K.C.: You mean… the narration suffers in translation?
B.G.: Yes! Especially puns and ‘English’ jokes. And even the English voices have proved to be a drawback. Richard Briers has a very English voice for the Roobarb series, and then there is my own voice for Hemy’s Cat…
K.C.: I think the timing ofa gag suffers in translation, too… and there must be times when the tag line loses its punch if dubbed films are anything to go by.
B.G.: Very true – in Norway we had a dear little lady reading the Henry’s Cat stories which did not quite come off. We call this type of series ‘animated radio’ – without the voice track they are simply a succession of unrelated pictures.
K.C.: You haven’t been tempted to resort to electronically generated images?
B.G.: Not yet – but I might ‘discover’ them 10 years after everybody else. The importance of new techniques – particularly the computer – has been overrated. They haven’t had the impact we thought might follow their introduction.
K.C.: At present, the images they produce are sterile diagrams, they are so perfect they are soul-less.
B.G.: I agree! they are what Peter Hickley termed ‘Mr D. Humane in the Basement’.
K.C.: Do you have any plans for the future, Bob?
B.G.: Yes, of course. I regard myself as being at the commencement of my career. You know, animation is like knitting – you can put it away and take it out again – and at the back of my mind is a yearning to produce a musical in the way that TVC made The Snowman. I believe it should be made for Channel 4, followed by a determined attempt at cinema distribution. For the past three years I devoted most of my time to Henry’s Cat; even now, Kevin Baldwin and I, plus a small back-up team, are involved in producing 6 x 15 minutes episodes. Which means, about six of us are making a feature-length film – a hell of a lot of work! But I am planning to do John Gilpin for Channel 4. Animation costs money and contrary to popular belief – I’m not lousy with the stuff.
You know, some people say: “Oh, Bob hates animation.” But I don’t; I only animate when it is absolutely necessary. At an age when most men with sense are cashing their chips, I’m thinking about Global distribution and ‘that feature’ – that big musical. What has happened up to now has just been rehearsal. I’m like an old toad sitting under a stone, I don’t go chasing flies, I wait for them to come to me.
It comes down to good storytelling. I haven’t got St. Vitus Dance, I’m not a ballet dancer and I’m not into bullfighting or making beautiful passes. The worst audience you can face is a crowd of animators because they are looking for the beautiful passes, and the entre-chats and the pas-de-deux, and all that! They are not so much concerned with the idea’ – whereas I am. If I could demonstrate an idea by being completely motionless, I would do so.
Dramatic ideas are what motivate me, and I am developing this interest. As time goes by I am devoting more and more of my working life to writing. Animation needs better conceptual ideas, and I emphasize animation ideas – not stories adapted to animation. Whatever people may say about Goddard, he doesn’t go to books for his ideas. He is concerned with graphic images on film, not adaptations.
I would like to see people writing specially for animation, writers like Stan can do that, they sit down and really think about what they are doing. When you are working with Stan you find he has a very strange humour, he doesn’t rely so much on sight gags as he does on the funny-peculiar – funny-peculiar as distinct from funny ha-ha.
We are short on conceptual ideas because there is no market for them, no big market. If people were going to make thousands of pounds out of stories for animation they would be doing it, wouldn’t they? As it is, there is a lack of financial incentive.
Animators are like actors and actresses – they are into ‘performance’ – and they only go into plays where they can give a bloody good performance, instead of just standing in the wings with a spear. They want a vehicle that offers them a chance to shine. They tend to overlook ‘message’, whereas critics, because they don’t understand animation, concentrate on the film’s idea or lack of idea. We need critics who understand what they are writing about. At present, they always get it wrong, and are frightened of making fools of themselves.
Finally, we need editors and musicians. We’re not short of animators in this country, quite the contrary. And we are not short of animation companies; there were 150 the last time I counted.
What we lack is appreciation and understanding, and this has always been a failing. Animation festivals are merely preaching to the converted. We need to get to the general public. We need show persons who can attract ‘Hot Bodies’, i.e. people who pay for their seats. It will happen. I hope I’m around to see it.
Printed in Animator Issue 15 (Spring 1986)