The Shadows Move – the British pioneers

The Shadows Move

Part One

KEN CLARK HAS SPENT MANY YEARS RESEARCHING THE HISTORY OF BRITISH ANIMATION. IN THIS ARTICLE HE LOOKS BACK TO THE BIRTH OF THE ANIMATION INDUSTRY.

Dr. Mark Roget’s paper ‘Explanation of an optical deception in the appearance of the spokes of a wheel seen through vertical apertures’ was presented to the Royal Society on 9th. December 1824. It dealt with a strange phenomenon: the persistence of vision, prompting the invention of a large number of rotating toys.

All relied for their effect on either an endless paper band or a cardboard disc bearing series of pictures drawn in progressive stages of an action. Viewed intermittently through slots or reflected in mirrors the drawings came to life and appeared to move. Around 1868, Flipper pads or Kineograph pads were introduced. Nine years later they were incorporated in the latest marvels of the age, the Mutascope and the Kinora machines.

The separate drawing technique was extremely popular until the invention of photography. Sadly, the cartoon drawing fell from grace as everyone became obsessed with the desire to record real-life events on film.

Bert Acre’s TOM MERRY film is little more than a filmic adaptation of what was then a popular music-hall act, a lightning artist speeded-up in miraculous manner. Acres’ young assistant at this time was Arthur Melbourne-Cooper, who used the stop motion facility to animate matches and children’s toys.

Ten years passed, following the first public showing of moving pictures in this country, before former conjuror, Walter Booth, made THE HAND OF THE ARTIST in 1906. The hand is seen sketching a costar and his girl, they come to life and dance together.

Sam Armstrong made THE CLOWN AND THE DONKEY in 1910, and two more silhouette films the following year. In 1914, Harry Furniss made a few lightning cartoons which were shown at the Coliseum Theatre in London early in the 1st World War.

Lancelot Speed’s BULLY BOYS series came next; closely followed by two series of war cartoons, one originated by G.E. Studdy, the other the work of Dudley Buxton. Dudley was joined by Anson Dyer in May 1915 to make JOHN BULL’S ANIMATED SKETCHBOOK. Each issue took one man two months to complete; they were responsible for alternate issues.

They exploited the cut-out figure technique, cutting half-tone characters from thin card with separate limbs, pivot points were hinged, using cotton thread or fine wire in the manner of a puppet. Heads were changeable, allowing a variety of expression but the result on the screen was essentially two-dimensional.

It had been discovered that the earliest film emulsions were insensitive to the colour blue. The first drawing in the sequence was completed using a blue pencil, then, under the camera, the artist inked over the original an eighth of an inch per frame. The hand was with¬drawn momentarily obscuring the character. Thereafter it ‘came to life’ by means of the separate-drawing system.

Artist Bruce Bairnsfather was whisked from his machine-gun post and transferred to work of greater national importance. In newspapers and on the screen, the dry wit of his brilliantly conceived Old Bill character did much to boost moral at home and at the front.

Propaganda shorts lampooning the Kaiser were popular. Others urging everyone to buy War Bonds were released by Kinsella-Morgan including one featuring a popular comedian George Robey. Alick Ritchie, Sydney Aldridge, Dudley Tempest, Louis Wain, Tom Webster, Leslie Holland, Earnest Mills and Victor Hicks animated films during this period with varying degrees of success. Training films for the Armed Forces used animated diagrams to good effect.

C.E. Studdy’s early wartime cartoons appeared in the cinemas attached to the Gaumont Graphic news reels, These were followed by many other individually produced shorts including work by Dyer and Joffre. The custom of attaching cartoons to G.G. newsreels was continued after the war.

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