Out Of My Mind – My Animated Adventure – Part 1 of 3

This guest post by Paul Thomas gives us a brief autobiography of his struggle to find success as an independent animator.

Animate – verb – to make alive or lively.

A young Paul Thomas at the lightbox

On Christmas day 1966 my present of an Action Man went missing then reappeared later that day. Where had he been? In the new year of 1967 my dad showed mum and I his Standard 8 home movie of our Christmas holiday and there was my Action Man animated on the screen. The seed was sown.

A Man and His Dog
production drawing.

A Man and His Dog was my first animated short. It was silent, shot on Super 8 and drawn with felt tipped pens on paper. I was twelve years old.

While only sixteen I took my ambitions and inspirations to my first interview at the Tony Cuthbert Cartoons studio in London. Tony recommended a course at Art School to improve my drawing skills. He advised against the usual graphic design course.

In July 1980 on my final day at the Byam Shaw School of Art I was driven to an interview in a red open topped sports car by a fellow art student. I cannot remember her name. She had long blond hair and wore a low cut top, earning pocket money as a chauffeur. My arrival at the Halas and Batchelor studio was visually impressive. John Halas told me I had talent and wished me luck.

I would need experience to succeed. It would be gained sooner than I thought.

While at my interview I met John Halas’ personal assistant Pat Webb. Pat would become a dear friend and ally, a tremendous help and great fan of Scratch. She was known internationally in animation. I say was as Pat died six months after my father in 2008. On hearing the news I wept.

In the afternoon of September 30, 1980 Bob Godfrey was fixing his bicycle as I walked into his studio. To my amazement he offered me work. A contribution to Richard Purdum’s animated titles for Storybook International a children’s series for the ITV network. Just like that my career had begun. Bob had a rostrum camera in his basement used for Yellow Submarine. John and Paul had stood upon the very spot I was standing upon while listening to this historic tale. What a start!

During a two year period at Bob’s I was interviewed at Richard William’s studio in Soho Square by Carl Gover. Richard glanced at me as I sat in his reception area. A secretary manning the telephones was stroking a cat that sat upon her knee. Gover spoke with me as we sat upon a comfortable leather sofa. A grand piano stood to my left. Gover was critical of many British studios and was unenthusiastic about me. I left, angry, determined even more so to succeed.

Study of Kate Bush on cel.

My ambitions were high. In 1981 I approached Kate Bush with the idea of an animated film to visualise a collection of her songs. She was interested and EMI were happy to put up the money. However Kate proved to be too busy and the idea faded away. I had though befriended her parents and brother Paddy.

Hartbeat postcard given out to children
that wrote into the programme.

The breakthrough had arrived out of nowhere but by 1982 I strongly felt the need to create material of my own. I formed Tiger Trax Animation gathering a group of talented friends, David Skinner, Gary Florance, Junior Tomlin and Danielz. We set about making a five minute pilot for my first ever TV series venture It’s Jester Knights Work. My medieval romp with knights, maidens and dragons, a heroic jester and a mad scientist was all in full cel animation. I had exercised at last my skills as script writer, character creator, animator, producer and director.

Channel Four received my idea long before they we on air. The BBC saw it as part of my interview showreel for Take Hart. Channel Four said no but the BBC said yes to Scratch. With my breakthrough the group disbanded but I continued trading as Tiger Trax Animation for many years to come. David and Danielz would be constant contributors to the many projects that lie ahead and remain my closest friends.

To be continued.

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