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Animating Hartbeat

By Paul Thomas

I recently uploaded a collection of my BBC Hartbeat films to YouTube. This article covers the background story of those films. I am also planning an exhibition called Paul Thomas at the BBC. It will cover about 15 years.

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Hartbeat’ was the follow up to the classic BBC TV show ‘Take Hart’. I had only been able to contribute to two series before having to start again with new ideas for a brand new format. Tony Hart would be joined by four female co presenters. The programme would appear modern and have a faster pace. My contributions began with a telephone conversation with my producer and a letter containing suggested themes to find ideas for. The process would begin as scribbles in my note books. When ready a meeting would be arranged at the ‘Hartbeat office. I would arrive armed with storyboards and a very positive attitude. All my films for the programme were made in my home studio and filmed, edited and have soundtracks created at BBC TV Centre. I used cels of various field sizes and found my techniques and desire to have a textural feel to my films improved. ‘Hartbeat’ was my playground. I would have a lot of fun and realise a lot of ideas.

Tony Hart

Tony Hart

News of Hartbeat

A BBC film can label.

A BBC film can label.

BUBBLEGUM BILLY – I created a gang of friends in full colour against a background of black and white. The soundtrack was put together with music from the BBC library and vocals from David Owen Smith and the ‘Hartbeat’ office girls. This track is called ‘Base Pattern B’. The voice of ‘Morph’, Peter Harwood, created the soundtrack and all my soundtracks with the programme. This was to be my first broadcast reference to ‘Yellow Submarine’ such an inspiration on my work. My gang consisted of Danielz (from T.Rextasy). School friend Gary Florance. ‘Grange Hill’ actress Lisa East.  Kate Bush and myself in the lead role with stories using puns on gum hence ‘Gum Boots’ and ‘Choo Choo Train’. Seeking a grainy real life background Gary Florance and I went searching for an ideal street in south east London. We found it with classic Victorian houses and a front wall. My first offering to the show in 1984 had a visually strong style and lots of potential. However with the new programme structure of not wishing to pursue regular characters Bubblegum Billy was never to be seen again. It did make it into print though being the only reference ever to be made of my characters in the ‘Radio Times’.

The clapperboard I used between shots for Bubblegum Billy.

The clapperboard I used between shots for Bubblegum Billy.

Characters from Bubblegum Billy

Characters from Bubblegum Billy

KALIZASCOPES – I reversed the Bubblegum Billy look for an idea of black and white photographs against full colour animated characters and backgrounds. I suggested Tony Hart as the star but producer Christopher Pilkington insisted on co programme presenter Liza Brown. I worked out all the key positions for Liza and a photo session with Barry Boxall was arranged on the tenth of July 1986 at TV Centre. Chris was right. Liza brought so much more to the idea than I had hoped for with inspired facial expressions and poses. On receiving the printed photographs I worked out the animation using a video line tester at the Halas and Batchelor studios in London. This was an idea I was happy to continue with hoping to animate other cast members. That didn’t happen. Things were changing.

Paul Thomas and Liza Brown at the photo shoot for Kalizascopes.

Paul Thomas and Liza Brown at the photo shoot for Kalizascopes.

Storyboard for 'Sheep Skin Coat'

Storyboard for ‘Sheep Skin Coat’

TRAFFIC SIGNS – Producer Christopher Pilkington left the show and handed over to Chris Tandy. I had to be interviewed again as Chris was unfamiliar with my work. My proposal was inspired by a copy of the highway code and my being impressed with the graphic style. There was plenty of material for humorous gags. My idea of bringing traffic signs to life thankfully impressed Chris. I took a new approach to the idea and chose to cut out all the characters from black paper and stick them on cels. The back grounds were in oil pastel on black card. This gave a new visual texture to my work. I had finally broken away from inked and painted cels.

Traffic Signs

Traffic Signs

Traffic Signs

Traffic Signs

A storyboard for 'Traffic Signs'.

A storyboard for ‘Traffic Signs’.

TIGERTOONS – With the interest in ‘Traffic Signs’ over I decided to create one-off’s and make the most of my position. I would let myself go pushing my abilities into unknown territories. The cel was my canvas. I put everything on it. Paint. Pastels. Wax. Cut-out’s. Paper. Card and used the classic special effect of ‘Ripple Glass’.  My bag of tricks grew but play time was about to end. In 1990 I was told the number of animators on the programme was being reduced and therefore my services were no longer required. I spoke with Tony Hart about this. He was sympathetic and I recall a comment he made that I had not even been presented with a certificate to say I had worked on his show.  My animated work though had matured with such an experience and I had used the medium to greater success than with ‘Take Hart’.

Tigertoons

Tigertoons

Tigertoons

Tigertoons

Issac Newton - Tigertoons

Issac Newton – Tigertoons

A sketch from 'The Mole Film' for Tigertoons.

A sketch from ‘The Mole Film’ for Tigertoons.

Three cels in animated sequence from 'The Mole Film'.

Three cels in animated sequence from ‘The Mole Film’.

Moon and Rocket - Tigertoons

Moon and Rocket – Tigertoons

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‘33’ A celebration of SCRATCH

This is a guest post by Paul Thomas.

‘33’ years have passed since SCRATCH first appeared on a blank sheet of paper. Now is the time to celebrate and bring together his history in one place in Devon, the Totnes Library.

Scratch 33 poster

It’s another world since his first film for TAKE HART was broadcast on the 23rd of March 1983. It had been made at BBC TV Centre, a dream factory in West London. Once the selection from a vast archive of material was made I realised this would be the first time ever the collection would be seen. It was overwhelming to see the story of SCRATCH on display hoping to enchant the public.

ROOBARB

ROOBARB

The exhibition opens with ROOBARB. He appears as I began my career aged eighteen at Bob Godfrey Films in London. Bob’s most memorable character was a star by the time I arrived. It was while at this studio I received my breakthrough commission from the BBC.

Paul Thomas introduces the exhibition.

Paul Thomas introduces the exhibition.

The exhibition celebrates too the creative process of the animated film from idea to transmission print. Included are letters from the BBC. A storyboard and script. Production cels. The strip cartoons with over two hundred published in the Totnes Times and the life size cut out of SCRATCH in his Yellow Dustbin.

With such a time span of thirty three years the process and the TV show are history. They are also educational and my audience after the exhibition was opened by the Mayor of Totnes was St John’s C of E Infant School in Totnes. I enjoyed the many questions and was very pleased with the attention the children paid to my story. It was also an opportunity to pay tribute to Tony Hart, Bob Godfrey and make a reference to Kate Bush.

A recent image of SCRATCH as a comet has been very inspirational. I set up a project for the children to design the comet tail following the head I painted on A3 paper. It will be a long piece of work and have its place on the library wall for a while before being put up at the St John’s school.

Scratch 33 exhibition

It’s been quite a journey from an alley behind BBC TV Centre to Totnes high street yet after three decades and more SCRATCH has remained vibrant and full of fun.

He and I hope you enjoy his past, present and future.

Scratch and the Yellow Dustbin released on YouTube

 

Yellow Dustbin is a seven minute animated film starring Scratch, Itch and Eve. It is the first Scratch film to be made in thirty years. Scratch last appeared on British television in 1983. In the meantime Scratch and his cartoon pals are alive and well, and appearing regularly as a strip cartoon in the Salisbury Journal.

Armed with a simple love story, Paul Thomas has set his new film in the town of Totnes, where the Scratch strip cartoons are published. Paul says the architecture proved to be ideal for the backgrounds creating a nostalgic English feel. The surreal images were inspired by Dada and psychedelia.

We asked Paul about the production of Yellow Dustbin.

David Jefferson: You were making short animations for the BBC Take Hart programs in the 1980s when film ruled the day. How do the digital tools available to the present day animator compare with shooting on film?

Scratch last appeared on BBC TV with artist and children's television presenter Tony Hart in 1983

Scratch last appeared on BBC TV with artist and children’s television presenter Tony Hart in 1983.

Paul Thomas: There was tension and anticipation when awaiting the delivery of a 16mm cutting copy being processed over night at the Rank Film Labs. Hoping there were no scratches on the neg and I always did mixes and fades ‘in camera’ which too were a risk. Then watching the precious piece of film on the Steenbeck editing table, breathing a sigh of relief that all went to plan.
Then later in the process to have Peter Harwood (the voice of Morph) create a soundtrack to picture. I relished the challenge to bring all the creative contributions together for a short animated film fit for broadcast on national television.

In comparison all the previous processes can be achieved digitally on a computer without leaving your seat. Yes you bypass time consuming activities. Yes you can create everything yourself with the aid of software packages but I always enjoyed the adventure of going to BBC TV Centre. I felt a part of the programme while being able to drop in the production office on spec. Sit in on editing and dubbing. Having the privileged position of watching unedited sequences of Tony Hart unhindered by music overdubs as he performed to camera.

DJ: What were the main software tools used in the production of Yellow Dustbin?

PT: My home computer was the main tool used to create Yellow Dustbin. I used Windows Movie Maker software to assemble the images. It’s a godsend. I can make my crazy illustrated films with The Hare and The Moon on tap. I wished to maintain the rouge edge look of the original Scratch films and that was achieved through the artwork and the various mediums I used. It was the first time working without a rostrum camera so my work was simply scanned in using a peg bar taped to the scanner.

The music, vocal and Matt Dean’s photographs were loaded from emails and CD’s. It was the editing though that made the film. I was surprised my computer offered so much for me to achieve what I wanted. The ability to drop images in here and there. Pull the soundtrack into line with the picture and move entire scenes around at the click of a button.

DJ: The voice of I.V. Webb has a beautiful clarity. Is she a professional actress?

PT: No. I.V. Webb is a singer songwriter currently recording an album in the UK. Once the music for Yellow Dustbin, composed by performed by The Hare And The Moon, was complete I sought a vocalist. I found I.V. Webb. On hearing the warmth and tone in her voice knew she was the one. I was fortunate I.V. took a shine to the script and I made a return to the old ways by taking her into a recording studio to put the vocal down.

I.V. Webb records the voiceover for Yellow Dustbin.

I.V. Webb records the voiceover for Yellow Dustbin.

Paul explained that Yellow Dustbin is structured as a four part symphony.

Part 1. Home: Sitting on a bench in Totnes high street Paul reflects on his animated cartoon characters. They escape once more from his imagination with help from the music of The Hare And The Moon, the voice of I.V. Webb and photographs taken by Matt Dean. Scratch in his Yellow Dustbin is lifted above the top of the steep high street looking down to his destination as oranges race by Itch mouse.

Part 2. Sky: Itch decorates the sky with whimsical waggish dazzle. Scratch is side tracked but entertained.

Part 3. Remember: As the sky display dwindles The Gallery takes us back to where it all began with Tony Hart. Hanging on a pink wall are scenes from those first animated appearances in Take Hart.

Part 4. Love: Unaware of his interruptions as she dreams of their romance Eve waits for Scratch at the bottom of the high street. It’s clear they are in love. Paul bids us thank you and goodbye in a very Dylanesque way.

Totness museum poster

Totness museum poster

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

Paul Thomas continues his brief autobiography of his struggle to find success as an independent animator.

This is a little known fact. I had met with Anne Wood (creator of the Teletubbies) and cast as one of thirteen animators she sought for a new children’s TV series called The Magic Mirror. A major company was brought in to finance the series but were unhappy with Anne’s choice of animators. They required a competition to choose a new set of thirteen. I wasn’t chosen but the series was axed having been broadcast I believe, only once as it blatantly promoted the financers. Gary Glitter was the narrator for one episode!

The Paint family and The Christmas Tree production cel.

Anne Gobi formed a rebel alliance and took The Paint Family elsewhere to find funding.
Many countries were happy to take the series once made. It was left to the UK to supply the money. Anne informed me a producer was willing to do just that but would make a final decision on returning from a holiday. When Dan Maddicott returned from his holiday he said no. The rebel alliance collapsed.
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Out Of My Mind – My Animated Adventure – Part 2 of 3

Paul Thomas continues his brief autobiography of his struggle to find success as an independent animator.

Julian Holdaway was a great help. A rostrum cameraman based in Bob Godfrey’s basement. He introduced me to books, people and places in the animated world and helped sustain my desire for knowledge of my craft. I had learnt a lot in a very short space of time.

Production cel from Hartbeat.


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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.
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Scratch – Making an exhibition of himself

Happy birthday Paul Thomas and Scratch

Scratch creator Paul Thomas celebrates his 50th birthday today (12 January 2012). Also, Scratch is thirty years old this year. To mark this auspicious occasion Paul has written a summery of his life in animation and beyond.


Click on the pictures for larger versions.

By Paul Thomas

I’ve been in the business of creating something from nothing professionally for over thirty years. Out of one particular day’s nothing in 1982 came something that would change my life.
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