The Shadows Move
Part four – the story of G.B. Animation
By Ken Clark
In 1944, the Rank Group set up a small cartoon unit, just six people and a tea-boy. This little group joined forces with G.B. Instructional Films, and became the nucleus of a much grander organisation: G.B. Animation. The intention was to build a company to rival Disney, and was expected to be fully operational within three years, at an overall cost of an estimated £2,500,000. It was hoped that the 500-odd vacant positions would, in the main, be filled by returning ex-servicemen and women, although a nation-wide talent search prompted applications from children of nine and ten; exterior decorators who fancied a change of scene; a typewriter salesman; a former poster and magazine artist, and many others from all walks of life.
Such an enterprise needed a key man with exceptional qualifications. They found him working for the man they were about to challenge – Walt Disney. His name – David Hand; director of ‘Snow White’ ‘Bambi’, and innumerable shorts. Hand had 26 years experience in the business and was ideally suited for the task. He brought with him Ralph Wright and John Reed; Ralph was the story supervisor, John, an expert animator, organised basic training. Brian O’Hanlon was principal background artist.
A year later 60 animators and technicians worked for Hand, some of them based at his Soho Square offices, while others were busily converting Moor Hall, a mansion at Cookham: into an animation studio. Newspaper publicity proclaimed the intention of increasing the staff level to 2000, but that figure was never achieved, even though the studio was receiving 200 applicants a week. They were looking for more than a keen desire to enter the profession.