Report from David Jefferson
The Cambridge Animation Festival ran from the Tuesday evening to the Sunday evening. I went along for the weekend shows. The 1985 festival has been billed as the ‘new look’. Festival Director Irene Kotlarz said:
“The aim of this new regime has been to make this year’s Festival entertaining and thought-provoking. We are therefore delighted to welcome as special guests both a wide range of film-makers – Chuck Jones, Spud Houston, Caroline Leaf, Monique Renault and Raoul Servais – also a number of writers, cartoonists and illustrators, including Steve Bell, Raymond Briggs and Christine Roche. They will be contributing to a theme that runs through a number of our programmes, discussions and exhibitions: the rather neglected question of narrative and story-telling in animation.
This is a very laudable endeavour for a festival and they went some way towards achieving their aim. The thing that worries me is that they completely neglected feature film cartoons at a time when more features than ever are being made. At the 1983 Cambridge Animation Festival animated feature films were shown each evening at 11.00 pm. At the ‘85 Festival we were given a Terry Gilliam retrospective with four of his live-action feature films being shown in the 11.00 pm slot. While I would agree he is a fine film maker and has produced good cut-out animation, the films shown were, for the most part, live-action. Not content with that, the Gilliam film Brazil was shown on three separate occasions. Making them an even stranger choice is the fact Terry Gilliam was not even a guest at the festival and no mention was made of his films in the main body of the programme. It is not as though there is a shortage of new feature length cartoons – five were shown at the 1985 Annecy Animation Festival!
Scriptwriting for animation
Storytelling was the main theme of the festival and the panel for this discussion consisted of many of the major animators and scriptwriters whose work was being presented at the festival; Don Arioli, Joy Batchelor, Steve Bell, Raymond Briggs, Stan Hayward, Caroline Leaf and Chuck Jones. The room chosen for the event was poorly laid out. I sat in the centre of the room and could only see half of the speakers, some were hidden by a pillar. They were not elevated so it was often difficult to tell who was doing the talking.
The discussion opened with each member of the panel giving their view of how an animated film should be scripted. Joy Batchelor took the conventional view that the story should have a beginning, a middle and an end with careful pacing of the high and low points. Chuck Jones said he set out to entertain, with the main attention given to events in the film rather than telling a story. Raymond Briggs said the methods of telling a story were the same if they were a book, a radio play or an animated film. His Snowman started out as a picture book and then became a cartoon film. Don Arioli has a background as a newspaper cartoonist and tends to approach animation in an episodic form with the message taking precedence over the storyline.
Keith Griffiths spoke from the audience on his preference for animation without a storyline. He likes it to make the viewer question their relationship with the images presented. This is the kind of thing he has been working on with the Quai brothers.
In answer to a question about how they developed a storyline Chuck Jones said that the character came first. When he had decided on the characters he would build the story around them. His first Roadrunner film was conceived as a parody of all the chase films that had gone before. He used a character similar to the Coyote in a previous film and they picked the Roadrunner as his adversary without knowing too much about the bird. As it turned out they were quite near the truth. When the film was released people did not see it as a parody, they accepted it as a chase film in its own right and Chuck Jones said he had enough business sense not to argue with them.
The panel were asked if there was any subject they would refuse on moral grounds. Stan Hayward said that he would tackle any subject, because putting the point of view of any group of people will lead to better understanding and allow people to form their own opinions much better than if a topic is suppressed. Chuck Jones said that he did not consider the morality of his films because he had given up trying to discover what is right and what is wrong.
The discussion turned to the relationship between the audience and the film. Generally the audience were looked on as a passive unit who were there to be told a tale rather than to be given active participation. Many subjects were touched on but they were only given superficial answers. It would have been better if the discussion had been chaired in a more positive way.
When the Wind Blows
An extract from work in progress on When the Wind Blows was shown as part of the Channel Four Preview Programme. It is based on a Raymond Briggs anti-nuclear story. The film is a combination of 3D model sets and cartoon animation. The sets are devised to look more like drawings than real life. In this way the cartoon characters blend in with them. We were first shown sets of the inside of a suburban house, on their own with the camera tracking around to make the most of their 3D quality. Then we were shown the same shots with the characters superimposed. This made a world of difference. The two characters shown, a middle aged married couple, seemed sympathetic. It is difficult to judge the film on the strength of extracts but I would say that the pace will be leisurely. The voices were very English, played by Peggy Ashcroft and John Mills, with no attempt to make them comic. The film is being made by TVC and should be ready for screening in the autumn.
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Printed in Animator Issue 15 (Spring 1986)