Obituary: Otmar Gutmann

Otmar Gutmann, animator: born Munstertal, Germany 24 April 1937; married Sonja Graber; died Russikon, Switzerland 13 October 1993.

OTMAR GUTMANN's Pingu films, the animated tales of 'Pingu' and his penguin friends and family, are known the world over through television and video. Pingu was first presented at the Berlin Film Festival in 1987, in a short pilot film featuring a penguin in an Arctic snowscape. With the addition of plot lines, but without voice-over narration or traditional dialogue - the characters communicate with vocalised squeaks and grunts rather than words - Pingu became a successful series, appealing mainly to children under five.

Anyone who had the opportunity to watch Gutmann at work in his studio in Russikon, near Zurich, knows how he brought 'Pingu' to life. A different figure had to be created for each individual movement sequence. Every scene was constructed separately. To a layman, the production studio looked as if it were littered with countless tiny dolls, strewn around in a haphazard manner. The individual elements were gradually pieced together to produce a natural, true-to-life scene. A simple plasticine figure was transformed into a living creature with a character all of its own. Gutmann immersed himself totally in the private world of 'Pingu'. He identified himself with this comical creature to such an extent that by means of the fresh and childlike gestures and movements of the cartoon figures he succeeded in portraying the characters in a credible way. Gutmann developed a mixing technique for his Pingu films, combining the use of doll-like figures with 'claymation' (a technique employing the making and manipulation of plasticine models).

Members of Gutmann's team created the different props, including tiny pieces of furniture and crockery, as well as items of food. Each modelled version had to be perfect, for even the slightest of variations showed up on film.

Gutmann developed the 'Pingu' figure six years ago in collaboration with the Swiss DRS TV station. The series has had extraordinary success and is at present broadcast by around 100 different television stations, throughout the world. Pingu has won 18 awards and prizes to date, including the Kleiner Baer at the Berlin Film Festival (1987), the Japanese Maeda award (1991) and the French Prix Jeunesse (1991), and the New York Museum of Television and Radio regularly shows Pingu films. The subtle stories appeal as much to adults as to children: there are scenes of Pingu at home with his parents in their comfortably furnished igloo and of the child Pingu's discovery of the joys and pitfalls of fishing, cross-country skiing or joining in a postman's round - often with a raucous, burlesque character; 'Pingu' laughs and cries easily.

Pingu has, too, been a resounding commercial success. Editoy, the producers and distributors of the television series, have granted licences for Pingu products all over the world including clothes, furniture, games and foods.

At a time in which artificial worlds are being created by computer, Gutmann concentrated entirely on working with his hands. Perhaps it is this attention to detail that makes 'Pingu' such a likeable little creature. 'Pingu' is moving with the times. His distribution company, Editoy, intends to carry on the Pingu project. Already, Nintendo (Game Boy) is using 'Pingu' to help children learn how to play in a constructive manner.

(Photograph omitted)

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