The Mighty Crank Handle

        Category: Blog Drawn animation | Article posted on: June 20, 2016

Guest post by Paul Thomas.

I sent a friend request to The Hare And The Moon, a psychedelic folk band I had discovered on MySpace. They replied with interest and an appreciation of my work. Band member Grey Malkin and I began corresponding. I had an ambitious book project. Its roots lay in a small collection of illustrations I made in 2002. A deluxe coffee table volume of unusual stories and illustrations. In 2012 I turned my back on this fantasy idea and approached Grey to be the soundtrack to a new short animation film subject, a autographical story taken from the abandoned book called ‘The Englishman Who Flew Too Much’. He agreed. I named us ‘The Mighty Crank Handle’. An avalanche of ideas followed producing to date fifteen short films. The films combine all of my artistic preferences. Dada. Creator. Animator. Illustrator. Writer. Background designer. Editor. Producer. Director. Poster and DVD cover designer. Influences from silent film and the enjoyment of working with musicians. I create a visual Expressionistic language. Line and texture are most important. They are less animated than my animations of the past for I value time for the eye to spent on individual images. Some are drawn in black ink on white as imperfect forms that populate an unlikely landscape. Characters, always in profile like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. The remainder vary in style and embrace all colours. The written word is also valuable. It is given the opportunity to be read as silent film style captions.

Poster for Tin Harlequin's Cascade of Dream

Poster for Tin Harlequin’s Cascade of Dream

They are peppered with symbolism and many references. Fellow artist David Skinner. The late Bridget Killeen. Marc Bolan. Bob Godfrey. Kate Bush. The Beatles. My alter ego Tin Harlequin. My joys, frustrations, beliefs, hopes and dreams. I had to reach the age of fifty in 2012 to realise and release all of this. It would be the first time the computer replaced all the machinery of my traditional film making. I sat with my laptop studio awaiting soundtracks sent in emails.

Within our canon of work are two official music videos of similar visual styles. Classic songs with new interpretations, ‘She Moves Through The Fair’ and ‘O Death’. ‘O Death’ features an opening sequence of imagery from my home town of Salisbury. ‘She Moves Through The Fair’ became part of a trilogy. Along with our most successful short ’Kraw Blackstraw’ and ’Purple Sky Shark’ Natural forces of the scarecrow, bride to be and shark are disturbed by unexpected forms. They recover but are never the same. These were themes darker than I had ever explored before.

On creating ‘Nowhere Darkly’ it seemed the perfect vehicle for a TV series pilot episode. I approached America and Canada for funding. Despite a phone call from and long conversation with a top Disney producer the idea is still seeking that elusive financial backing.

In November of 2015 I began to form a storyline of a Straw Man’s desire to be a man and a man’s idea he was Martian. I’ve NASA to thank for my current interest in the Red Planet. It stayed that way until the Christmas holiday period. The Dada within brought about the title and while watching ‘Carols from King’s’ on the BBC I discovered ‘Magnum Mysterium.’ While thinking about red, Mark Rothko’s paintings came to mind. Grey Malkin had imaginative ideas about the sounds of space. Scenes were becoming clearer. The script was taking shape too. Then David Bowie died. It seemed so right that a project about being someone else and Mars would conclude with his inspiration and I therefore decided to dedicate the film to his memory. As a scholar of my craft I returned to the origins of animation when an animator was a showman for ‘Puckish Delirium’ a film about a woman having visions. I animated in the streets of Totnes in Devon with small cut out characters against real life backgrounds. It too contains references to David Bowie. This is our ‘B’ movie to precede our feature ’Hobby Horse’. Linking the two is Grey’s vocal reciting a surreal text I had written.

Grey Malkin reignited my career. He gave me the confidence to really ‘let go’ and to a great extent bare my soul. “The way Paul and I work feels very intuitive, he initially sends me ideas, developing artwork and then finally a silent version of the completed film. This gives me time to get a sense for what might fit in terms of a soundtrack and the kind of mood or atmosphere that the imagery and text conjure up. Working on Paul’s films is a great pleasure, it feels like a very open creative process with plenty of room to experiment and develop upon ideas as they arise.”

We are like an island waiting to be discovered.