In just three years Siriol Animation has grown into one of Britain’s largest animation studios. Frank Baker looks at their background.
Siriol Animation was set up in 1982 to make a series of SuperTed cartoons for the then new Welsh television authority S4C. SuperTed proved such a success that in under two years Siriol has grown into one of Europe’s largest animation studios with a turnover greater than one million pounds. Siriol is Welsh for cheerful and that is what SuperTed cartoons are.
SuperTed was already a much-loved household name in Wales when he made his debut throughout the rest of Britain, during the first week in October ‘83, with a six week series on BBC children’s television.
SuperTed began life as a humble bedtime story which Welsh author Mike Young invented for his small stepson who was afraid of the dark. All the staff of Siniol Animation, a new company based in Cardiff’s dockland, took pains to ensure that SuperTed will give no one nightmares!
Each episode contains an exotic, and often funny, adventure. By saying his secret magic word, SuperTed acquires a sense of courage and determination which is not beyond the average nine year old. With the help of the latest in technology he can travel into space or to remote parts of the world to protect children and animals from the evil Texas Pete and his bungling cronies.
The directors of Siriol Animation are Dave Edwards, Roger Fickling, Robin Lyons, Rosanne Reeves, and Mike Young. They set out to create a series which their own children could be proud of. They had no time for the violence, facile plots, and crude movement that seems to be the hallmark of so many American made-for-TV cartoons; they set out to prove that a soft edge and quality animation can be more appealing to children than any amount of violence and they engaged the voices of Jon Pertwee, Derek Griffiths, Melvyn Hayes, Roy Kinnear and Victor Spinetti, to provide a richness of character and humour.
The SuperTed stories first appeared as a series of books. They attracted the attention of Warner Brothers who made an offer of a quarter of a million pounds for the film rights but author Mike Young was determined to keep SuperTed Welsh. That was when S4C TV stepped in with the backing to set up Siriol.
So far the gamble has paid off. SuperTed has been adopted as the mascot of S4C, the Welsh TV Channel, where the cartoon was first screened in the Welsh language at the end of 1982. The cartoons have since been sold to more than forty countries, and Siriol has become one of Europe’s largest animation houses.
Each cartoon cost about £60,000 to make and is line tested on sophisticated video rostrum equipment before being photocopied onto cels. Siriol’s fast expansion created one immediate problem; that of finding suitably skilled personnel in Cardiff. While most of the semi-skilled jobs of painting and tracing were filled by local people, Siriol needed to look further a field for the specialist jobs of animators, layout artists etc. However, the dockland of Cardiff emerged as a mini Soho with dubbing studios, cutting rooms and independent film companies.
Chief animator and director Dave Edwards, for example, a dedicated and successful Wardour Streetite who was on the brink of setting up his own animation studio, was somewhat bemused to find himself and his family in a small Welsh coastal town.