The Masters of Animation collection – Page 2

Animal Farm – Great Britain.

For the programme on his own country, Great Britain, Halas has chosen the themes ‘pioneering spirit’, ‘diversity of styles’ and ‘adult entertainment’. “I have been very much involved with the ‘adult’ spectrum of animation since the war, when we were working for the Ministry of Information to assist the war effort. That was a good start for trying to communicate with the adult audiences of this country. Apart from that the visualisation of facts through pictures has always been a challenge to us.” The British programme contains an extract from the Halas & Batchelor feature film, Animal Farm, the first feature-length animated entertainment film to be made in Britain. It also has the work of George Dunning, Bob Godfrey, Geoffrey Dunbar, Alison de Vere and others. “It sits well in the series and the public should enjoy it.”

Time of the Vampire – Yugoslavia.

That also goes for Yugoslavia, where the theme is ‘novel imagery’ and ‘a new pictorial art’. It includes the work of Dusan Vukotic, one of the leading pioneers of Zagreb, and a great variety of styles from the bizarre tales of Njkola Majdak to the almost surreal work of Zdenko Gasparovic in Satiemania. I asked Halas if Yugoslavia had a home market for animated films, since most of them seem to be made for the international market. “No! Oddly enough they have more of a home market in comic strips. Many of the artists in Yugoslavia have a kind of seesawing profession, when a film is finished and there is no other activity around they go back to comic strips, something they are also very good at. They can adapt their approach to be very popular with local readers of newspaper and magazine comic strips, while at the same time developing a film which has an international profile. That applies especially to Nedeljko Dragic, who made the film Passing Days and Diary.”

Szaffi – Hungary.

Halas was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1912 and moved to England in 1936. In spite of this background he found the programme on Hungary difficult to assemble. The Hungarians would not supply him with the films he had originally chosen because the film rights were already sold internationally. “I was obliged to make up a first class programme with second class films,” says Halas. “I did my very best to explain the series to them but it did not hold too much weight. However, on balance I gained on account of the fact I discovered a number of films made by excellent animators which have not been used before. The artist Csaba Varga, who made the film Augustus Makes Herself Beautiful, I discovered, had a film called Transition in Time which had been sitting on the shelf for years, and it fits in the Hungarian programme quite well. The films in this section are not excerpts, they are shown in full.”

Halas found the Italian programme a delight to work on because of the talent of the Italians. The theme consists of pictorial heritage, high spirited comedy, theatricality, colour and the use of music. “The talent of Luzzati, Gianini, or Manfredi, or Manuli, or Bozzetto, I don’t need to put across to you because these are wonderful people. I am very satisfied with this programme. As a matter of fact, today I received the very first reaction from New York. The president of Italtoons writes: ‘I received the cassette, programme number nine, Masters of Animation (that’s Italy). I think it is a very, very good programme and enjoyed it thoroughly.’ I find that very encouraging because a lot of people think that all you need to do is string together a number of excerpts. That is not the case. You search for the best characteristics, nationally and individually. You attempt to discover films which have not received too much public exposure and put them together in a way that will create an harmonious document – it is not easy.”

The theme of the French programme is the birth of animation, new applications and new styles. It covers the work of Paul Grimault, Alexander Alexeieff, Claire Parker, Peter Foldes and a new animator called Jean- Francois Laguionie who made the feature film Gwen. “It is very much underrated so it was pleasurable for me to choose a bit of Gwen and together with Laguionie, explain what he has tried to do. It reveals the values and content of his brilliant graphic style.”

Graphic arts also feature prominently in the programme about Poland, along with visual imagery and broader horizons for the medium. “The Poles search and experiment. One of the most brilliant animators, who is not entirely appreciated in the West, is Witold Giersz. His films The Horse and The Little Western are brilliant. He is a painter and fine artist who expanded his skills to include moving paintings. He makes his films under the rostrum camera, shooting as he goes along. He combines animation with his excellent talent as a painter. These combine very well and his films are fresh and full of life. The sound tracks go well with the imagery and I think everybody should have an opportunity to see and discover his work.”

Finally there are two programmes on computer animation. These are an up-to-date report on the state of the art. “Half-an-hour was not long enough to visualise what is going on around the world. So many people took part in it that I had to split computer animation into two parts. Part one shows how computer animation is achieved, it takes the viewer inside the studios of INA in Paris, and surveys the latest hardware. Part two deals with the latest achievements of experts in the medium from all over the world.”

There is a book being published to accompany the series, a glossy production, full of good colour stills from the films mentioned together with photographs of the animators. Each animator has a detailed biography covering one or two pages. John Halas knows everybody who is anybody in animation around the world, through his extensive travels on behalf of ASIFA, through his attendance at animation festivals, and as a result of his business interests. He draws on his extensive knowledge to present us with an informative and interesting insight into the Masters of Animation.

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Printed in Animator Issue 18 (Spring 1987)