An interview with Greg Jonkajtys, Polish Animator about his work in Poland and Hollywood


On May 7th 2015 and during Polish Animation Night organized by East Los Angeles College, Cinema Without Borders and Polish Film Festival, Los Angeles, Polish animator Greg Jonkajtys will receive 2015 Outstanding Achievements in Animation Award. Greg Jonkajtys is a filmmaker, animator and visual effects artist. He was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1972, graduated from Academy of Fine Arts and has worked in the advertisement, animation and feature film industry for over fifteen years.

Greg directed his first animated short Mantis in 2000, and won several international awards including the BAF and Imagina Independent Talent Award. While working in Poland (Platige image) and USA (Digital Kitchen, Cafefx, Syndicate, Industrial Light & Magic), Greg has contributed as a visual-effects artist, and lead animator for such films as Sin City, Hellboy, Pan’s labyrinth, Mist, Terminator Salvation, Rango, Pacific Rim and the Transformers sagas, amongst many others.

He is most noted for writing and directing his second film Ark, for which he was nominated the Golden Palm at Cannes film festival in 2007, and won the prestigious Siggraph Electronic Theater Best of Show award in the same year.

In 2010 Greg completed work on The 3rd Letter, a live-action dystopian drama starring Rodrigo Lopresti. The 3rd Letter received the Best Director prize at HollyShorts film festival in Los Angeles in 2010, Best of Show Jury award at Nevada City film festival and Best Short Award at Los Angeles New Wave Film Festival in 2011. Greg is currently developing feature film “The Four Horsemen” with Intrepid Pictures

Bijan Tehrani:  What inspired you to step in the world of animation?
Greg Jonkajtys: As most of the kids, I loved to draw. That didn’t stop at adolescence, and inspired by my aunt (who was a painter), and my father – I kept on drawing more and more. The love of storytelling came almost at the same time, as I frequently visited my father’s theater ( he was an actor, poet and director) Growing up in the artists family, surrounded by stage artists, musicians and actors was a source of great inspiration to mix fine arts with storytelling. Original Star Wars movies inspired me to build worlds ( I immediately started building miniature sets, after watching New Hope) but the true animation push happened in mid-90’s when I saw Piotr Kamler’s Chronopolis. That film blew my mind, and I knew precisely what I wanted to do next! (I was doing mostly print and web design and some illustration at that moment)

BT:  You have worked in many different areas including making commercials, how those different experiences has helped you in your work?
GJ: I have started working in animation in late 90’s. Doing short forms for TV and commercials. Apart from lack of time to finish the projects (most of the time) the upside was that we had to learn how to manage the time, and be jack of all trades. This was all before deep specialization.

I had to learn how to make everything to turn a finished shot or sequence to the client. I had to model, animate, light, color correct sometimes even add sound effects to the edit. Working on tight schedules, wearing lots of hats, was a great learning experience, that I hugely benefit from now, in bigger projects for Lucas Film and for my personal films.

BT:  Poland has a long history in animation, have you been influenced by classic Polish animation?
GJ: Like I mentioned above, Piotr Kamler was a major influence. Also, somehow related to Polish culture are the animated films by Brothers Quay. The miniatures and lighting they used, inspired me to choose miniatures for my ARK sets.
Although completely different in tone and technique, I love Piotr Dumala’s films. They have been “with me” since I remember.

BT:  You have been working in both Poland and US, tell us a little bit about that.
GJ: In 2000, I completed my first animated short “Mantis”. Having this film in my portfolio helped me land a position with Platige Image, Poland’s leading animation studio.
There I have been working mostly on commercials and TV spots and also one or two feature films. (QuoVadis, Superprodukcja)
Three years later, having learned a ton and having a much stronger reel, I moved to Santa Maria, California, and worked as a visual effects artist and animator. Since that time I have worked on almost 30 Hollywood films, including Sin City, Pan’s Labyrinth, Transformers, Star Trek, Iron Man 2, Avengers Age of Ultron and recently Warcraft.

While at Cafefx, I was still doing generalist work, with focus on character animation.
I was lead on such projects as Goyer’s Blade III, Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth and Darabont’ Mist.
Currently at ILM, Im responsible for painting and a little bit of lookdev of creatures, spaceships, and other assets. I had a pleasure to work on J.J Abram’s Star Trek, Wachowski’s Cloud Atlas, Aronofsky’s Noah (where I actually painted the ARK), Newest Marvel movies, and lately on main characters for Duncan Jones’ Warcraft.

The amount of talent and great mentorship at Lucasfilm is fantastic, I get to go to work with legends like Dennis Muren and John Knoll. it is truly a dream come true.

At the same time, I work on several commercial and short projects with Platige Image (mostly on-line collaboration – for example Bafta winning Baginski’s “Fallen Art”.
I have also directed some commercials here in California.

BT:  You are also an independent filmmaker, what projects you have worked on and what is your future project?
GJ: After moving to California my passion for telling my own stories didn’t waned and in 2007 I completed my second short film ARK, which received a Golden Palm nomination at Cannes film festival and Best of Show award at Siggraph. Suddenly, I was bombarded with emails from agents in Hollywood wanting to represent me. It was very surreal.
From this point I directed several films, some on my own and some were collaborative. Together with Bastiaan Koch I was able to create live action “The 3rd Letter”. It went on to win several awards:  Best Director award from Hollywood Shorts in Los Angeles, Best Short award at New Wave LA Film Festival and many others. This helped me obtain greater commercial representation and to have a chance to pitch for live action feature projects. Few years later, I won a pitch with Intrepid Pictures — a feature film company that has produced The Raven, Safe House, The Cold Light of Day and several others — to direct a supernatural thriller, The Four Horsemen. We are currently in the development process.

I am also developing an animated feature with Polish producer TFP (Mis Uszatek)

A few of my personal projects include “Snow King” (a fantasy loosely based on my father’s childhood memories) and Ringer (a SCI fi thriller, collaboration with writer Stephan Bugaj)

Apart from that, I come up with a new short story idea pretty much once a week, so my drawer gets very heavy quickly!

BT:  Please tell us about the awards you have received in different film festivals.
GJ: While I have won some awards and recognition for my very first animated short – Mantis ( Imagina new independent talent – I was thrilled with the awards for Ark ( Cannes 2007 nomination, Siggraph, Kiev, Tokyo etc) and the 3rd letter – HollySHorts.
The appreciation of your hard work feels great and it also opens a lot of doors in the filmmaking world.


About Author

Bijan Tehrani

Bijan Tehrani a film director, film critic and writer, works as editor in chief of Cinema Without Borders while teaching Language of Film and Film History at workshops nationwide. Bijan has won several awards in international film festivals and book fairs for his short films and children's books.

Leave A Reply