Jason and the Argonauts (1963) was a stop-motion landmark. It uses puppets, but not in the same way as Thunderbirds. It was one of the first films where stop-motion was used in the same way as a special effect, to supplement live action. Instead of a curious novelty, stop-motion animation was a technique for creating a chilling battle scene. Stop-motion skeletons rise from the sand and fight the protagonists with spears, fighting to the death (or whatever the skeleton-equivalent is). Unlike most early stop-motion films, the scene has a very odd, creepy feel.
Hermia Tyrlova’s film, Uzel na kapesníku, has a tone of it’s own. It sort of feels like a children’s TV show, except a little more surreal. It’s very simple and sweet; the main character is nothing more than a knot in a handkerchief. The shots are as colourful and as long as those in a Wes Anderson movie, and they have a similarly quirky feel. You can see her influence on other Czech animators, especially Jan Svankmajer. For this reason, she’s sometimes called “the mother of Czech animation.”
The kind of stop-motion animation we’re familiar with today is sometimes called claymation. The word ‘claymation’ was trademarked by filmmaker Will Vinton in 1978 to describe a technique that has existed since 1908, when the first stop-motion clay film called "The Sculptor's Nightmare" was released (you can guess what that was about). However, claymation wasn’t popular until the 70s, and since then there's been more and more of it, from Wallace and Gromit and Vinton’s The California Raisins to, in this decade, award-winning claymation films like Chicken Run and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Even more recently, Coraline was the first ever stop-motion clay film to be shot in 3D.
People say film became an art after Citizen Kane. When did animation become an art? Citizen Kane was released in 1941, but film studies was not taught as a subject until 1975, and Hermia Tyrlova made her animations in the 1950s. Even if animation was considered an art, it was a new one. Although stop-motion technology wasn’t at all new or groundbreaking, using it to tell strange, warm stories was. And without her, Czechoslovakian animation would be very different.