Interview: Jaromír Plachý

Interview: Jaromír Plachý

10 | 05

Jaromír Plachý: I draw inspiration from wherever I can

The author of the visual identity of this year’s Anifilm, whose theme is humour, is graphic artist, illustrator, and video game animator Jaromír Plachý, who also created the visual identity of the very first Anifilm in 2010. In his interview, Plachý, whom you can meet this Saturday at 16.00 in Grandhotel Zlatý Lev at his commented gaming session, where he will be playing his computer game Happy Game, talked about his creative process, sources of inspiration, and work for Amanita Design.

When did you first become interested in art and animation? 

In kindergarten, actually. I have always enjoyed drawing, and later, in secondary school, I was trying to figure out where to go next to make use of it. Illustrating was the first thing that came to my mind, but there were always many applicants, and my drawings were more action-oriented. Back then, my wife’s father told me that animation might be more up my alley, so I gave it a go, I consulted it at the school I was interested in, and it eventually worked out. 

In what ways are film and computer animation different to you?

To me, they are basically the same thing because I nearly always animate using a computer, and it always involves some sort of action. Since I often animate everything myself even when making computer games, I don’t see much difference between the two. The only thing that is a little different is illustrating, but I usually manage to apply some principle of animation or include some action even when illustrating. 

Can you imagine delegating all animating tasks to someone else if some major, more demanding project required it? 

When we are developing a game now, we work in a very small team, which includes me, a programmer, and musicians. I usually plan it all out so well that our poor programmer still has a lot of programming left to do after I have finished all the drawing and animating. (laughs) It’s not that I would not be willing to hand over animating to someone else, I just haven’t had the opportunity or the reason to do so yet.

What satisfies you the most at the moment – animating, making computer games, or illustrating and creating children’s books?

When I spend a lot of time working on something, it gradually starts getting on my nerves, so I then pick a completely different project to “relax”. And also each type of creative activity takes a different amount of time to finish. Naturally, even writing a children’s book can take you a decade, but it usually takes a lot less time than creating a computer game, which I typically spend five to seven years making. In my case, things are further complicated by the fact that I can come up with a project in a month, but it then takes years to finish, so you just have to do some other creative stuff on the side.

How do your projects come to life? What is the first step in your creative process?

That depends on the project. In the case of computer games, it usually begins with me drawing. If I’m in the mood to create something ugly at the time, you get Happy Game, and if I’m in the mood to create something cheerful, you get Chuchel. For example, the way Chuchel came to be was that I first drew the character, and then I tried to imagine in what kind of environment this creature could live. And I also tried animating it right from the start. These became the foundations for the development of the game itself and the source of ideas for its gameplay and story. 

With which one of Amanita’s projects did you have the most fun and why? 

I first started working in Amanita as an assistant animator for Machinarium – I animated the speech bubbles that showed what the robot wanted to say. And then I got to do my own games, which was great. But I can’t say if I had more or less fun with any of the games than with the other ones. The way it usually works is that when I finish one game and I have had enough of it, I move on to and relax with some other game, and this is how it goes on and on... 

Whose art do you like and what inspires you? 

A lot of things… When I began working on Happy Game, I would look up things of a similar kind, and I ended up watching David Lynch’s Twin Peaks and reading all of Lovecraft, and I also really enjoyed paintings by Hieronymus Bosch. As for Czech authors, I can name, for example, Jan Švankmajer, Zdeněk Miler, or Jiří Barta… There are many people that inspire me, but I don’t have any guru or anything like that. I draw inspiration from wherever I can.

Do you get any relevant feedback from the people who play your games? How did the fans of Amanita’s games react to Happy Game? It’s quite different from the studio’s previous games both in design and atmosphere. 

Actually, you get feedback immediately, especially from your colleagues. Since the game was developed by Amanita, which had always been known for its nice, kid-friendly family games, we didn’t know if anyone would even like it – I really made it for myself more than anyone else. We released a trailer and a demo of sorts only shortly before the launch, and I expected it to get a lot of angry reactions, but there were none. I think it was a good thing that the trailer showed what the game actually looks like when you play it – so those, to whom it did not appeal, didn’t buy the game and didn’t play it. Fortunately, there were also people who did like it. We have received mostly positive feedback from the people who bought the game, and I’m very happy for it. 

I heard that until recently, the people who make up Amanita Design would seldom meet and that each of the creators would usually work remotely on their own projects. How does it work now? 

There are still various separate teams at Amanita, each working on its own game, and their members can move from one group to another, but lately, we have been increasingly working all in one place, while several years ago, we would work separately, scattered in different places. Of course, our numbers keep growing. As Amanita develops more and more games, its team continues to grow. I personally don’t get to be there very often because I live near Mělník, which is several hours of travel away, while David Šemík, the programmer of Happy Game, is from Brno, and the members of the music duo DVA are always somewhere far away, and they also travel a lot.

What other project have you come up with after Happy Game? 

After I came up with Chuchel and while the programmer was already working on Happy Game, I came up with a game about a pink kitten that would play in a similar way as tamagotchi, but I thought it would be rather complicated to work on three games at the same time. Later, I came up with a game about an evil scientist who wreaks revenge on all those who make fun of him, which would be sort of similar to Happy Game, and recently, I came up with a game that I will be, hopefully, actually able to make. I don’t want to reveal much, but I will say that it will be wonderfully colourful and cheerful because there are some pretty nasty things happening in the world, and one has to try and at least somehow spread some positivity. (laughs). 

Do you remember when you first got involved with Anifilm? 

Way, way back when it was still AniFest. While I was studying at the Academy of Arts, Architecture & Design in Prague, I made a few alternative jingles that were shown before screenings. After the festival’s management had a falling out, I joined the team that organized the first Anifilm in 2010, and I made the festival’s first jingle. I recall that it was quite wild back then because I was painting figures on signs for the festival in Tomáš Rychecký’s yard, who was and still is the director of the festival. (laughs) And in January this year, I was approached by Anifilm’s organizers as the theme of this year’s festival is humour and they needed someone who would be able to come up with something quickly. So I designed this zombie guy and a bunch of these high-spirited but naughty monsters, which – to my surprise – got approved, and based on those, I gradually developed the storyboard and eventually the entire visual identity of the festival.

How long did it take you to create this visual identity?

It’s the same story as with my games – I came up with the whole thing quickly, but then I spent ages working on it. A month before the festival, I was still working on some banners for social media and posters and animating flying saucers, and I only got everything done pretty much right before the festival started. And then you also have set up decorations and stuff at the festival venues.  

What was the most difficult part of creating the visual identity and which part did you enjoy the most?

I don’t think there was anything particularly difficult, but when you’re working on a visual identity, you need to keep in mind that the process includes some activities that are not really creative – for example, when you need to print a character on a t-shirt, you have to provide it in a suitable resolution, etc. I really enjoyed, besides other things, imagining new characters for the festival passes. I think it’s funny that you can draw a visitor or a filmmaker as a banana. (laugh)

And did any of the previous visual identities catch your eye? 

I guess all of the recent ones. I really liked last year’s visual identity by Eliška and Lee Oz, and I vividly remember the visual identity by Veronika Zacharová with the changing animation styles as the guy walks up a flight of stairs. In fact, I can’t think of any visual identity that I did not like.