In my last post I mentioned the Foo Foo series, which was an attempt by Halas & Batchelor to produce an animated series of television. 33 episodes were made for the ABC Television network that had the ITV weekend broadcast franchise for the North and the Midlands from 1956 to 1968. As television was black-and-white at that time, and used the 405-line system that carried less detail on the smaller screens of the time, the simple chinagraph outline drawings with minimal shading described in the last post were perfectly suitable for the medium.
However one episode of the series was produced in full colour with an aspiration of reaching the cinema screen - I should mention here that it is one of the films on the excellent Network Halas & Batchelor Short Film Collection DVD where it looks resplendent.
Take a look at this image from the opening set-up. There is already a level of detail that would have redundant and probably even confusing on a small monochrome screen. That close block of buildings in the middle of the background is a quite delightful moshing of arches, domes, towers and windows that mixes the medieval with the modernist. Part of this background behind the low wall, although only hinted at here, is a cruise ship that Foo Foo sneaks aboard as a stowaway.
Having hidden himself in a set of luggage, Foo Foo emerges in a cabin in which a feast is laid out. The camera pans up a static painting of the table laden with a cornucopia of culinary delights. The brushwork lines are free and full of life with colour highlights that bring depth to the image.
These are drawings done at speed with little reference but with consummate natural elegance. Can you tell I am jealous of such a skill?
If you are not convinced then check out this trio supping their soup elsewhere on the ship.All of the Foo Foo characters are pretty basic in their design with stringy arms, blocky bodies, and bunch of banana hands, but that does not deprive them of personality.
Not wanting to spoil the plot, such as it is, I will reveal that back on dry land Foo Foo becomes involved in a chase with the New York police who are armed and happy to shoot first and ask questions later. It is a fast paced sequence and the detailed backgrounds of the opening scenes is dropped in favour of an increasing minimalism to an almost abstract level.
Here we can see that Foo Foo is running across rooftops, with bits of coloured card variating the buildings on which the windows a sketched out. Here the loose details of the buildings are dropped for just the blocks of colour as Foo Foo pinwheels his legs in a spiral of yellow. And by here, even Foo Foo is dropped as blocks of coloured paper are switched in front of the camera as a bullet traces across and sometimes ricochets.
It is such a brave approach that makes a real virtue of the limited economics. One can only imagine the expression of the cameraman used to exquisitely detailed watercolour backgrounds and many layered cel set-ups when faced with four bits of hand-cut coloured paper, three blue one pink. The credit for this bravery, to me, can be credited to the influence of a man called Peter Sachs - a German animator who began his career with George Pal in Berlin and then Holland, before fleeing to Britain before WWII. He became the leading artistic voice and guru of the Larkins Studio, producing an extraordinarily diverse body of films there between 1945 and 1955.
Peter Sachs is worth a blog of his own, but I will write some more about him on this one in relation to his work with H&B.
However much of the look should also be credited to Tom Bailey, who was a designer on many Halas & Batchelor films - notably Automania 2000.