Jiří Trnka (24th February 1912, Plzeň – 30th December 1969, Prague) was a Czech puppet maker, illustrator, motion-picture animator and film director. In addition to his extensive career as an illustrator, especially of children's books, he is best known for his work in animation with puppets, which began in 1946. Most of his movies were intended for adults, and many of them were adaptations of literary works of Czech authors or foreigners. Because of his influence in animation, he was called "the Walt Disney of Eastern Europe", despite the great differences between their works.
The Trnka family lived as middle class citizens in Pilsen, in western Bohemia. Although his father was a plumber and his mother a dressmaker, both remained very close to their peasant origins. As a child, young Jiří enjoyed sculpting puppets made of wood and put on stage small shows for friends.
He later attended classes at a vocational school in his hometown, where he met his teacher Josef Skupa, who eventually would become a leading public figure in the world of Czech puppeteers. Skupa was his mentor, entrusted Trnka with certain responsibilities, and managed to convince his family, who initially were initially reluctant, to allow him to enroll at the prestigious School of Applied Arts in Prague (today the Academy of Architecture, Art and Design in Prague), where he completed his apprenticeship between 1929 and 1935.
With the training received in the school of arts and his experience working in a printmaking workshop, Trnka soon began a successful career as an illustrator.
He was hired by the Prague publishing house Melantrich, and his first illustrated work was Mr. Boska The tiger of Vítezslaw Šmejc, published in 1937.
Since then, Trnka illustrated numerous children's books. Throughout his life, he illustrated 130 works of literature, most of them for children. Especially famous are his illustrations for the tales of the Brothers Grimm, as well as collections of folktales from Czech authors such as Jirí Horák and Jan Pálenícek. Also related to his native folklore are his illustrations for Bajaja by Vladimír Holan, published in 1955, that would also be the starting point for his future in animation. In addition to the above, Trnka illustrated, among many other books, the tales of Andersen and Perrault, the fables of La Fontaine, The Thousand and One Nights, several works of Shakespeare and Lewis Caroll's Alice in Wonderland.
In honor of his entire career as an illustrator, he was awarded in 1968 the Hans Christian Andersen Award by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY).
In some cases, his job as an illustrator gave him ideas for making animated films, as happened with Bajaj and A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Trnka has also written and illustrated children's books of his own, for example Through the Magic Gate (published in London in 1962).