Monday, 16 January 2017

Looking back at 2016

2016 award winners: Shaun the Sheep Movie, Edmond and The Amazing World of Gumball.

2016 was a turbulent year for the United Kingdom, but how did British animation fare...?

At the Oscars, Richard Williams' Prologue was nominated for Best Animated Short Film while the Shaun the Sheep Movie was a contender for Best Animated Feature; they lost to the Chilean film Bear Story and Pixar's Inside Out respectively. At the Annies, the Shaun the Sheep Movie was nominated in the same category with the same result. Shaun was also recognised in the Outstanding Achievement in an Animated Feature Production categories for Directing, Writing, Production and Editorial, but lost in each instance.

At the BAFTAs, Nina Gantz's Edmond won in British Short Animation, the other contenders being Richard Williams' Prologue and Simon Cartwright's Manoman. As per a recurring theme, Shaun the Sheep was nominated for Best Animated Film but lost to Inside Out.

At Annecy, Stick Man won the Cristal for a TV Production, the Lili episode "Lili Loves Food" (a Danish/British co-production) won the Jury Award for a TV Series, and the Junior Jury Award for a Graduation Film went to Jac Clinch's The Alan Dimension.

The Ottawa festival had one British winner: The Shaun the Sheep episode "The Farmer's Llamas", which was named Award for Best Animated Series Made for Young Audiences.

At the London International Animation Festival, Johnno’s Dead, a UK/France co-production by Chris Shepherd, was named Best British Film; Elizabeth Hobbs' G-AAAH took the Judges' Vote in the third International Competition Programme; the eighth animation competition programme had two British winners for Audience Vote in Jennifer Zheng's Tough and Anna Ginsburg's Private Parts, which were tied with Swedish animator Jonas Odell's I Was A Winner; and Will Rose's Eagle Blue was, alongside the Hungarian short Hey Deer, a Judges' Vote winner in Framed Film Club - Amazing Animations.

Finally, the biennial British Animation Awards rolled around once more in 2016. Katie Lenton's Man Up won Best Student Film: Undergraduate, while Sarina Nihei's Small People with Hats took the gold in the Postgraduate category. The awards for Best Children's Series and Best Pre-School Series went to The Amazing World of Gumball: "The Shell" and Lily's Driftwood Bay: "Goodbye Seabird" respectively, wit the Gumball episode also winning Children's Choice. Tom Brown and Daniel Gray's Teeth was named Best Short Film, while the Shaun the Sheep movie perhaps inevitably won Best Long Form. Bixie Bush's Mend & Make Do and TwinTrash's BlueBarry were the Public Choice films. Awards were also handed out for music videos, commercials, film/TV graphics, commissioned animation, voice acting and sound.

Again, as always, the year witnessed the departures of some of the people who helped to make British animation.

Robert Balser, an American, made perhaps his highest-profile contribution to animation by working as animation director on Yellow Submarine. He also launched the Spanish studio Pegbar Productions, and worked on Heavy MetalThe Jackson FiveThe Lion, the Witch and the WardrobeThe Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show and others. Balser died on January 4, aged 88.

Rock legend David Bowie's best-loved acting role is surely in the 1986 film Labyrinth, where he performed alongside the ingenious puppets of Jim Henson. He also appeared in a live-action introduction used for the American release of The Snowman, in which he played a grown-up version of the short's animated lead. Bowie later lent his talents to another Raymond Briggs adaptation by providing the title theme to 1986's When the Wind Blows. He died on January 10, aged 69.

Alan Rickman, one of the finest English baddies to appear in Hollywood cinema, was also a talented voice actor: he can be heard in the 2011 Irish short The Boy in the Bubble, the English dub of the continental co-production Help! I'm a Fish, and episodes of the American series King of the Hill and Back at the Barnyard. Honourable mention should also go to his voice performance as Marvin the Paranoid Android depicted onscreen through puppetry) in the film version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. He died on January 14, aged 69.

As well as having one of the most recognisable voices on British radio, Terry Wogan narrated the 1988 cartoon series Stoppit and Tidyup. He died on January 31, aged 77.

The conjuring tricks of Paul Daniels delighted generations of children; in the latter half of the 1980s he branched out by co-creating the puppet series Wizbit, starring a magician's hat and a white rabbit. Paul Daniels died on March 17, aged 77.

Terry Brain was, with Charlie Mills, one half of the duo that created Trap Door, and which then teamed up with Steve box to bring us Stoppit and Tidyup. Brain then joined Aardman Animations, working on working on Chicken Run, Wallace & Gromit's Cracking Contraptions, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Creature Comforts America, Timmy Time, DC World's Funnest and both the TV and film incarnations of Shaun the Sheep. He died on March 25, aged 60.

A prominent comedian who began her career in the 1970s, Victoria Wood also acted as a narrator in the 1992 cartoon series Rosie & Ruff in Puppydog Tales. She died on April 20, aged 62.

Caroline Aherne was a comedian who performed in Mrs Merton, The Fast Show and The Royale Family. In the animation world, Aherne voiced Stephanie in Strange Hill High. She died on July 2, aged 52.

Kenny Baker left an indelible mark on the history of puppetry by performing R2-D2 in the Star Wars series; he also lent his voice to the 1999 animated feature The King and I. He died on August 13, aged 81.

Jean Alexander was best known for her long-running roles in Coronation Street and Last of the Summer Wine, but she also voiced none other than Mrs. Santa in the 1999 special Robbie the Reindeer: Hooves of Fire. She died on October 14, aged 90.

Destined to be remembered forever as the put-upon Manuel in Fawlty Towers, Andrew Sachs also performed as a voice actor in the stop-motion series The Gingerbread Man, The Forgotten Toys, William's Wish Wellingtons (which he narrated), the English dubs of Asterix and the Big Fight and Ja Svankmajer's Faust, and the illustrated Doctor Who serial Shada. He died on November 23, aged 86.

Novelist Richard Adams provided the source material for one of the classics of British animation when he wrote his 1972 novel Watership Down. His later novel, The Plague Dogs, was also made into an animated film. He died on December 24, and 96.

Liz Smith was a prolific actress who appeared in a wide range of films and television series; her roles include performing as a voice actor in Crapston Villas, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Animated Tales of the World and Joanna Quinn's film The Wife of Bath's Tale. She died on December 24, aged 95.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Looking back at 2015

I'll have to admit, my annual overviews have been getting later and later. I'll try and be stricter when I come to write about the animation happenings of 2016. But once again, better later then never - so here is a round-up of what went on in the British animation scene during 2015...

The year saw the release of Aardman's sixth full-length feature: Shaun the Sheep Movie. It was warmly received by critics, earning 99% at Rotten Tomatoes, and yet somehow failed to grab popular attention in the same way as earlier stop-motion features from the studio. Possibly Shaun the Sheep's reputation as being aimed squarely at the younger set led audiences to conflate the film with the various direct-to-DVD features based on various pre-school series (such as Thomas & Friends: Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure, another release from 2015).

Trailers, by susan pui san lok.

Animate Projects continued to do a valiant job of championing experimental animation, even in the face of Arts Council cuts. 2015 saw the creation of susan pui san lok's RoCH Fans & Legends series and Noriko Okaku's The Interpreter.

A 2012 episode of the CBBC series OOglies, about stop-motion food, became an unlikely subject of controversy in 2015 due to some comical violence - in particular, a boiled egg being "scalped" by a slice of toast. "Kids could think extreme violence like beheading is normal", complained one mother from Tooting. The scene in question was clearly meant as a send-up of martial arts and samurai films, but this did not stop the Daily Mail (a paper known for advocating violence in comics) from going with the more provocative headline of "Mother's fury after CBBC cartoon OOglies shows toast soldier staging an ISIS-style beheading of a boiled egg".

On an unhappy note, the Bradford Animation Festival - the UK's biggest animation festival - did not take place in 2015 and its future is still uncertain. Early reports suggested that the 2015 edition of the festival would go ahead despite the cancellation of the Bradford International Film Festival, but alas, this turned out to be incorrect.

Award winners of the year: Daisy Jacobs' The Bigger Picture, Marcus Armitage's My Dad, Nina Gantz' Edmond

The Oscars had just the one British animated contender this year: Daisy Jacobs' The Bigger Picture, which lost to the Disney short Feast. The Annies had two UK nominees: Aardman's Flight of the Stories won Best Animated TV/Broadcast Commercial, while Zack & Quack, an Israeli-British-South Korean co-production, was in the running for Best General Audience Animated TV/Broadcast Production For Preschool Children

Meanwhile, at the BAFTAs the part-animated Paddington was nominated the Outstanding British Film but lost to The Theory of Everything, while The Bigger Picture won British Short Animation ahead of Ainslie Henderson and Will Anderson's Monkey Love Experiments and

Annecy had a few British winners. Yves Geleyn's NSPCC spot "Lucy and the Boy" won the Jury Award in TV and Commissioned Films. My Dad took the Cristal for Graduation Film, while Nina Gantz' Edmond took the Jury Award in the same category along with the CANAL+ Creative Aid Award for a Short Film. The Fipresci Award went to the British-American-Hungarian co-production Teeth.

At Ottawa, the Grand Prize for Best Independent Short Animation and the Award for Best Sound went to Sarina Nihei's Small People With Hats; Paul Bush's The Five Minute Museum won the Prize for Best Experimental/Abstract Animation; and the Walt Disney Animation Prize for Best Graduation Animation and the Award for Best Design each went to Loop Ring Chop Drink by Nicolas Ménard

At the London International Animation Festival, Phil Mulloy's Endgame won the best British Film Award; Mr Madila or the Colour of Nothing by Rory Waudby-Tolley won the Audience Vote in the same category; the Best Sound Design Award went to The Five Minute Museum by Andy Cowton and by Paul Bush; and the audience vote for Best Abstract Film went to Once Canada Square by Simon Ball. In the International Programmes, Nina Gantz' Edmond won an audience vote.

As always, 2015 saw the British animation scene lose some of the people who had contributed to it in the past.

A comic performer whose career began in the 1960s, Lance Percival's work in animation includes voicing Paul and Ringo in the Beatles cartoon series before going on to play Old Fred, the captain of the Yellow Submarine; he also voiced the seahorse Terence in The Water Babies. He passed away on 6 January, aged 81.

Barrie Ingham's career as an actor took him from Britain to America; it is fitting, then, that he made his mark on animation with a decidedly transatlantic role: he voiced the title character of Disney's Sherlock Holmes pastiche The Great Mouse Detective. He passed away on 23 January, aged 82.

Best known for portraying Agatha Christie's immortal Miss Marple, Geraldine McEwan had a sideline voicing characters for Aardman. She played the Aunt in the 1993 short Not Without My Handbag and Miss Thripp in Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death; she also voiced Haru in the British dub of Ghibli's The Secret World of Arrietty. She passed away on 30 January, aged 82.

Jeff Hale was one of the founders of the pioneering independent animation outfit Biographic Films in 1955. The following year he moved to Canada; later on he migrated to the USA. While in North America he worked on Sesame Street, the Lenny Bruce short Thank You Mask Man and Heavy Metal, amongst others. He passed away in late February, aged 92.

David Anderson was the experimental animator behind Dreamland Express, Dreamless Sleep, In the Time of Angels and Tongue of the Hidden. He also collaborated with author Russell Hoban to create the Deadtime Stories for Big Folk series, comprising the two shorts "Deadsy" and "Door".

Christopher Lee was an actor who will need little introduction, making his name in multiple classic horror films before becoming an icon to a whole new generation thanks to his villainous roles in the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings series. Less well-known are his multiple contributions to animation: his sonorous tones can be heard in The Last Unicorn, Nutcracker Fantasy, Raul Garcia's The Fall of the House of Usher, Bevanfield's Beauty and the Beast, Clone WarsCorpse Bride and Cosgrove Hall's Discworld adaptations (in which, naturally, he voiced Death). He passed away on 7 June, aged 93.

Ron Moody will be forever remembered as Fagin in Oliver! but when it comes to his vast career, this character was just the tip of the iceberg. As far as animation is concerned, he can be heard in The Telebugs, Noah's Island and The Animals of Farthing Wood, in addition to voicing the crooked soothsayer Prolix in the English dub of Asterix and the Big Fight (IMDB incorrectly claims that he voiced the same character in Asterix the Gaul). He passed away on 11 June, aged 91.

Roger Rees had a career as an actor in his native Britain before moving the America, where he worked in the likes of The West Wing. He entered the Aardman pantheon by voicing a caricatured version of Peter Haul in Barry Purves' 1990 short Next; after heading Stateside, he lent his talents to P.J. Sparkles, The Legend of Prince Valliant, Mighty Max, Gargoyles, Phantom 2040, Extreme Ghostbusters, Return to Never Land and The Cleveland Show. He passed away on 10 July, aged 71.

George Cole had a long varied career that encompassed thrillers, sitcoms, Hammer horror, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color and - most relevant to this blog - voicing Vernon in the 1988 cartoon series Tube Mice. He passed away on 5 August, aged 90.

Susan Sheridan was a prolific voice actress whose credits in British animation include The Family-Ness, the educational Muzzy series, Noddy's Toyland Adventures (as the title character), The Beano All-Stars (in which she voiced Dennis the Menace, amongst others), Preston Pig, Animated Tales of the World and more. She also voiced heroine Eilonwy in Disney's The Black Cauldron and acted in a number of anime dubs. She passed away on 8 August, aged 68.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Looking back at 2014

Better late than never. By now most people will have moved on from their "2014 in review" lists and started looking on towards the next year. Oh well...

In the world of British animation, the highest-profile release this year was a primarily live-action film: Paddington. Although initially treated with scepticism (the first stills inspired a "creepy Paddington" meme) the finished film was given a glowing 98% at Rotten Tomatoes. London-based Framestore was tasked with looking after the bear.

Another character familiar from 1980s stop motion fit the big screen this year. Postman Pat: The Movie saw a CGI version of the character competing on a talent show and facing off against an army of evil robot postmen. Pat possibly wasn't feeling a really happy man after the film's decidedly lukewarm reviews.

Both Paddington and Pat were amongst the characters honoured this year by the Royal Mail's Classic Children's TV stamp set. The Royal Mail also produced a Great British Film set which, commendably, honoured two animated films made for the GPO in the thirties: Len Lye's A Colour Box and Norman McLaren's Love on the Wing.

The most bizarre homage to classic UK animation this year occurred not on the big screen or in stamp collections, but as part of a political debate on Twitter. One of UKIP's MEPs was outraged to find a Twitter account purporting to be the official mouthpiece of UKIP Trumpton, and called for his followers to report this fraudulent account. It should go without saying that this was not a genuine Twitter account, as Trumpton is an entirely fictional town from the stop-motion Gordon Murray series of the same name. Mike Dicks was responsible for creating the spoof account, which also spread onto Facebook somewhere down the line.

BAA winners: Room on the Broom, Model Britain, The Lion

The British Animation Awards came once again in 2014.  Jan Lauchauer's Room on the Broom was named best Long Form work; Antonio J Busto Algarin's The Day I Kiled My Best Friend was named Best Student Film, with Ainslie Henderson's I Am Tom Moody receiving the honour for Student Excellence; the The Amazing World of Gumball episode "The Apology" won the prize for Best Children's Series and Children's Choice; the Baby Jake episode "Popping Peas" won Best Mixed Media Children’s Series; and Best Pre School Series went to the Pepper Pig episode "A Bull in a China Shop".

Neil Kidney & Morgan Powell's RSPB advert Vote for Nature won Best Commissioned Animation; Shay Hamias & Will Barras's Mindfull won the Best 2D Commercial award, while Daniel Kleinman's TalkTalk ad Model Britain was named Best 3D Commercial (and was tied with the WWF advert We Don't Farm Like This for the Public Choice award for Favourite Commercial); Andrew Thomas Huang's video for Atoms for Peace's "Before Your Very Eyes" was named Best Music Video; Best Film/TV Graphics went to Pete Candeland's BBC Olympics animation Stadium UK; Max Lang & Morwenna Banks of Ben & Holly's Little Kingdom won the award for Best Voice Performance; and Oliver Harrison's Apocalypse Rhyme won the prize for Best Motion Graphics.

Public Choice Award for Favourite Short Film had two joint winners: Ant Blades' Carpark and Gervais Merryweather's Buy Buy Baby, while the Public Choice Favourite Music Video was Peter Banyton's promo for "The Lion" by Benjamin Scheuer.

Other award winners of the year: Sleeping with the Fishes, Marilyn Miller, Moving On

Room on the Broom was nominated for Best Animated Short at the Oscars and Best Animated Special Production at the Annies, and was the only British animated film to be honoured at either event this year.

At the BAFTAs, the award for best British short animation went to Sleeping With The Fishes by Yousif Al-Khalifa, James Walker, and Sarah Woolner; the other nominees being I Am Tom Moody by Ainslie Henderson and Everything I Can See From Here by Bjorn-Erik Aschim, Sam Taylor, and Friederike Nicolaus. The mostly-animated Gravity also won big on the night: it earned the BAFTA awards for best British film, best director (Alfonso Cuarón), best cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki), best sound (Glenn Freemantle, Skip Lievsay, Christopher Benstead, Niv Adiri and Chris Munro), best original music (Steven Price) and best special visual effects (Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk, Neil Corbould and Nikki Penny).

In the BAFTA children's awards, Shaun the Sheep won Best Animation ahead of The Amazing World of Gumball, Dennis the Menace & Gnasher and Strange Hill High; Sarah & Duck beat out Bing, Dinopaws and Postman Pat and the Rubber Duck Race for Pre-School Animation. The Special Award was handed to Peter Firmin, co-creator of Bagpuss, Noggin the Nog and all those other classics.

Two British films where honoured at the Annecy Animation Festival this year. The Cristal for a Graduation Film went to The Bigger Picture by Daisy Jacobs of the NFTS, while The Age of Curious by Luca Toth received the Jury Distinction in the Graduation Films category.

At the Ottawa International Animation Festival, Mikey Please's Marilyn Miller was named Best Narrative Short Animation, while Alex Grigg's Phantom Limb earned the Honorable Mention in the same category. The Walt Disney Award for Best Graduation Animation went to Rim Divall's Things Don't Fit, while Nicolas Ménard's Somewhere was amongst the Honourable Mentions. Finally, Ainslie Henderson's video for "Moving On" by James was the Honorable Mention in the music video category.

At the Bradford Animation Festival, Through the Hawthorn by Anna Benner, Pia Borg and Gemma Burditt was deemed Best Professional Film; Joseph Pelling and Becky Sloane's Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared II: Time was given a Special Mention for Best Short Short; Daisy Jacobs' The Bigger Picture took Best Student Film; Ainslie Henderson's "Moving On" got a Special Mention for Best Music Video; Max Hattler's Amnesty International film Stop the Show was named Best Commissioned Film, with Conor Finnegan's Dorset Cereal advert Life Begins and Breakfast getting the Special Mention in this category; and Loius McLeod's I Have Trouble Concentrating received the Special Mention for Best Film by Young Animators.

Meanwhile, at the London International Animation Festival, My Dad by Marcus Armitage was named Best British Film; Somewhere by Nicolas Menard was one of the pieces to win the Judges' Vote in the International Programme; and The Key by Kim Noce & Shaun Clark and Marilyn Myller by Mikey Please were amongst the films to win the audience vote.

As always, I shall close my overview my saying goodbye to the people involved with British animation who passed away this year.

Jimmy T. Murakami was one of animation's great globetrotters. Born in the United States, Murakami's career took him across Japan, Britain, Italy, France, the Netherlands and Ireland. While working in the UK he directed the BAFTA-winning short Insects and the Raymond Briggs adaptation When the Wind Blows, as well as working on The Snowman and Heavy Metal. He died on February 16, aged 80.

Anthony Marriott was a writer whose best known work was the play No Sex Please: We're British, which he co-wrote with Alistair Foot and helped to adapt for the big screen; it is one of those works with a title that shall live on forever. His other works include several episodes of the Gerry Anderson puppet series Fireball XL5. He died on April 17, aged 83.

Whether he was playing a Cockney or a New Yorker, Bob Hoskins was a familiar face on our screens for many years. His involvement with British animation involve voicing Teddy in The Forgotten Toys, starring alongside Richard Williams-animated characters in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and performing in the live action Super Mario Bros. film (directed by animators Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton). He died on April 29, aged 71.

Rik Mayall will forever be remembered for larger-than-life roles in The Young Ones and Bottom that made him seem like a character even while appearing in live action. He was no stranger to animation, however: his vocie credits include Prince Froglip in The Princess and the Goblin, Tom Thumb in The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends, the Robber King in Martin Gates' The Snow Queen, Mr Toad in TVC's The Wind in The Willows and The Willows in Winter, the animals in Tom and Vicky, Kehaar in the Watership Down television series, Gerard the Gormless in the English dub of A Monkey's Tale, the narrator in Jellikins, Edwin the Eagle in Shoebox Zoo, Cufflingk in Valiant, the title character in King Arthur's Disasters, the Dwarfs in the English version of Snow White: The Sequel and President Pinky in The Itch of the Golden Nit; he even guest starred in in episode of Spongebob Squarepants. He died on June 9, aged 56.

As well as acting in a wide range of live-action TV series such as The Sandbaggers, Ray Lonnen was an established voiceover artist who lent his talents to commercials, audiobooks and animation. He played the character of Smokey Controller in Budgie the Little Helicopter and provided voices in the English dubs of several anime productions of the nineties: Wicked City, GoShogun: The Time Étranger, The Heroic Legend of Arislan and Seiden RG Veda. He passed away on July 11, aged 74.

Born in India, Lyndam Gregory appeared in a steady stream of British TV series from 1979 onwards. His contribution to animation came when he provided voices for "Podna and Podni: A Story from Pakistan", an episode of the internationally-produced Animated Tales of the World. He died on Augus 21, aged 59.

A national treasure for his many varied contributions to British cinema as actor, director and patron, Richard Attenborough needs little introduction. In terms of animation he voiced the grandfather in the stop-motion series Tom & Vicky, and also provided voice work in the video games Trespasser and The Lost World: Jurassic Park - Chaos Island.  He died on August 24, aged 90.

Warren Clarke had roles in many live action productions over the years, Dalziel and Pascoe and A Clockwork Orange being the best known. In this decade he became known to a much younger generation of viewers by voicing the character of Speedy McAllister in Chuggington; he also had a voice role in Peter Baynton's 2010 short Save Our Bacon. He died on November 12, aged 67.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Thalma Goldman-Cohen to become subject of book

I first came across the animation of Thalma Goldman-Cohen while researching for this post, but I still know very little about her. I know that she made a few shorts in the seventies entitled Green Man Yellow Woman, Amateur Night, Night Call and Stanley, the last of which is available online here, but beyond that I found out very little.

So I am pleased to announce that a book about her life and work is underway. Edited by her personal friends Richard Hallam and Sylvie Venet-Tupy, Thalma: An Artist's Life will hopefully bring more attention to this oft-neglected animator.

If you want to help the project to get off the ground, please pay a visit to the book's Sponsume page where you can make a donation towards printing costs.

From the page:

Thalma produced her award-winning animation films in the 1970s and 80s and showed them in festivals at Annecy, Melbourne, Cambridge, Berlin, Ottawa, and Lucca. Her film Stanley (1979) was described as “Just about the most erotic thing I have seen on  television” (Sunday Times, 17 February 1980) but the Monthly Film Bulletin (1977, 44, no 513) described Amateur Night (1975), an earlier film, as ‘misogynistic’ and ‘sadly devoid of both grace and charm’. Look at the first clip on our video and decide for yourself. Some films were featured on Channel Four television, which was actively promoting animated films at the time.

Thalma came to London in the late 1960s and studied at St Martin’s School of Art and the London Film School. Animation was then a cottage industry despite some notable successes such as Yellow Submarine. Animators had to draw and colour each cel separately, each one an artwork in itself. Thalma became friendly with outstanding exponents of the medium such as Bob Godfrey, Alison de Vere and Bill Sewell. Her work evokes admiration and shock in equal measure.

Thalma has continued to draw and paint in a style that is unmistakably her own. Her subjects are often the friends she knows or the people she meets in her local area of North London, in pubs and betting shops. It is time for her work to be celebrated and this high quality full colour retrospective of her work aims to give her the full credit it deserves. Her long-standing friends will be editing the book – Richard and Sylvie. The book will draw upon the reminiscences and insights of Thalma’s collaborators, who were part of this exciting period of experimentation in the arts.

We are using a specialist arts printer to produce a full colour, illustrated book with at least 40 images of some of her original cels and examples of recent paintings and drawings. The more money we collect, the more images we can reproduce. There will be commentary from many of her collaborators and from others who know her work well. Tributes of this kind are not commercial undertakings but we aim to cover the costs of production. We hope that it will enable Thalma’s art to be more widely and deservedly known.

If you are unable to donate money (see opposite) you can still help us out by spreading the word: please tell your friends, email or tweet the link to Sponsume to anyone who might be interested.

Thanks. Richard and Sylvie

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Joy Batchelor event at the Barbican

The Barbican is set to host an event celebrating the life of Joy Batchelor on 12 April. From the event's official webpage:

Joy Batchelor was one of the pioneering creative and commercial forces in UK animation with her output of witty public service short films after the second world war, as well as the BAFTA nominated Animal Farm adapted from the novel by George Orwell

This event, celebrating the centenary of her birth, looks at Joy’s life as both a professional co-running a creative studio and her role as a mother.

Followed by a ScreenTalk with animation programmer and author, Clare Kitson, BFI Curator Jez Stewart and Batchelor’s daughter, Vivien Halas, chaired by film critic, Brian Sibley.
Event and films curated by Vivian Halas and guests.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Wrapping it up, and moving on...

Well, after running this blog since 2009 and trying to keep up a quota of posts for each month, I think it's time to wind things down. I still hope to update it now and again if I come up with anything relevant - maybe the occasional interview, and an annual year-in-review post like that one below - but beyond that, I'm off to pastures new.

After more than four years of focusing on British animation, I decided to get cracking on a different geographical area. I mulled over the candidates - so much of the world's animation is completely undocumented in the Anglosphere - and eventually decided on the Middle East, a cluster of countries whose animation histories are ripe for exploration.

I currently know next to nothing about animation from any Middle Eastern country, let alone the entire region, so I'm looking forward to seeing exactly what I will uncover in running the blog. If you're curious, you can take a look for yourself.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Looking back at 2013

Amanda Nevill, Oli Hyatt and Ed Vaizey at the BFI Animation Day.

Another year done - we seem to be getting through this decade like nobody's business. In terms of British animation, the highlight of the year for many of us will have been the BFI's Animation Day, on which it was announced that 16 new animated projects were certified by the BFI and would take advantage of new tax reliefs. One of the most intriguing series on offer was a revival of The Clangers, to be headed by Peter Firmin and Daniel Postgate, the son of original writer Oliver Postgate.

Sarah & Duck, Strange Hill High and Mouse and Mole at Christmas Time.

In the field of children's television, one of the highlights of the year was Karrot Entertainment's charming Sarah & Duck, which I had the pleasure of reviewing for Cartoon Brew. Slightly older kids, meanwhile, were catered to by Strange Hill High, a British series written by Simpsons and Futurama scribe Josh Weinstein (who, somewhat unexpectedly, revealed himself to be a fan of Postman Pat); the series was animated at Manchester's Factory Transmedia.

Mouse and Mole, the series of ten-minute shorts based on the children's books by Joyce Dunbar and James Mahew, were the subject of a 28-minute special entitled Mouse and Mole at Christmas Time. Meanwhile, CITV continued to adapt stories submitted by children with the Share a Story series, outlined at length by Skwigly.

On the feature film front, 2013 saw the national release of A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman, a film that was shown at festivals late last year; it received mixed reviews.

Saving Santa, Walking with Dinosaurs and Moshi Monsters.

Beyond this, as far as Britain was concerned 2013 was very much a year for animated features targeted at the younger set. In November came Saving Santa, a US/UK film that had a limited cinema release as well as going to DVD and Blu-Ray. It features the voices of actors such as Martin Freeman, Noel Clark and Tim Curry (Curry plays a character called Neville Baddington, which sums up much of his career as a voice actor).

Earlier this month the 1999 BBC documentary series Walking with Dinosaurs was adapted into a feature film called Walking with Dinosaurs 3D; another US/UK co-production, the film combines live action backdrops with CGI creatures - the latter coming courtesy of Australia's Animal Logic (Happy Feet, Legend of the Guardians). Finally, there was Moshi Monsters: The Movie, directed by Wip Vernooij and Morgan Francis and based on the online game. According to IMDB it was animated at Spider Eye Productions, the studio that previously brought us the edutainment series Jungle Junction.

Unusually, there appears to have been only one direct-to-DVD film based on a popular kids' series this year: King of the Railway, starring Thomas the Tank Engine.

Gergely Wootsch's The Hungry Corpse, Elizabeth Hobbs' Imperial Provisor Frombald (part of Secret Monsters and Random Acts) and Kim Taylor's Smack Bear.

2013 saw a number of acclaimed animated shorts, from Gergely Wootsch's The Hungry Corpse to Rok Predin's The Chase (even Banksy got in on the act). Perhaps a special distinction should be given to Kim Taylor's Instant tentacles with this one weird trick!, which managed to use - of all things - annoying Internet adverts as a source of creativity.

This year's shorts were given a boost from two overlapping sources. Animate Projects commissioned a series of films under the theme of Secret Monsters, while Channel 4 continued its Random Acts strand.

As an aside, in last year's overview I came down rather harshly on David Blandy's short Anjin 1600, which consisted almost entirely of footage lifted from two uncredited anime films. I think that pop artists should be allowed leeway in using copyrighted work - Andy Warhol's usage of a Marilyn Monroe photograph being a famous example - but in that case I think Blandy went over the line. In the interests of goodwill, then, I should mention that his second Anjin 1600 short (sardonically titled Anjin 1600: Episode 4) is a marked improvement. Framed as a documentary, with Blandy narrating his views on Western impressions of Japanese culture, it combines original animation with a few restrained clips of pre-existing anime footage.

Music videos: Easy, G.O.D. and Winter Trees.

Amongst the music videos of distinction this year were Cyriak's promo for Bonobo's "Cirrus", showing another of his hypnotic motion collages; Louis & McCourt's video for Mat Zo and Porter Robinson's "Easy", which draws on anime imagery; Persistent Peril's video for The Leisure Society's "Fight for Everyone", a minimalist piece; Tom Jobbins' visualisation of "We Can Be Ghosts Now" by Hiatus, which transfers a similar aesthetic to stop motion; Tom Bunker and Nicos Livesey's video for "G.O.D." by Binary, am homage to early vector graphics; and finally Aardman's video for the Staves' "Winter Trees", a blending of CGI and 2D animation with a fetching wood-derived aesthetic.

Looking over these videos, it is remarkable how many deal with characters escaping from mechanised urban environments...

Amongst this year's award winners were Room on the Broom, I'll Take it from Here - Because I'm a Girl (a pixilated promotional film shot in Malawi) and I Am Tom Moody.

On to the awards...

At the BAFTAs, the Short Animation category - dominated by British work for some time - showed a definite Irish influence this year. The nominees were I’m Fine Thanks, made by Irish animator Eamonn O'Neill at the Royal College of Art; Here to Fall, a UK/Ireland co-production by Kris Kelly and Evelyn McGrath; and the winner, the all-conquering Making of Longbird by Will Anderson, and Ainslie Henderson. Meanwhile, the London-animated Frankenweenie was nominated for the Animated Film award, but lost to Brave; and James Bobin was nominated for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer for his work on The Muppets.

At the BAFTA Children's Awards, Room on the Broom beat out The Amazing World of Gumball, Strange Hill High and The Snowman and the Snowdog in the Animation category; Timmy Time won Pre-School Animation, ahead of Octonauts, Peppa Pig and Sarah & Duck; and Share A Story took the gold for Short Form. Gumball was also nominated in the Television category, but lost to Jessie, while its script team won in the Writing category (the crew behind Peppa Pig being amongst the runners-up).

British animation did not win a single award at the Ottawa festival this year, but it took a few prizes at Annecy. Room on the Broom took the Cristal for Best TV Production, Benjamin Scheuer "The Lion" took the Special Jury Award in TV/Commissioned Films, I Am Tom Moody won the Special Jury Award in Graduation Films and Shona Hamilton, Mary Matheson and Raj Yagnik's I'll Take it from Here - Because I'm a Girl earned the UNICEF award.

Over at the Bradford Animation Festival, the UK-based German animator Christian Schlaeffer won Best Student Film with his Royal College of Art short The Dewberry Empire, and Room on the Broom was named Best Film for Children. Mikey Please's Marilyn Miller received a special mention in the Professional Film category, while Raj Yagnik, Shona Hamilton and Mary Matheson's I'll Take it from Here - Because I'm a Girl was the special mention in Commercials. Finally, the pupils of Bricknell Primary School won the award for Best Film by Young Animators with their short My Bicknell, with Jane Hubbard's Methyr Views received the special mention in the same category.

The 2013 London International Animation Festival had only two UK winners amongst a rich international showing, both of them in the Best British Film category: In the Air is Christopher Gray by Feliz Massie and Sleeping with the Fishes by Yousif Al-Khalifa, the latter winning the audience vote.

As for the Annies in February, the only British nominee to win was the Best Student Film: Timothy Reckart's Head Over Heels, which was nominated alongside Ainslie Henderson's I am Tom Moody.

Beyond this, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists was the most honoured British production. It was nominated for Best Animated Feature (alongside Frankenweenie); individual crew members who received nominations for their work on the film were Will Becher, for Character Animation in a Feature Production; Norman Garwood and Matt Berry for Production Design in an Animated Feature Production; Queen Victoria's voice actress Imelda Staunton for Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production; author Gideon Defoe for Writing in an Animated Feature Production

Meanwhile, the Chuggington episode "Magnetikc Wilson" was nominated for Best General Audience Animated TV Production For Preschool Children; The Amazing World of Gumball's episode "The Job" received a nod for Best Animated Television Production For Children. Finally, two animators known for their work in the UK - Oscar Grillo and Terry Gilliam - earned the Winsor McCay award.

Once again, we must say goodbye to the members of the British animation community who left us this year.

Richard Briers was an actor whose career stretched back to the 1950s; along the way he appeared in series such as Dixon of Dock Green, Jackanory, The Good Life and Doctor Who. His roles as voice actor in animation include Fiver in Watership Down, the title character in Alias the Jester, Rat in Martin Gates' Wind in the Willows cartoons, Captain Broom in the Watership Down TV series, Bob the Builder's father Robert, Reggie the Landrover in Sir Billi the Vet, Mouse in Mouse and Mole at Christmas Time and, in his most illustrious contribution to the medium, all of the voices in Roobarb and its latter-day revival. He passed away on 17 February, aged 79.

Bob Godfrey was born in Australia but lived in Britain since his early childhood. After working for the commercial studios GB-Animation and Larkins, Godfrey began a long and fruitful career as an independent animator in 1952/ He helped to start up the Biographic group and later founded Bob Godfrey Films; during this time he carved out a niche in British animation with hilarious and ribald shorts such Henry 9 'til 5, Kama Sutra Rides Again and Great. As well as entertaining adults, he lent his talents to series for children including Roobarb and Henry's Cat. He passed away on 21 February, aged 91.

Richard Griffiths played many memorable roles during his career as a character actor - the strange uncles in Withnail and I and the Harry Potter series being amongst his best-known credits - and also lent his talents to animation. His work as a voice actor can be heard in The Adventures of Peter Rabbit and Friends, Funny Bones, Archibald the Koala, The Canterbury Tales and the puppet film Jackboots on Whitehall. He passed away on 28 March, aged 65.

Born in the United States, Ray Harryhausen worked on a series of stop-motion fairy tale films before becoming one of the key names in the history of special effects animation: his delicately crafted fantasy creatures were the true stars of films such as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, 20 Million Miles to Earth and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. After moving to England in 1960, he contributed his talents to a string of British or part-British productions: Jason and the Argonauts, First Men in the Moon, One Million Years B.C., The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger and Clash of the Titans. He passed away on 7 May, aged 92.

Paul Shane was an actor associated closely with the character of Ted Bovis in the live action sitcom Hi-de-Hi!; amongst his lesser-known roles were the Teds, two bumbling bears from the stop motion series Hilltop Hospital. He passed away on 16 May, aged 72..

John Wilson was an animator who worked at GB-Animation in the forties. In the following decade, he moved to America and worked at UPA and Disney before setting up his own studio, Fine Arts Films; his directorial credits from this period involve the feature film Shinbone Alley and the opening sequence to Grease. Later in his career, he made a return to Britain. He passed away on 21 June, aged 93.

Mel Smith worked in live action comedy as a writer and director, but was best known for his work as a performer. particularly in a popular double act with Griff Rhys Jones; he also entered the world of animation by voicing the title character in TVC's 1991 adaptation of Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas. He passed away on 19 July, aged 60.

Felix Dexter was born in Saint Kitts and moved to Britain in 1968. Appearing as a comedian on television since the nineties, his credits include The Real McCoy, The Fast Show and, more recently, Citizen Khan. as a voice actor, he played Francis in Crapston Villas and multiple characters in the puppet series Mongrels. He passed away on 18 October, aged 52.

Richard Taylor began his career at the W.M. Larkin Studio, becoming the studio’s director of production later its executive director. At Larkins, Taylor directed heavily stylized industrial films such as Earth is a Battlefield (1957) and inventive theatrical commercials including Put Una Money for There, made for Barclays Bank branches in Africa. His main legacy lies in the dozens of public information films and educational shorts that he made from the Fifties to the Eighties, such as the Charley series. Taylor had the natural ability to work in a range of styles, ensuring that his films remained entertaining while imparting their messages within limited budgets. He passed away in December, aged 84.

Early in his career, Harold Whitaker worked for the pioneering British cartoon director Anson Dyer; he was amongst the staff members of Dyer’s company to be hired by Halas & Batchelor, which was where he made his name. He contributed to many of the studio’s best-known productions: Animal Farm, Automania 2000, Foo-Foo, DoDo the Kid from Outer Space, Tales from Hoffnung (one short in this series, The Hoffnung Palm Court Orchestra, earned Whitaker a BAFTA nomination), parts of Heavy Metal ("Grimaldi" and "So Beautiful and So Dangerous") and more. His other work includes providing key animation for TVC’s When the Wind Blows, and the 1981 book Timing for Animation. He passed away on December 26, aged 93.

John Fortune was a writer and performer known for satirical comedies such as Bremner, Bird and Fortune; in addition to this, he voiced the Knight in S4C's The Canterbury Tales. He passed away on 31 December, aged 74.