Our Eye-Popping Tribute to Silver-Screen Magician Karel Zeman

Inside Criterion / Criterion Designs — Feb 26, 2020

For the Blu-ray edition of Three Fantastic Journeys by Karel Zeman, we wanted to make something that quite literally stood out. As an homage to the pioneering craftsman Zeman—whose wondrous work is represented in our newly released set by Journey to the Beginning of Time (1955), Invention for Destruction (1958), and The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1962), all of them enchanting adventures that breathtakingly combine live action and animation techniques—Criterion art director Eric Skillman fancied that pop-up artwork would do the trick. Key to the Czech filmmaker’s dazzling imagery, in which actors often move through drawn environments that give the convincing illusion of depth, is a complex overlaying of 2D and 3D elements. With that meticulous, tactile layering in mind, Skillman chose three representative scenes—one from each of the films—and began to tackle the problem of making them spring off the page.

But giving the packaging that extra dimension required a bit of outside assistance. Enter Renee Jablow, a paper engineer who has created pop-ups for more than seventy children’s books, in addition to greeting cards, album packaging, and advertisements. After hearing Skillman’s initial ideas, Jablow got to work on making some mock-ups. During the process, “one challenge was creating pop-ups from existing artwork,” she says. “This entails manipulating the artwork in a program like Photoshop in order to separate out the different pop-up components and backgrounds.” Other logistical difficulties, which included keeping a watchful eye on the number of places the paper would need to be glued together, were overcome with Jablow’s help, and Skillman’s outside-the-box concept finally found its storybook ending. To see the Zeman pop-ups in their magnificent final form, look no further than the video above.