Film special effects museum hits milestone
Concerts and costumes among the treats at Karel Zeman Museum
Posted: October 9, 2013
To celebrate its first birthday, the Karel Zeman Museum is adding some of the original costumes from the director's famous science fiction and fanstasy films to the existing display of movie props and video clips. There will also be several special events, including workshops and demonstrations by movie professionals. Some 50,000 visitors came to the museum in the first year.
If you don't know the name Karel Zeman, you have missed out on an important era of fantasy films. He was active in Czechoslovakia from the 1947 up to 1980, making adaptations of Jules Verne stories and other well-known tales including The Fabulous Baron Munchausen, a topic also tackled by Terry Gilliam. For the English-speaking market is films were often crudely re-edited and dubbed, but thanks to DVDs and screenings at the museum many can now be seen in all their glory.
"He was very famous because of his special effects," Ludmila Zemanová, the daughter of the director, told The Prague Post. "Still now Steven Spielberg and other great directors watch his films and can't figure out how the special effects were done." While for most of his career he only had access to black-and-white film, he developed special cameras and techniques that allowed the film to be tinted, sometimes in multiple colors. The results, often involving multiple exposures, are quite different from what anyone has dome before or since.
Zemanová wanted a modern interactive museum that would excite children. Several of the props such as a flying machine with a moving backdrop can be used by visitors to create their own video for example. "For parents it's amazing. On a rainy day they can bring the children. … It's very educational," she said, adding that her father was very concerned with historical accuracy. His prehistoric scenes were based on the best information available at the time and his period pieces used paintings and etchings as a guide for costumes and props. Some videos and exhibits also explain how certain film scenes were done.
Karel Zeman Museum
Where: Saská 3, Prague 1-Malá Strana (by the Charles Bridge)
When: Open daily 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; special events Oct. 12-13 and 19-20
"My father loved painting and design, but there were so many talented painters and designers," Zemanová said. "He saw film as a way to make a special contribution."
While most of the props and other items in the museum are from Zemanová's collection, the costumes that are newly on display come from the archives Barrandov Studios. The costumes are in remarkably good condition, mostly because they were only used once. "Nobody else made these kinds of movies," she said. "The costumes had to be part of the overall image of each scene. There were many tests for costumes to make sure they had the proper look," she said.
Zemanová worked with her father on several of the films, even appearing on horseback in one scene when the actress turned out to be afraid of horses. But she preferred work behind the scenes. "My father discouraged me from acting," she said.
Today she makes interactive children's books that combine text and animation. The books can be viewed on computers and tablets. She is following much of what her father taught her. "You have to be true to history and choose the best design and best story," she said, adding that children today have access to a lot of information and can spot when something is wrong. Some of her work is included at the end of the museum and her father's influence is clearly evident. Her most successful book is an illustrated version of The Epic of Gilgamesh, while The First Red Maple Leaf is used in primary schools in Canada.
For the museum's birthday, there is a party Oct. 12-13 where visitors will be able to rent real film costumes and take part in makeup and hair style demonstrations with experts from Barrandov. The results can be used for a unique family photo. There will be a chance for children to learn some photography and animation techniques, and competitions.
The next weekend, Oct. 19-20 has workshops for children at Divadlo Minor and a multimedia program with live music performed by the Factory Clarinet Quartet and inspired by Zeman's films in the evenings at Čertovka, the stream near the musem and Charles Bridge. The program is in association with the Strings of Autumn festival.
Raymond Johnston can be reached at