Yoram Gross, Australian Animation Pioneer, Dies at 88

Yoram Gross

The filmmaker behind 'Blinky Bill' was on Oskar Schindler's famous list as his family tried to escape the Nazis.

Yoram Gross, the Polish-born pioneer of animated films in Australia, passed away in Sydney on Monday, reportedly of natural causes. He was 88.

Through the Yoram Gross Film Studios, the animation business he ran in Sydney alongside his wife, Sandra, Gross made 16 animated features and 12 TV series, bringing to life characters such as Dot and the Kangaroo and the lovable Koala, Blinky Bill. The latest iteration of Blinky Bill, a new CGI feature made by Flying Bark Productions, was released in Australia just last week.

Born in Krakow, Poland, to a Jewish family in 1926, Gross grew up during World War II under the Nazis, with the family on Oskar Schindler’s famed list and moving hiding places 72 times as they made their escape.

Gross’ first love was music, studying at Krakow University. He then studied film at 20 years of age under Jerzy Toeplitz at the Polish Film Institute.

Seven years later he moved to Israel, working initially as a newsreel and documentary cameraman, then as an independent film producer and director with his first full-length feature, Joseph the Dreamer (1961), winning prizes at film festivals all over the world.

In 1968, Yoram, Sandra and their young children migrated to Sydney and established Yoram Gross Film Studios, which quickly evolved into a highly respected producer of animation for cinema, television and video, distributed worldwide.

In Australia, he produced film clips for the popular weekly television music program Bandstand. At the Sydney Film Festival in 1970 he was awarded the second prize for The Politicians in the category of best Australian-made film. But realizing that there were no Australian films for children, he decided to try and fill that gap.

In 1977, Gross made his first animated feature, Dot and the Kangaroo, using a special aerial image technique of drawings over live action backgrounds.

Indeed he acknowledged that his animation style has been superseded by digital animation technologies  but, according to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), “the look of Gross’s animations is distinctive and offers a freshness and simplicity that can be lost in the more complex visual world of CGI”.

Of new animation technology, he has said that “for the children, the importance is the story, not whether it’s 3D or 2D or 1D.”

In 1992, Gross made his first Blinky Bill film, which quickly became a hit worldwide, and in 1995 he was awarded the prestigious Order of Australia for his outstanding achievements and for his contribution to the nation's film industry.

Also in 1992, Yoram Gross Film Studios started making animated TV series and, in 1996, Gross sold a 50-percent stake in the company, with an eye toward expansion, to Australian exhibition and distribution company Village Roadshow Ltd. As his TV series and feature films sold internationally, German company EM.TV acquired the Village Roadshow stake in 1999, with EM.TV buying out the founders in 2006 and renaming the company as Flying Bark Productions.

Flying Bark continues to make films and TV series based on Gross creations.  

Following the sale, Yoram and Sandra set up Yoram Gross Films Pty Ltd. in July 2006 and have continued their commitment to producing quality children’s entertainment.

Gross’ legacy will live on with the Sydney Film Festival’s annual prize for best animated feature, named as the Yoram Gross Animation Award.

Gross is survived by Sandra, their children, Guy and Karen, and five grandchildren.

Guy told Inside Film: "My dear dad passed away quietly last night with all his family around him. Such a blessed life after such a horrid start. He was always so appreciative of the opportunity and luck he eventually had. Always reminding us how lucky we are. No guilt. Just enormous appreciation and surprise.”

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