Contemporary British Animation in 1983

Contemporary British Animation

By Antoinette Moses

The much publicised ‘renaissance’ of British films has been reflected in a lesser way in the British animation industry. Although it is harder than ever to raise finance for animated features, money has been found for series and shorts and it has come from television and video.

It has been evident for some time that television and video were increasingly becoming the major markets for animation as theatrical releases dwindled and cinemas closed and it is encouraging to see that these new sources of exhibition are themselves commissioning as well as purchasing new works. (In some cases this can lead to a theatrical release as has happened with THE SNOWMAN which is now being distributed by Warners after its success on television.)

In the forefront, not surprisingly, is Channel 4 which has committed itself to a belief in British animation as a matter of policy and where animation has an active supporter in Jeremy Isaacs. The most successful Channel 4-commissioned animated film is, of course, THE SNOWMAN which has deservedly garnered its cluster of awards including the Oscar nomination. However, there are many others. In NEW DIRECTIONS all the films screened have been commissioned by Channel 4, from a variety of different sources. These include TAKING A LINE FOR A WALK by Lesley Keen, a homage to Paul Klee which was also supported by the Scottish Arts Council. Then there are the two films by the Atelier Konick LEOS JANACEK: INTIMATE EXCURSIONS and THE PARIS YEARS – IGOR CHEZ PLYEL which underline how the Channel is willing to back new and experimental work.

In the field of video, Longman Video has shown itself particularly active though at the moment their commissions have been restricted to children’s entertainment. One purchase of theirs THE JUST-SO STORIES by Sheila Graber is an apt example and it is extremely encouraging to see an independent animator’s work being picked in preference to that of an American studio.

The independent sector, nonetheless, does not have an easy task and it is remarkable considering the grim economic climate of today that there are so many new films. Indeed, for travel to foreign festivals we shall see another crop of prizes coming back to Britain as was the case in Zagreb in 1980 when Britain won more awards than any other nation.

Today, most studios exist by making commercials and children’s series – and it is good to see Bob Godfrey back with Stan Hayward in top form with HENRY’S CAT. FilmFair is also producing two new series MOSCHOPS and PORTLAND BILL (the last, unfortunately, was not ready in time for the Festival.) And their animation of Paddington SINGING IN THE RAIN is already becoming a classic. Welsh Channel 4 (S4C) also has a new series SUPERTED as well as HANNER DWSIN (HALF A DOZEN) which has been made in Cardiff but which we have not included in the children’s programme as it only exists in Welsh. There is also INBRIIJM BEACH by Marcus Parker Rhodes, a pilot for a series which most certainly deserves to be financed.

When it comes to commercials British animators are unrivalled. This year there is a particularly excellent crop of new spots showing at the Festival. There is, for example, the idiosyncratic style of Paul Vester in his outstanding new BABYSHAM commercial; then there are the witty balletic swans in Tony White’s SONY SWAN LAKE or his science fiction LAMOT PILS LAGER which deserves a special award for its backgrounds (designed by David Bergen). Then there is the cool Thirties style of Richard Purdum’s ROTARY WATCHES and the stylish work of Cucumber always in the forefront and now blending animation and live action in their rock promos with exceptional brilliance. And there are so many more – as can be seen in the British Contemporary programme.

Surveying the British Contemporary films on offer at Cambridge this year one is astounded by their diversity. There is the powerful imagery of Gerald Scarfe in PINK FLOYDE – THE WALL; there are the lyrical flying sequences of THE SNOWMAN, the colourful fantasy of Animation City’s SKY WHALES and the plasticine realism of Aardman Animation in their new series of CONVERSATION PIECES. British animation is certainly alive as these programmes at Cartridge testify and the new markets and graving interest in animation augur well for its future.

PLAYERS. Director/producer John Halas. Designer Peter Sis. Produced by Educational Film Centre

Printed in Animator’s newsletter Issue 6 (Autumn 1983)