Animating for Hartbeat

Dale Hemernway

By Dale Hemenway

The BBC programme ‘Hartbeat’ developed from a programme that began two decades ago called ‘Vision On’. I used to return home from school and switch on the TV to be fascinated, not only by Tony Hart’s unique approach to art, but also by the many different styles of animation shown. Of course, I now realise that this was due to the fact that much of the animation was produced by young, freelance or independent animators. This has the advantage of not only keeping costs to a minimum for the BBC but also gives airtime to animators whose work would not normally be seen. Several people who started by producing animation for the programme have advanced to larger more ambitious projects.

I started by sending a ‘show reel’ of my animation on VHS videotape to the programmes producers. This resulted in my being asked to develop ideas for animation for inclusion in Hartbeat.

I drew several storyboards for the themes presented to me, three of which were approved: Wrappers, All done with Mirrors and Holes. I found it amusing that the three accepted were those I had done fastest with the least amount of thought. Simplicity is the word, I think.


I completed Holes first although this was actually going to be the last broadcast. The reason for this was much of the animation for Holes had already been completed, several months earlier I animated a journey through a maze as an experiment and had only to elaborate on this. I animated it as if the viewer were travelling through a maze, turning down corridors to the left and right. The new animation consisted of a turn down a corridor with shaped entrances to passageways running down each wall. From these entrances I animated several ‘flying’ shapes. All animation was then traced onto cels and I spent a great deal of time deciding on the best technique of doing this most effectively and with the least amount of work. I thoroughly enjoy animating but I cannot say the same for painting cels. If criminals were made to paint a hundred cels a day, I doubt they would commit crime again.

The second animation I completed was All Done with Mirrors. This featured a clown-like character who is seen admiring himself in what the viewer believes to be a mirror, but which is revealed to be a photograph of a Sylvester Stallone look-alike (I can’t spell Arnold Schwarzenegger). I drew this directly onto paper with marker pens without the use of cels.


The third subject I tackled, Wrappers, was actually to be the first to be broadcast (I don’t always work backwards) and is my favourite. A character walks on screen and sees a large box. Attached to the box is a card stating “Do not open until Christmas”. The character checks no one is watching and attempts to open the box, which explodes covering him and the location with snow. To show it was a hot summer’s day, I designed the character wearing T-shirt and shorts and animated shadows throughout. Time was now running out so I enlisted the help of a friend, Kevan Goode, to design and paint backgrounds while I traced the animation onto cels. I used various coloured permanent Staedtler Lumocolour pens for the tracing except for the characters shadow. This was traced with a water soluble marker so that once the shadow had been painted the outline could be wiped away. Anyone within grabbing distance was made to paint cels.

I intended at the outset to film ‘line tests’ of all the animation on Super 8 film but, due to lack of time, only the character’s walk in Wrappers and the maze from Holes were line tested.

I completed exposure sheets and sent all artwork off to the BBC rostrum camera department for filming. Everything had been produced in such a short period of time that my main worry was not that the animation wouldn’t work, but that I may have made some error on the exposure sheets. Holes, for instance, went up to five cel levels at one point and I had nightmares about some object being obscured by a cel that should be below it

However, my nightmares were unfounded and when broadcast the animation appeared, more or less, as I imagined. Seeing characters I had created appear there on the television screen was a strange experience and one that made all the hard work seem worthwhile. I now look at the animation credits at the end of ‘Hartbeat’ and think “I wonder who they are, and which animation they produced?” Perhaps they will write into Animator and let us all know?

Dale Hemenway and Kevan Goode have recently formed their own animation studio and are at present working on a project for a midlands based company. They also intend to start work on several ideas of their own shortly.

Printed in Animator Issue 24 (Winter 1988)