In the summer of the year Ted left college, David Hargreaves (producer of DIYAS) took charge of the BBC Illiteracy project. The BBC produced several pilot programmes all using animated inserts to varying degrees. Ted’s work on the pilots proved successful and he was asked to do the animation for the whole ‘On The Move’ series – two years work extending into three. As the work came to an end, other jobs came in from various studios including Dragon Productions which is where the two halves of the Klacto equation met for the first time.
They set up their own studio in 1981 specifically to handle commercial work, beginning with two Energen advertisements for Young and Rubican while they were actually settling into their Heddon Street studios. Although plenty of experimental work was in the offing, few projects resulted in complete productions. Thankfully the years since have been more successful for the company.
If there is a difference between them then it might be in their approach to action. Ted’s preoccupation is with the action first, drawing second, and provided the action is powerful his concepts usually work well. “I don’t think Oscar could ever draw an ugly line,” said Ted, “My action sketches tend to be quickly and loosely executed, and while they do not have Oscar’s schooled elegance they perhaps succeed in capturing and defining the storyline intent.”
They rise to each new challenge enjoying the variations of working on many different films. “There is a chance with a long-running series of commercials that a predictability may creep into the job.” But, their highly successful long-running series for Skol lager doesn’t seem to be suffering any such problems! Dick Brown’s Hagar gives them something tangible every time, they are never bland – the spark is always there. No one has time to become tired of them because they are so inherently funny.
Commercial TV is the principal reason we have an animation industry in Great Britain today, he will tell you, but it is commercial television of a certain kind. Sponsors are able to commission glossy productions to promote their products and their attitude has allowed animation to move on from the stark but economical styles of the Sixties to interesting even indulgently executed work done perhaps as an antidote to the appallingly limited animated television series. The only reason animation has survived, and the reason why Art Babbit gave lectures to anyone prepared to listen, is because somebody was convinced ‘they’ wanted animation made to a higher standard than that which had become the ‘norm’. If that demand did not exist then the British studios would diminish in number to the size of say, the Finnish animation industry. As it is, American animators come to work in this country because the work is more interesting than they can find at home.
Of course we have enjoyed a certain stability due to the way TV broadcasting is set up in this country but we cannot rely on this continuing. Since the introduction of commercial television the past 30 years have not adversely upset the status quo, he argues, but we have no way of knowing for certain what changes will occur when satellite transmissions become commonplace. We may be drowned in cheaply produced American material, in such vast quantities that local demand for UK shorts may dry up. It might happen! – we simply do not know for certain. Global coverage may result in a change of policy with an emphasis on productions designed for a universal audience instead of a multiplicity of shorts specifically designed for localised consumption.
Whatever the changes, they will inevitably de-stabilize our present situation, for better – for worse.
“I think there are going to be a great many new developments in terms of the way in which animation will he used, already pop-promos have introduced new opportunities. The old style diagrammatic animation is losing ground to video graphics and this has given rise to a whole new visual vocabulary. The seductively smooth manipulation of lettering and scenery in full colour through 360 degrees in 3D may be closer to puppet animation and be an expensive proposition at present, but it will have a profound influence on style and presentation in the future. When satellite dishes proliferate it is difficult to foresee the effect it will have on the shape and form of commercials destined to appeal to an international market.
“Will the expansion of channel choices affect the BBC’s attitude to commercial breaks? – with a knock-on effect on the demand for animation?
“We work with a marketing device of immense power and nowhere is that fact more readily recognised than in the States. They know the box hypnotises viewers. If a major manufacturer develops other ways of promoting the product, it is bound to have an effect on the film industry. If the technique involves more ‘film work’ using pop promos tied into the product, for example – fine! But if the technique is the company logo, alone, beamed down from space, with no production work’, then there will be a great many film workers out of a job.
“On the other hand, if animation production bottlenecks can be overcome with the help of the new technology, while maintaining quality in respect of artwork and layout, leaving more time to put greater effort into the conception of both the writing and the designing of the animation then we may witness a different outcome.
“At present, not even the Disney studio is geared to handle continuous production of large-scale work and, although there has been Art Babbit giving very informative lectures about the intricacies of animation, I haven’t seen anyone as authorative coming forward to lecture us about script-writing for animation. That is where the weakness lies in all large- scale, by that I mean feature, animated productions. It was another aspect of the art Disney perfected in the Forties, one which I think has since been lost. Success was due to the clever marriage of good writing to perceptive character animation. I am sure that even Dick Williams who has tried so strenuously to revive and extend the spirit and awareness of good animation would agree. I wonder what will happen next?”
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Printed in Animator Issue 22 (Spring 1988)