“When I have a completed animation test in front of me,” Hand explained, “I look for the mind of an actor and the drawing ability of a skilled draughtsman. If the applicant is half-crazy into the bargain, his chances of becoming an animator are increased proportionately”.
Only one in every two hundred rated an animation test, and of those less than half were considered eligible for training. Those who were lucky embarked on a two-to-three years intensive training course. There had never been anything like this exercise before, and there has been nothing like it since.
They began with advertising and educational films, a 40 minute ‘feature’ on the ‘Magna Carta’, and some final wartime training films, then progressed to colour cartoons, the Animated series, and a second series called Muscial Paintbox.
Trainees continued to graduate from the training wings, ex-apprentices who had been taught the tricks of the trade but who lacked the much deeper understanding of their art which could not be completely mastered in the short lifetime of G.B.A. Hand’s own expertise was the end result of over twenty hard years trial-and-error experience. Although a few ‘character’ animators demonstrated their ability to produce Disney-style personality charisma, Ginger Nutt and his companions were unable to rise above the quality of their material. Even Hand was prompted to state publicly:
“Our films are not as funny as we want them to be. It’s a question of learning to be funny in a new language – and that takes a lot of practice.”
George Jackson, one of the studio’s top animators, spoke for many when he said; “Unfortunately, instead of fostering the original British style of cartooning, Dave Hand tried to make his group of enthusiasts produce work on the Disney formula. The British style was never given a chance to show through.
“The unit was disbanded in 1949, one of the casualties of the crises which hit the British film industry when the Government slapped a 75% ‘ad valorem’ duty on all imported feature products, which occupied over two-thirds of British screen time, and repealed it without warning a year later.
“This released a flood of stock-piled American films which submerged the products of British film-makers, who had strained their production resources in their efforts to keep the cinemas supplied during the gap.
After the closure some went to other smaller studios, some formed their own units, and from the ruins began to emerge a truly British style of animation which owed much to that solid background of training. It would be wrong, however, to assume that sole credit was due to G.B.A.