‘If the dream is a translation of waking life, waking life is also a translation of the dream'(Rene Magritte)

Surrealism has influenced the animation industry since its very early beginnings. However, the industry has developed since the surrealist movement and has become capable of reflecting surrealism in many more ways.

The History of Animation

Joseph Plateau a Belgian physicist invented a device called a Phenakistiscope. This was a disc with a sequence of 8 drawings that were viewed through slots and reflected in a mirror. Then came the Zoetrope invented by Briton William George Horner. These two used images viewed through slots, except this time they were drawn on the inside of a spinning drum. The sequences were shorter and repetitive but still captivated viewers.





Eadweard Muybridge created a collection of photographs that are still used as reference material by animators to this day. By setting up a bank of cameras he was able to capture sequences of human and animal movement. A more sophisticated version was recently adopted by John Gaeta for the ‘Bullet time’ sequence in the Matrix to halt motion.

Emile Reynaud, a French painter, took the concept of the Zoetrope and joined it together with a magic lantern projector to create what was essentially the first animated film. His invention the Praxinoscope used up to 500 images on a strip of geletin that was wound on a hand cranked reel to make a show lasting 15 minutes.



The accidental discovery of substitution by stopping the camera and replacing one object with another led to the development of stop motion photography. The history of animation is longer than that of live-action cinema, and filled with as many stylistic variations as there are animators.

The History of Surrealism

The surrealism movement was founded in Paris by some writers and artist who wanted to use people’s subconscious minds to unlock their imagination. The movement was strongly influenced by Sigmund Freud. The surrealists themselves thought that the unconscious mind blocked people’s imaginations. By the surrealists basing their ideas on the power of the imagination, this indicated that they were influenced by the traditional Romanticism movement, whose key ideas were based on emotions and intuitions. However, the surrealists were radically different to the romantics because they had the theory that the revelations may be found to be on the streets and in everyday life.

One of the main founders of the Surrealist movement was Andre Breton, when he wrote “Le Manifeste du Surrealism”, where he famously wrote the definition of surrealism, which is “physic automatism” in its pure state, by which one proposes to express – verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner – the actual functioning of thought”.

Back Row, left to right: Man Ray, Jean Arp, Tanguy, Andre Breton. Front Row, left to right: Tristan Tzara, Salvador Dali, Paul Eluard, Max Ernst, Rene Crevel.

Back Row, left to right: Man Ray, Jean Arp, Tanguy, Andre Breton.
Front Row, left to right: Tristan Tzara, Salvador Dali, Paul Eluard, Max Ernst, Rene Crevel.

– Feminism and woman surrealist

Surrealists were generally depicted as just being men. This is because in their surrealist art form, women were painted as ‘wild’ by the surrealists. This impression has been disproven, by art historians who have proven that a number of women were actively involved in the surrealist group, especially in the 1930’s. Since this discovery, feminist art critics have written several books and hosted exhibitions on this subject.

Frida Kahlo

Her paintings tried to show the attributes of a bad situation.

Mexican culture and Amerindian culture tradition are important in her work, which has been sometimes characterized as naïve art or folk art.

She frequently included the symbolic monkey. In Mexican mythology, monkeys are symbols of lust but Kahlo portrayed them as tender and protective symbols.


Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940

In 1938 Andre Breton, principle initiator of the surrealist movement, described Kahlo’s art as a ‘ribbon around a comb’.

When painting Christinci, Frida’s health improved and darkness and gloomy feelings improved. Around this time, Frida called her husband down from the scaffolding to come and see her work. He told her to go home and paint and that he would tell her later what he really thought of it. The following Sunday, he told her that she had talent. She appeared in one of her murals which paid testimony to her developing political awareness. Her mother disapproved of her husband because he was an atheist. Her parents thought it was a marriage between an elephant and a dove.

Her most important self-portrait was painted when she was in Detroit with Diego in 1932. It was most uncharacteristic because she was wearing a long pink dress and lace gloves. In the painting she stands on the border between Mexico and the USA. On the Mexican side where she wanted to be are Mexican artefacts and symbols and on the American side windowless skyscrapers like tombstones.

Self Portrait Along the Boarder Line Between Mexico and the United States - by Frida Kahlo

Self Portrait Along the Boarder Line Between Mexico and the United States – by Frida Kahlo, 1932

To Frida the US was ‘ugly, dull and drab’. She once said to Detroit automobiles – anything mechanical meant bad luck and pain. Another comment she made about life in the USA was in the painting ‘My dress hangs there’; Frida’s costume hangs   amidst the chaos of the USA and its technology.

My dress hangs there, 1933

My dress hangs there, 1933

Her most dramatic miscarriage was in 1932. During 13 days in hospital she said she wanted to die. The monkeys and parrots often seen in her paintings are substitutes for her children.

Henry Ford Hospital -Frida Kahlo,1932

Henry Ford Hospital -Frida Kahlo, 1932 


Flower of life 1944 showing her obsession with fertility, she transformed tropical plants into male/female genitalia

Flower of life 1944

Flower of life 1944

Salvador Dali

Dali is one of the most famous & prolific artist of the twentieth century he is mostly remembered for his paintings, however during his lengthy career he also turned to sculpture, printmaking, fashion, advertising, writing, and most famously his work in film-making with Luis Bunuel and Alfred Hitchcock. Dali is also remembered for his unusual personality & his technical skill. It is apparent that his early work was very similar to Pablo Picasso due to the way that he used form & structure throughout his work.  His paintings may also have been influenced by his extreme interest in Classical & Renaissance Art.

Pierrot with a Guitar, 1925

Pierrot with a Guitar, 1925

Dali tried to convey the themes of sexual desire, death and decay; this is clear throughout his work. He also illustrated his knowledge and understanding of Freud’s psychoanalytical theories of his time. His work reflected his learning experiences and childhood memories. Dali’s work often included already accepted symbolism such as fetishes, animal imagery and religious symbols.

Dream caused by the flight of a bee around a pomegranate

Dream caused by the flight of a bee around a pomegranate

He also accepted the surrealist André Breton’s theory of automatism, which is the theory of tapping the unconscious mind. Dali referred to this as ‘critical paranoia which is where ‘one could be delusional while maintaining one’s sanity’. This was also defined by Dali as a form of irrational knowledge. This method is apparent throughout most of his fellow surrealist work and his own surrealist work as well.

His unusual personality started at the age of 10 during his first drawing lessons where he claimed that he displayed hysterical, rage-filled outbursts towards his family and friends.

Even though most of his paintings were surreal he maintained his love for Catalan culture which he displayed through the surrounding landscape in several of his paintings.

The persistence of memory, 1931

The persistence of memory, 1931


Dali abandoned his Pointillism style after he won a bet that he could ‘paint a prize winning Pointillism picture by splashing paint at a canvas from a distance of three feet’. Dali became extremely interested in the Futurism movement when he visited Paris in 1920. From this he attempted to recreate emotion and show objects from simultaneous multiple angles. During this period Dali began to consider dramatically re-interpreting the meaning of reality and altering perception.

In 1924 Dali was expelled from the Art Academy; however he was already exhibiting his work locally.

During his mature period he began experimenting with a Cubist style due to his influence from Pablo Picasso, who he met in Paris in 1929. This exhibition explored symbolism and his passion for the sub-conscious.

For the next several years Dali’s paintings illustrated his theories about the psychological state of paranoia and its importance as subject matter. He painted symbolic objects that reflected his sexualised fears of father figures, as well as symbols that referred to his fear over the passing of life. He also claimed that he didn’t know the meanings behind the symbols in his paintings. Instead he claimed that his childhood was his inspiration.

The great masturbator, 1929

The great masturbator, 1929

As the politics of war was at the forefront of the Surrealist debate, Breton expelled Dali from the surrealist movement in 1934 because of differing views on General Franco and fascism.

Jan Svankmajer

Many of those familiar with his work regard him as either the most significant movie maker active today or a source of nonsense – an attitudinal contradiction that has greeted, and continues to be associated with, all the great artist of surrealism. His work typically uses clay and other types of stop-motion animation, puppetry and live action to create a surreal feel throughout his work, which is extremely entertaining. He takes the unwritten rule of pushing movie making to almost breaking point. He is a cult movie maker whose worldwide “cult” is larger than the following of many mainstream directors. When Jan Svankmajer creates a new movie it causes great excitement within many different countries. He has won many movie awards, even though it does not follow the commercial Hollywood ideology.

He enrolled in 1950 at the College of Applied Arts in Prague, where he worked in sculpture, painting and engraving. This period strongly influenced his work because he came interested in the art and writings of the surrealists. Due to the fall of the Soviet Union, Jan Svankmajer was able to study the surrealists in more detail, especially in the surrealist Luis Bunuel. His first piece of work was as a director and designer in Liberec with the Czech State Puppet Theatre. His first movie experience was as a puppeteer when he was employed by Emil Radok. This work was a major inspiration for Svankmajer version of the Faust legend.

He married a surrealist painter called Eva Svankmajerova and she has been an inspiration on his work to this day. He left the Magic Lantern Theatre to make his first short film called ‘The Last Trick’. His second short film used mundane objects in a strange juxtaposition style which is strongly associated with the surrealists. This movie started in a very down to earth way where a man unlocks a room, and sits down at an organ and takes a bite on an apple and begins to play. Even here the apparent naturalism is overthrown. Why the organ should be locked away in a seemingly deserted house and why should the organist be initially wearing street clothes over his performance costume.

In the same year he went to Austria to create a short film called a ‘Game with Stones’. This film consists of an old musical toy that provided the sound accompaniment to a set of animated sequences, where stones drop from a bizarre gadget arranging and rearranging themselves. Even though the pattern does not make sense on its own if you put all the patterns and sequences together it could represent the evolution of human life and the destruction of human life.

By this time Jan Svankmajer was already making a name for himself by winning countless film festivals. However the Czech regime was obstructing his full surreal genius. This was apparent when he made the film Punch and Judy because the title was misleading because in fact the two characters were called Punch and Joey. In this shot film the two characters seem to argue over who owns a guinea pig but by the end of the film the only thing that survives, is in fact the guinea pig.

Alice Jan Svankmajer version

In this film Alice is sitting alongside her sister by a stream and lets her mind wander. She is in her bedroom and her eyes are gazing around the room at some toys, sewing equipment, dolls, a cup of tea, partly eaten food and a stuffed rabbit. Soon after the rabbit begins to creak and flees with Alice in pursuit. The rabbit vanishes into the drawer of a desk and Alice follows. After Alice prises the drawer open and she is swallowed by the desk and enters a bizarre wonder world that contains elements of Lewis Carroll’s original version but it maintains Jan Svankmajer’s own style.

Alice Clip 1 from Toby Campen on Vimeo.


Walt Disney Studios

Walter Elias Disney (or Walt Disney) was born on the 5th December 1901 in Hermosa, Illinois.

Walter Elias Disney (or Walt Disney) was born on the 5th December 1901 in Hermosa, Illinois.

Not many people know that he and his brother Roy co-founded Walt Disney Productions in October 1923. This was to become one of the world’s best motion picture production companies in the world, even to this day.

After volunteering for the Red Cross during the war, Walt then moved back to Canvas City to pursue a career as a newspaper artist. Soon after returning, his brother found him a job at the Pesman-Rubin Art Studio where he met with cartoonist Ubbe Iwerks. Ubbe then got him a job at the Canvas City film advertising company where he specialised in cut out animation. During this time Walt experimented with hand drawn cell animation and after this he decided to open his own animation company. His first company was called Laugh’O’Gram. Together with his first employee Fred Harmen, his brother Hugh and along with Ubbe Iwerk they created short films which were usually fairy tales and they experimented with live action and animation which they later called ‘Alice in cartoon land’. This company became bankrupt in 1923.

However, in the same year Walt Disney, his brother Roy and Ubbe moved to Hollywood where they then founded the ‘Disney Brothers’ studio. Soon after Walt Disney released his first film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” also in the year that followed Walt Disney Studios produced several other feature films which were “Pinocchio”, “Fantasia”, “Dumbo” and “Bambi”.

One of the most surreal scenes from Walt Disney was in the film Dumbo with the Pink Elephants, when Dumbo hallucinates when he blows a giant bubble into the air that turns into pink elephants.

The elephants then duplicate into other elephants by blowing bubbles through their trunks. The trunks transform into snakes attached to the elephants, and then two elephants mirror each other and then explode apart.

The elephants’ heads are made into a body which starts to walk. The elephants’ eyes turn into pyramids and an elephant-like camel creature walks through them, and then the camel turns into a cobra and then into a lady. Then the blue and pink elephants go ice skating. Finally it starts to rain elephants that turn into clouds.