The Grasshopper Animators – part 2

Regrettably, John Daborn’s first cartoon film was lost in obscurity, however THE MILL STREAM, made in 1950 on 9.5mm, originally on black and white stock and later re-shot in colour, won the 1951 A.C.W. Ten Best and collected prizes at the ‘1952 Scottish Amateur Film Festival and the I.A.C. contest. The methods he adopted in the making of that film were primitive in the extreme. Airplane dope paints were used, partially melting the cels and causing them to ‘cockle’ – NOT a technique to be recommended, despite the film’s success.

When John first mentioned his keen desire to form a group composed of a postal membership I knew that he had solved an age-old problem. It is a fact that the vast majority of amateur animators are lone workers. A great many animated cartoon films of up to four minutes duration have been made this way. It was our intention to provide the drive, discipline, incentive and opportunity to produce full-length eight to ten minute colour cartoons with fully synchronised sound tracks – remember, in these days such an intent was quite unique. It was decided we should also hold regular Sunday meetings at a suitable venue where we could meet informally, listen to invited celebrities, and where we could screen the best examples of current animation. To this end, the Group hired rooms at the Mary Ward Institute in London.

One Sunday we welcomed a very earnest young Hungarian and his English wife, Joan. We learned that Peter Foldes had left Hungary for Paris after the war, and. traveled on to England in 1946. He met his wife while studying at the Courtauld Institute. Following a period spent at the Slade School of Art, Peter exhibited 4 paintings, sold 20, and with the proceeds bought a Bolex 16mm cine camera and lots of film. Although they had no previous cine experience whatever they started work on an impressive cartoon film intended to be an “artists conception of the beginnings of life, and of man’s eventual emergence, through evil, into sunshine”.

After working together 15 hours a day for months, Peter and Joan Foldes ANIMATED GENESIS was completed in 1952. Because they knew what they wanted they were able to proceed without charts, timing instructions or even a script. Each finished spool of film was joined to the next without further cutting or editing. And if you, think that a most unwise way to make a film, suffice to say that the late Sir Alexander Korda had ANIMATED GENESIS blown up on to 35mm Technicolor. It won the only British award at the 1952 Cannes Film Festival and was identical to the frame of the 16mm original. Grasshoppers were among the first to witness a preview of the film.

The successful duo went on to make an oven more controversial cartoon titled A SHORT VISION. During its 8 minutes running time the world was depicted being destroyed by a robot atom bomb and, according to the Star Man’s Diary of the day: “- caused the biggest furors among New York’s TV audiences since Orson Welles’ ‘Invasion From Mars’ 1938 broadcast”. The News Chronicle headlined it’s write up ‘British film on robot shocks America, arid went on to list viewers impressions of the content of the film after it was shown on Ed Sullivan’s celebrated Sunday night telecast. Some called the picture ‘horrible’, ‘gruesome’, and ‘terrifying’ Even so, this amateur film was taken up by the B.F.I. and screened at the N.F.T., then taken up for 35mm commercial distribution in America. A SHORT VISION contained 10,000 drawings and was filmed by thorn in the bedroom of their flat.

Not a bad beginning for two people who had ‘no previous cine experience whatever’ !!!!

As I mentioned in part one of this series, work continued on our most ambitious cartoon film THE BATTLE OF WANGAPORE during this period. Much of the work was distributed through the post so many of us never met face to face. This method of working was conceived and coordinated by John Daborn who was the driving force behind the Grasshoppers. In part three I will describe in detail how this worked in practice. I will also tell of the events that led to the Group being wound up with a final get together in 1982.

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Originally printed in Animator’s newsletter Issue 2 (Autumn 1982)

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