Art and Animation - A History of Halas & Batchelor - Part 5

This post continues Roger Manvell's history of Halas & Batchelor, written for the 40th anniversary of the studio and re-edited by Paul Wells for the book Halas & Batchelor Cartoons: An Animated History in 2012. Here are links to parts one, two, three and four. This part covers half of the sixties.

Into the 1960ies

Projects for further full-length animated films, including ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ (the latter already having been produced in feature-length puppet form by Trnka in Prague in 1959) were abandoned because of the pressure of other work, including sponsored public relations films for the Gas Council, BP, Esso, Philips, Seagram and Monsanto. Sponsorship also extended in entertainment, begun initially with support by ABC-TV for 33 cartoons, each of 6 minutes, involving a new cartoon character – Foo-Foo (1960), an indomitably cheerful, though utterly incompetent, bowler-hatted, slightly Chaplinesque caricature, graphically simplified almost to the point of being a Cohl-like matchstick figure, but capable of elastic stretching and contraction. Parallel to these, ABC sponsored six Habatales (1960) of 7 minutes each, equally stylised but somewhat more elaborately developed as individual stories, including the prize-winners, The Cultured Ape and The Insolent Matador. An animal character developed at the same time was Hamilton, the Musical Elephant (1961), distinguished because his instrumentation was provided in two films by Johnny Dankworth. In order to short-circuit work on this large number of films, the unit experimented successfully with a new technique of fluid animation, that is animating directly onto the cel with coloured chinagraphs, thus avoiding tracing and painting while at the same time retaining the original freshness of the key animators’ work.

Hamilton the Musical ElephantHamilton the Musical Elephant

More experimental in developing a new branch of animation, were the Snip and Snap series (1960), also sponsored by ABC-TV. On a lecture visit to Copenhagen, John Halas discovered a toy-maker, Thok, who was trying to animate little models in the form of paper-sculpture in brief strips of film. Thok was immediately invited to Britain to develop this work, and out of this came a series of paper-sculpture films featuring two characters – Snap, a perky, adventurous little dog, and Snarl, the perpetual villain who tries to thwart him. These figures, made from folded paper, were provided with a range of heads of differing expression, and their quick and lively movements were animated by stop-frame exposure on miniature sets about 2 metres square. So subtle and expressive were the best of these films that three of them won awards at international festivals.

The 1960s were indeed to be characterised by several very varied developments in the series film, both for entertainment and instruction. Apart from subjects in the American Barnaby series (1962), sponsored by the Westinghouse Broadcasting Corporation, and Joy Batchelor’s six-minute Classic Fairy Tales (1966) for Encyclopaedia Britannica, the main entertainment series were to include some of the most popular films to be produced by the studio – The Tales of Hoffnung (1964), directed primarily by John Halas and adapted from Gerard Hoffnung’s drawings, with music by Francis Chagrin. They were part-sponsored by BBC-TV.(7) One of these seven films, The Hoffnung Symphony Orchestra (director, Harold Whitaker) won four major international awards and diplomas, while Birds, Bees and Storks (featuring the voice of Peter Sellers as an unctuously embarrassed father explaining sex to an invisible son) received a British Film Academy nomination and a special accreditation at Oberhausen.

John Halas and Peter Sellers

One of the most successful entertainment films Halas and Batchelor have ever produced is the one-reel cartoon, animated by Harold Whitaker, Automania 2000 (1963). It was directed by John Halas and scripted by Joy Batchelor. This set out with fearful logic to show the growth of a barbaric civilisation based on a glut of self-perpetuating automobiles which eventually destroy mankind. This film was to win more awards than any other in the unit’s history. Another prize-winning satire was The Question (1967) with a storyboard by Stan Hayward, in which a highly stylised figure, representative of ‘ordinary’ Man with an enquiring mind, picks up a question mark and presents it in turn to a priest, a politician, an artist, a scientist, a financier, a psychologist, and an army commander – all in vain; only when he meets a woman do they put two question-marks together to form a heart. It was at this period that Jack King, who had been in charge of sound and effects since the early 1950s, came forward as a notable composer for animation, writing the music for these two films and numerous others in the 1960s and 1970s.

H&B at 75

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