Harold Whitaker by John Halas

Introduction by Gary French-Powell:
Some months ago I told John Halas I was compiling material for an article on Harold Whitaker, I asked him if he could help fill in some of the gaps I had left. To my surprise he produced an article of his own, which gives Harold the long overdue credit and recognition he deserves for his contribution to the art of drawn animation.

Harold Whitaker : A professional animator

By John Halas.

My colleague, Gary Powell, approached me to write about the work of Harold Whitaker, and I am able to record here some of my experiences in working with him for the past 33 years.

Harold Whitaker. Click for larger pic.

I first met Harold Whitaker in 1951. He was one of the brilliant team of technicians of the late Anson Dyer’s unit. Dyer, after forty years of practice decided to retire and left the members of his studio in Stroud, Gloucestershire, without any plans for their future occupation. The unit had been heavily engaged in confidential war work for the Airforce and had been evacuated from London’s Jermyn Street to the safety of the calm Gloucestershire region. Since then, that cradle of animation, Stroud, has enriched the techniques of animation generation after generation. Personalities like Len Kirley, studio manager, Sid Griffiths, cameraman, Harold Whitaker, animator, Tony Guy, apprentice animator, and many others, joined forces with Halas & Batchelor who at that time were at the point of setting up a team and enlarging their studio for the production of “Animal Farm”. Kirley came to see me in January 1951 with the idea of keeping the unit together which, considering the circumstances, the honesty and the practicality of the proposition, gave us no problem in accepting. Soon a close working relationship was established between our unit in London and that in Stroud.

My main doubt about the difference in styles between the units soon disappeared. London; sophisticated, almost abstract in style, with an intellectual expression. Stroud; with a style of fluid character animation and a comedy objective. For “Animal Farm” neither approach would have been right. So an adaptation had to be made. Fortunately my Stroud colleagues had both the skills and the techniques to go along with a compromise and were able to fit in with a stylisation of characters which did not resemble Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck or Tom and Jerry, but generated a far more subtle expression in gesture and looks than any character animation of that time.

Our astonishment on seeing Harold Whitaker’s first line test on the character “Napoleon” and “Farmer Jones” was pleasant and unexpected. This surprise eventually developed into delight when he built up the behavioural patterns of the farmers battling with the pigs in the first fight of the film, making the best use of the supplied choreography, improving as he went along the organisation of runs, swinging arms, body reactions, and eventually animating them all into an exciting dramatic sequence.

“Animal Farm” gave the chance to many animators to develop their skills, among them Eddy Radage, Arthur Humberstone, a young Gerry Potterton, and Tony Guy. But to none more than Harold Whitaker who, by the end of the production, had become a fully-fledged all rounder.

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