts on an ear cap, and in his shoes and coat goes to bed and pulls the blanket over his head. In the concrete jungle only a flickering television screen and a thoughtlessly gorging child remain. The television set is a constant and inseparable element of the lives of the characters’ in another of Neumann’s movies, also showing the reality of a housing project, only this time from the perspective of the year 2002.
In Remote Control a television set dictates the rhythm of the tenants’ existence and sometimes becomes its main element. Changing the program by using the pilot turns out to be merely a mock choice, because on every channel the viewer is served a similar, mediocre, television pulp. However even when nobody is watching television, the set remains turned on, as if it was some kind of life’s necessity, which drowns the sound of emptiness and thoughtlessness.
Illustrating Classical Music
Neumann is also the creator of movies realized as parts of series of animations illustrating masterpieces of classical music such as Children’s Symphony, Dream and Flight of the Bumblebee. He also created one of the best episodes of the cycle Impressions. The film entitled Magritte, which was realized together with Maciej Ćwiek, superbly portrays the world displayed in the paintings of the Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte.
Zbigniew Kotecki was, as in almost all of Neumann’s movies, the cinematographer. Kotecki received awards and distinctions for his cinematography for Neumann’s films. One might say that Neumann’s computer animation is a masterly translation of René Magritte’s painting visions into the film language, a translation which is close to the director’s previous achievements. In 1999 the artist realized also one of the adaptations of the Fourteen Tales from the Kingdom of Lailonia by Leszek Kołakowski, entitled On Children’s Toys. The film has a simple plastic form and a pastel colour scheme. The characters are slightly cubistic. On Children’s Toys received the Marcinek Children’s Jury Main Award at the 17th International Young Audience Film Festival Ale Kino! in Poznań.
- 1977 – Counting Rhyme (award: Kraków 1977);
- 1979 – 5/4;
- 1982 - Block (awards: Huesca 1982, Oberhausen 1983);
- 1982 - Fig (co-directed by: Bronisław Modrzyński, award: Kraków 1983);
- 1984 - The Cold (award: Łódź 1985);
- 1985 - Galapagos (co-directed by: Bronisław Modrzyński);
- 1987 - Ptaszor;
- 1987 – Event (awards: Oberhausen 1988, Kraków 1988, Bielsko-Biała 1989, Lausanne 1989);
- 1993 – Flight of the Bumblebee (awards: Poznań 1993, Blagoevgrad, 1994);
- 1993 – Dream;
- 1995 - Magritte (co-directed by: Maciej Ćwiek, award: Sandomierz 1996);
- 1999 - On Children’s Toys (award: Poznań 1999);
- 2002 - Remote Control (award: Kraków OFAFA 2002);
- 2005 - Zoopraxiscope (Kraków OFAFA 2005).
Author: Iwona Hałgas, November 2010.