Biography

A true successor to Georges Méliès and a wizard of the big screen, as he was often called, Karel Zeman was born in Ostroměř near Nová Paka in northern Bohemia. A brilliant pioneer of special effects in film, he is still one of the few Czech directors to be universally recognized in the world of cinema.

Ever since his childhood he had adored puppets and performed with them in a puppet theater. Despite his artistic talent his parents insisted he study business at high school in Kolín. At the age of 17, responding to advertisement in a newspaper, he went to Aix-en-Provence in the south of France, where he studied advertising design. While in France, he frequently visited the cinema, and became especially interested in animated movies. He was to put this knowledge to good use in his own first attempt at animation – an advertisement for soap.

He traveled widely in his youth, hiking in Morocco, Egypt, Yugoslavia and Greece. After his military service he returned to work in advertising, and, in 1939, he was about to make an extended trip to Casablanca in Morocco, as a representative of the Báťa shoe company, but failed to get the necessary papers from the then Protectorate authorities in time and in the end he had to stay put.

He then began working as head of the advertising section of a department store in Brno. In 1943, the film director Elmar Klos was sent to make a report about a window-dressing competition which Zeman had recently won. Klos was so taken by Zeman's work that he immediately offered him a job at the Bata Film Studios, in the Kudlov suburb of Zlín. Thus began the professional career of this later world famous film director and production designer.

Zeman often had to struggle against difficult conditions in the technically ill-equipped Kudlov Studios. Many of the workers with whom he started had no particular experience of filming. They, like Zeman himself, had to learn everything on the job. Gradually a coordinated creative team emerged.

Journey to the Beginning of Time released in 1955 became Zeman's breakthrough film, his first to combine live action, animation and puppetry. Four years later, Invention for Destruction saw him shoot to world-wide success. The film was immediately sold to 72 countries and became the most successful Czech film of all time.

Zeman continued to develop his highly successful use of special effects in The Fabulous Baron Munchausen and the two Jules Verne adaptations that followed. In the 1970's, partly motivated by his love for children and the desire to create films specially for them - but also in part because of the difficulty of shooting live action movies - Zeman returned to making strictly animated films.

Among Zeman's close associates were the composer Zdeněk Liška, animator Arnošt Kupčík, production manager Karel Hutěčka and his daughter Ludmila, co-creator of his films from The Adventures of Sinbad the Sailor onwards.

In the late 70's Zeman was threatened with the loss of his sight, but he overcame the disease and continued working. In the final stages of his life he suffered from heart problems. Karel Zeman died in Zlín on April 5, 1989.

A true successor to Georges Méliès and a wizard of the big screen, as he was often called, Karel Zeman was born in Ostroměř near Nová Paka in northern Bohemia. A brilliant pioneer of special effects in film, he is still one of the few Czech directors to be universally recognized in the world of cinema.

Ever since his childhood he had adored puppets and performed with them in a puppet theater. Despite his artistic talent his parents insisted he study business at high school in Kolín. At the age of 17, responding to advertisement in a newspaper, he went to Aix-en-Provence in the south of France, where he studied advertising design. While in France, he frequently visited the cinema, and became especially interested in animated movies. He was to put this knowledge to good use in his own first attempt at animation – an advertisement for soap.

He traveled widely in his youth, hiking in Morocco, Egypt, Yugoslavia and Greece. After his military service he returned to work in advertising, and, in 1939, he was about to make an extended trip to Casablanca in Morocco, as a representative of the Báťa shoe company, but failed to get the necessary papers from the then Protectorate authorities in time and in the end he had to stay put.

He then began working as head of the advertising section of a department store in Brno. In 1943, the film director Elmar Klos was sent to make a report about a window-dressing competition which Zeman had recently won. Klos was so taken by Zeman's work that he immediately offered him a job at the Bata Film Studios, in the Kudlov suburb of Zlín. Thus began the professional career of this later world famous film director and production designer.

Zeman often had to struggle against difficult conditions in the technically ill-equipped Kudlov Studios. Many of the workers with whom he started had no particular experience of filming. They, like Zeman himself, had to learn everything on the job. Gradually a coordinated creative team emerged.

Journey to the Beginning of Time released in 1955 became Zeman's breakthrough film, his first to combine live action, animation and puppetry. Four years later, Invention for Destruction saw him shoot to world-wide success. The film was immediately sold to 72 countries and became the most successful Czech film of all time.

Zeman continued to develop his highly successful use of special effects in The Fabulous Baron Munchausen and the two Jules Verne adaptations that followed. In the 1970's, partly motivated by his love for children and the desire to create films specially for them - but also in part because of the difficulty of shooting live action movies - Zeman returned to making strictly animated films.

Among Zeman's close associates were the composer Zdeněk Liška, animator Arnošt Kupčík, production manager Karel Hutěčka and his daughter Ludmila, co-creator of his films from The Adventures of Sinbad the Sailor onwards.

In the late 70's Zeman was threatened with the loss of his sight, but he overcame the disease and continued working. In the final stages of his life he suffered from heart problems. Karel Zeman died in Zlín on April 5, 1989.

Personal Info

Known For Directing

Gender Male

Known Credits 23

Birthday 1910-11-03

Day of Death 1989-04-05

Place of Birth Ostromer u Nové Paky, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary [now Czech Republic]

Official Site -

Also Known As

  • -

Directing TV ShowsMovies

La Magie Karel Zeman Director
1980 The Tale of John and Marie Director
1980 Karel Zeman dětem Director
1978 The Sorcerer's Apprentice Director
1974 A Thousand and One Nights Director
1972 Prokouk hodinářem Director
1970 On the Comet Director
1967 The Stolen Airship Director
1964 The Jester's Tale Director
1962 The Fabulous Baron Munchausen Director
1958 The Deadly Invention Director
1955 Journey to the Beginning of Time Director
1952 The Treasure of Bird Island Director
1950 King Lavra Director
1949 Mr. Prokouk Inventor Director
1949 Inspiration Director
1948 Mr. Prokouk Filmmaker Director
1947 The Temptation of Mr. Prokouk Director
1947 Mr. Prokouk Officer Director
1946 The Christmas Dream Director
1946 Mr. Prokouk: A Horseshoe for Luck Director

Writing

1980 The Tale of John and Marie Writer
1978 The Sorcerer's Apprentice Screenplay
1974 A Thousand and One Nights Screenplay
1970 On the Comet Writer
1964 The Jester's Tale Screenplay
1962 The Fabulous Baron Munchausen Screenplay Story
1958 The Deadly Invention Writer
1957 Mr. Prokouk, Detective Idea Screenplay
1955 Journey to the Beginning of Time Screenplay
1950 King Lavra Screenplay
1949 Mr. Prokouk Inventor Writer
1948 Mr. Prokouk Filmmaker Writer

Art

1970 On the Comet Production Design
1962 The Fabulous Baron Munchausen Production Design
1955 Journey to the Beginning of Time Production Design

Acting

2015 Karel Zeman: Adventurer in Film as Himself

Crew

1957 Mr. Prokouk, Detective Animatronics Designer

Visual Effects

1946 The Christmas Dream Animation

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