This article is based on a workshop lecture given by Bob Godfrey at the Stuttgart Animation Festival. The session opened with a showing of a film from the Rhubarb series.
Rhubarb was drawn with magic markers on paper for economy and speed. We made about 30 in all. Today many, many more childrens’ films are being made and it has become a highly competitive business. In those days there weren’t so many people doing that kind of work. Over the past five years I have been making a childrens’ series called Henrys’ Cat.
In complete contrast we made several of what I would call sex tomes in collaboration with the writer Stan Hayward. Henry 9 to S was the first of five films made in that genre. I liked it because it enabled me to experiment with such things as photo montage. I appreciate ideas which enable me to work out my techniques.
Although I have produced a long film, Great, it was not feature length. The last ambition I have left is to make a feature length piece of animated entertainment. That is easier said than done. Apart from the fact that it costs a lot of money to make a feature length animated film, you have to have a subject that will stand up to an hour-and-a-half of animation. You have to keep the pot boiling and not many people have the knack — not since Walt Disney, anyway. He seemed to have the magic touch —and all the best stories. Since Disney, the amount of successful animated features can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Nevertheless, hope springs eternal and I might do it some day. I almost pulled it off with a feature I was going to do about the life of Jumbo, a big elephant who was in the London Zoo at the end of the last century. In a way, I am glad I never got the money together to do it because the public attitude and the way we treat animals has changed since then, but I would still like to make the film, adjusting my attitudes slightly. This poor elephant actually ended his life in Canada when it was run over by a train, a very surrealist situation. I am very fond of surrealism, I introduce a lot of it into my films.
My long film Great is a culmination of all my ideas about the Victorian age. I was rather obsessed with that period as a young man. I was obsessed by steel engravings and the whole idea of the Victorian age and that appears in many of my early films. Making that film really got it out of my system. It is about a Victorian engineer called Isambard Kingdom Brunel. I also like strange names. When I heard this man’s name I thought anyone called Isambard Kingdom Brunel must have to live up to a name like that! I read a book about him and discovered that he was a fascinating man called ‘the little giant’ because he was not very tall. He was one of the great Victorian artist engineers.
I began thinking about making him the subject of a film, although only half heartedly because I didn’t have the money. Then I made a cartoon called Kama Sutra Rides Again which went out with Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange, and made some money, so for a while the sun was shining out of my backside and I was bankable in Wardour Street terms. I was working with a really sharp producer who went to British Lion, and they actually gave me £20,000 to make Great. By the time it was completed it cost something like £40,000, which by today’s standards, is still nothing.
I decided to make it a musical because I like musicals, and I like dancing to music in films. I put in six songs and employed a very clever lyric writer. I engaged a mad musician – I have a very strange relationship with musicians – I don’t really get on with them very well. I don’t get on with writers either, come to that, and since I don’t get on with animators it’s never easy. Anyway, I assembled a team of animators, and this good musician, and this fine lyric writer, and we made the film Great. It took over four years because we kept running out of money. Animation is like knitting – you knit a bit and then you put it away, you do something else then you come back and pick it up again, so we managed to keep going. The way we did it was to give each animator their own piece of film. I do this rather a lot and I did it with Kama Sutra Rides Again. I give each animator a certain fantasy and let them work it out. If I liked what they animated it went into the film. If I didn’t like it, it was thrown out. It was really like sorting peas, this pea, that pea. It was put together very much like a patchwork quilt. The film is very episodic because directors and producers who come from making commercials are not used to making long films. We are used to shorts. So it looks rather like a lot of short films put together.
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