We are seeing films from Russia, Czechoslovakia and animation from countries where it is encouraged and subsidized by the State for the entertainment of adults. In this country we tend to think of animation as being something for the kids, perhaps looked at surreptitiously by adults who feel they should not be looking. But in Holland, for example, they make cartoons especially for adult viewing – and why not?
There is a Canadian animator, Frederic Back, who does the most remarkable animation. In his film The Man Who Planted Trees the whole thing is presented as seen by a continually moving camera going round the subjects as they walk along. The flowing feeling of that pencil drawn line is magnificent. One moment the artists viewpoint is low down, moves past swooping forward and then back looking down from above and always with a lovely fluid action. The incredible thing is – you are always aware that you are looking at drawings.
John Coates and Dianne Jackson had seen Back’s short film Crac. “That’s the style we would like to emulate for Snowman,” they said. Did you know that those responsible for the flying sequences in Snowman did not have reference to live action shots taken from the air? It all originates from still photographs of the countryside and the movement out over the water to the snows of the Pole came out of their heads. Amazing! I wish I could have another couple of lifetimes in which to do something like that, I would really love to do it.
Animation is such a transitory thing, people do not give it much credence when you say it is Art. By its very nature it is very flimsy. I have some original Disney cels which have got slightly damp and the paint has flaked off the backs. That’s what I mean, it is not a permanent form of art -perhaps can never be unless we approach it in some new way. I do not see it myself as an art form – although I have to say each one of the finished drawings in The Snowman are exquisite, I would willingly hang one of those on my wall as a framed work of art.
I noticed something with one of my sequences where I began with a pencil drawing followed by some animation. When it had been shot on the line tester and played back we felt it needed eight frames more at one point, but the visual effect is a sudden freeze. Now, if you draw the same picture eight times, as accurately as possible, the tiny inaccuracies make the final result throb with apparent life. Bob Godfrey’s Henry’s Cat works on that principle although he alternates on only two frames. It’s a great idea.
Two drawings convey movement, that’s all it takes. Rolfs Rollers as I call them are not new, they are a very old discovery. My Dad showed me how to make them when I was eight or nine and I have used the illusion to enthral little children ever since then. They watch you drawing and are faintly bored, they watch as you roll the top picture round a pencil and then, when you animate it, it is like instant magic. Their eyes light up as if they have discovered a great secret. Wow! they see it – but they do not believe it.
In one of our programmes (No. 11) we showed Disney’s Thru’ the Mirror (1936). As an introduction to it we thought we would do some animation ourselves of somebody actually passing through a mirror. We set up a table with a huge looking-glass on it, one with a removable mirror section. Then we videoed a little girl workshopper climbing up on to the table, walking to the mirror and freezing. We removed the mirror and continued recording while she stepped through the wooden frame. Then I stuck a peg bar on the monitor screen with double sided sticky tape and played back the sequence frame by frame. I drew the background first, then each of the images of the little girl together with her mirror image. We were in the studio until half past eleven at night doing the damned thing. You can guess how many frames that took – 131.