Interview with Zdenko Basic, part 1: Scopes of lucidity in illustration and animation

by deborah on 10/19/2010

For a very long time I’m planning to detain for an interview Zdenko Basic… practically from the beginning of my blogging… Somehow other topics and other people entered into life of this digital creature called Body Pixel…

During this year’s edition of Animafest – World Festival of Animated Film, Zdenko was detained in the quarters of the festival and examined about his crime: illustration and animation. This verdict is announced: life sentence to be served in the deepest part of the fairy land with a working obligation of doing only moving pictures and illustrations. The execution sentence starts now!

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Zdenko Basic and one of his Elves (c)
Photo of Z. Basic by Filip Filkovic Philatz (c)


Zdenko Basic (1980, Zagreb) has graduated in 2005 at the Academy of Fine Arts, Department for Animated Film and New Media. He’s an award-winning animator and illustrator of many children’s books and magazines; predominantly Andersen and Grimm’s fairy tales.

Since 2004 he has been working with the Merlin Theatre as a costume/scenic and graphic designer. Author of two short animated films: Snow Story – Angels in the Snow (2005) and Guliver (2009). His works have been exhibited widely in international, regional and domestic context.

This year, just before the spring begun, Zdenko was the top news in the most media. His illustrated book ‘Alice in Wonderland’ for the British,  American and French publishing market has been launched by Carlton Publisher, parallel with Tim Barton’s synonymous movie.

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Hi Zdenko! Your interest in animation and illustration started with the interest in studying material, fabrics, photography? When did this interest start, maybe in the childhood?

ZB: This interest definitely started in my childhood, and I was very interested in textures and different types of material as a small kid. I was rather interested in puppets and natural materials. I’ve spent my whole childhood playing in the woods and near lakes.

So, this sort of tangibility has always been important to me, then concreteness and in a way stacking things. That’s the reason I use elements of collage in my technique. I really like to play with different techniques and then I arrange them in sort of unity, making some a kind of new world.

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Once Upon A Time by Zdenko Basic (c)

What are you favourite materials?

ZB: Wood, fabric… um, as you can see I like everything that has some kind of nature in itself and some kind of history. I like materials that have this possibility to disintegrate and the possibility for further development. Hence, the whole thing is in these natural processes.

Then you’ve entered the art high school… and that had a strong impact too, right?

ZB: Yeah, then came the graphic art. Because graphic art is allowing, not only my personal mark, but the mark by its technique itself. Graphic art couldn’t be absolutely controlled, there is always present one moment of coincidence, and I like that. So, the technique itself can give its own impression.

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From ‘Alice in Wonderland’ by Zdenko Basic (c)

How did photography jumped into the whole process?

ZB: Photography could be seen in my work as a supplement, a scheme, cause I really walk a lot through woods and nature, so I’m catching those moments which are interesting to me. Moments that are talking about some idea I’m trying to develop. So, I started cutting out parts from the photography, designing and rearranging what’s left to get then a somewhat new and mine work.

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Zdenko Basic (c)

Oh, I see, you use it as a tool, because you are interested in this material transiency, and photography might be just great tool for catching stuff you need to ‘record’ for some reason. The only question that’s left is can we catch it?

ZB: Exactly! Animation is then a step forward by catching not only the moment, but also time. Animation definitely handles time – the beginning, middle and the end. And that’s the space-time within you can express yourself. You can also manipulate with this time, because the time doesn’t have to be real like the one within we live and perceive. But it can be accelerated, what I find very interesting. I’m very interested in these time lapses and pixelization.

OK, now you have opened other aspect, and that’s working with the computer and digital media… So, what was like this shifting from natural, tangible thingz to the media that seeks hours and hours of rendering and processing of sequences…

ZB: Well, somehow I don’t see it separately… I suppose, someway I upgraded the whole thing. I don’t approach computer as sort of a closed system, but as a tool I use in my work. I mean, I don’t care about the technique I use at the moment, but the idea. The thing I want to say is the most important, whilst the technique I use… Well, therefore I usually use all sorts of techniques in order to catch up the thread and the idea within my own thoughts.

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Zdenko Basic, photo by Marinko Marinkovic aka Mrlja (c)

What software do you use?

ZB: I use mostly Adobe Photoshop and After Effects. On Guliver I’ve collaborated with Manuel, who is a 3D artist. It was an immediate click and we both upgraded each others idea, he had to put the puppet which I’ve created into a virtual space.

How important is the story for you? You work could be characterized as a story telling?

ZB: Yeah, it’s something inherited from my childhood. I was all the time surrounded by stories; my grannies would told me stories. In fact, oral history is something I was always fascinated about. These old people knew lots of stories that weren’t only about their topic, but much more about their own experience,  about life. Actually, I’m interested in the metaphysical side of the story and I find it very important for my work. I think, we are all telling stories, but it only depends on what language do we use in order to express it.

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Angel by Zdenko Basic (c)
Photo by _Sanja_ taken from flickr

Have you ever dealt with comics?

ZB: Comic as a technique hadn’t been the topic of my interest, never. I feel it as a part of preparations for the animated film.

As a storyboard…

ZB: Yes, yes! When I see a comic book I have a strong need to convert it into lively form, into action. That’s the part of comics I’ve never been satisfied with. Or I keep my attention on the illustration, because I like this hidden part in the story. Illustration has a static attribution by presenting one image, one segment, but suggests a lot by leaving the imagination to work fully.

Comic suggests, together with all attributions of illustration, aspects of time and space. I need something more in order to catch the atmosphere – time and that’s only possible in animation. At the other hand, sometimes I like to keep my focus on this illustrative part by using it as a symbol; or I’m going deeper into animation process.

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Guliver by Zdenko Basic (c)

How would you then describe your illustration works, because you constantly have to have plugged in your own handbrake in order to transform everything in motion? So, how are you solving this issue when you work on your own illustration? For instance, going deeper into space or something else?

ZB: Well, yes! That’s it! I’m trying within this one particular image to express absolutely everything it can offer, some personal experience and impression. It’s an interesting process because I don’t’ have a need of inventing new stories, I like to re-adapt old, already existing stories. So, it’s about a new way of seeing old things.

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Photo by Filip Filkovic Philatz (c)

Also, when I write my own story, then I leave it for a while. On this way, I can slowly grow the idea, first its illustration, then the book, and after my own maturation process the story is finished.

Yeah, you need some time to chew it and then spitting out in a form you like it…

ZB: Yeah! That’s the way Guliver was made. As s project, Gulliver existed for a long time, I wrote it as a story. I’ve made lots of illustrations and tried different techniques, and finally the story has grown. That was simply one moment. I think it’s very important in animation to let the story grow, but in technological aspect, too.

Read the second part of the interview with Zdenko Basic: A word or two on material tangibility