Western Europe [hide index
entries with <i .. > but add special symbol,
change "en-fr" and delete VP codes <M>, <D>, <I>
The division of Europe into East and West by the Iron Curtain was reflected more strongly in animation than in live-action cinema or other forms of artistic expression. In the free market economies of Western Europe, the artistic and financial weakness of animated productions relegated animation to a subordinate position within cinema. In the attempt to reproduce Walt Disney’s successful formula, animators focussed on feature films for children which were nothing more than frail imitations. Since the production of short films was not encouraged, just as in the United States at the time, only a handful of artists were able to build profitable careers in animation. Little new talent joined the field, and for many years production was sporadic, often amateurish. The only opportunities were offered by advertising, which boomed with the diffusion of television in the mid-1950s. By letting animators educate their audiences, advertising companies spurred constant renewal. Some of them even financed the creative efforts of their artists and made forays into the field of entertainment.
Fig. 1. This is one of the earliest examples ....
Propaganda and war-related educational films helped keep British animation alive during the war while advertising, which had traditionally supported production, almost disappeared. The major novelty in 1940 was the founding of two studios, Halas & Batchelor, and Larkins. Both studios worked mainly on commission during their first years of activity. Halas & Batchelor produced more than seventy shorts for the War Office, the Ministries of Information and Defence, the Central Office of Information and the Admiralty. Bill Larkins opened his own business after a short-lived partnership with veteran Anson Dyer; the studio produced many educational works and survived even after its founder left. With Peter Sachs and Denis Gilpin, Larkins created graphically advanced films which led some to claim that the British had preceded UPA in revolutionizing style. As for Dyer, he produced and directed a few anti-Nazi propaganda films and, later on, entertainment movies such as the three part serial Squirrel War (1947). He retired in 1951, when his animators left to found their own production company.In 1944, a group of animators formerly connected to the production company of J. Arthur Rank founded G.B. Animation. The group, which started with few ambitions, quickly expanded into what many saw as the British challenge to Disney. David Hand (1900–1986), director of Snow White and Bambi, was named head of the studio. A growing number of young people, recently returned from military service, took the company’s admission tests which were similar to those given by Disney in the 1930s, and the studio announced its intention to employ two thousand specialists. Through an imposing training plan, Hand undertook the task of teaching artists the secrets of Don Graham’s animation, such as design and character acting. But the series Animaland, featuring Ginger Nutt the squirrel and its mate Hazel, flopped, despite its high technical achievements. As Hand himself admitted, these films were not as amusing as the filmmakers had expected. Some animators contended that the group should have continued along the path of British tradition rather than attempting to translate a foreign style. The group dissolved in 1949. Another American, George Moreno of the Fleischer school, produced some shorts featuring a London taxi driver and his car. Entitled Bubble & Squeak, the series lasted only five episodes. Gerard Holdsworth, a former officer of the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson and a collaborator of George Pal’s in the 1930s, worked in the field of puppet animation. With the help of Dutch animators he had brought in, Holdsworth began working on commission. His Story of Time (1951), made for Rolex, is still popular today. But a failed screen adaptation of Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince was fatal to the production company. Among non-professional artists, the Grasshopper Group must be noted. From 1953 to 1968, the group’s founder and leader, John Daborn, directed two films with the technique of animating live actors. One was entitled Two’s Company and Bride and Groom), and a parody of a well-known text by Kipling called The Battle of Wangapore. The Hungarian-born Peter Földes made his debut in Great Britain. Born in 1924, Földes emigrated in 1946 and made his first film in 1952, with the financial support of the British Film Institute. Entitled Animated Genesis, it was a stimulating, stylistically original film about human life on the Earth. Földes broached the same topic in Short Vision (1955), a look at humanity on the verge of a nuclear explosion. In 1956, he moved to France and temporarily devoted himself solely to painting. Földes’ major asset was a superb graphic style, which he displayed even in his earliest works. The Producer and the Bauhaus: John Halas John Halas (Janos Halász) was born on 16 April 1912 in Budapest. After experimenting with animation in his native city, he moved to Paris and, in 1936, to London. Enterprising and curious, Halas pursued various projects, which had him return briefly to his native country. Just before World War II, he finally settled in Great Britain.
In 1940, he founded the production company Halas & Batchelor, in partnership with the British animator and scriptwriter Joy Batchelor (Watford, 22 May 1914 – London, 14 May 1991) whom he later married. The company was to become the longest lasting production company in Western Europe and one of the most prestigious in the world.Among wartime productions the series Abu, an anti-Fascist, anti-Nazi production addressed to Middle-Eastern audiences, was highly regarded. In 1944–45, the company worked on Handling Ships, a feature film for the Admiralty. In 1946–47, it produced the series Charley, for the Central Office of Information; the character of Charley, impersonating the average English citizen, explained postwar legislation to the English public. As postwar production in the social information and educational fields was a driving force for the company, Halas had time for only one artistic film, Magic Canvas, in 1948. Animal Farm, the first British animated feature film, led to a jump in quality for the company. In 1951, two years after George Orwell’s death, the American producer Louis de Rochemont suggested that the two British partners make a film of Orwell’s anti-Stalinist novel. The original intent was for a strong ideological propaganda movie, but Halas and Batchelor insisted on making a movie for all audiences. The result was an adult film, far from the mannerisms which characterized some of Disney’s animation, but not a film of political propaganda. As Joy Batchelor said, years later, their intent was to make a film about freedom – a task which already implied taking a political stand. After a two-year effort by more than seventy people, Animal Farm was completed in April 1954. British critics acclaimed it as the best film of the year, and the New York Times called it a masterpiece. In fact, without straying from the accepted rules of performance, the film displays vivid and dramatic atmospheres, expertly uses a palette of dark colours and shows how it is possible to learn Disney’s lesson while maintaining one’s own autonomy and character. Much criticism was directed against the happy ending, very different from the gloomy and mocking ending of Orwell’s story. Halas objected to the criticism with an anecdote. During a performance in New York City, a lady left the theatre sobbing and threw herself in Halas’ arms. To calm her down he reminded her that it was just an animated story. Think what would have happened, commented Halas, if the film was given a dramatic ending. From that time on, Halas & Batchelor was able to rely on a solid reputation, and for many years the studio was synonymous with British animation. In 1960, it produced the country’s first television series: Foo Foo (thirty-three episodes) Snip & Snap (twenty-six episodes) and Habatales (six episodes). The production of art films included History of the Cinema (1956), a feisty, formally elegant film, and Automania 2000 (1963), an entertaining satire on motorization. In the seven part, The Tales of Hoffnung (1964), Halas himself skillfully animated the drawings of Hoffnung. Ruddigore, (1967) was a featurette. A 55-minute quasi-feature film, directed by Joy Batchelor and based on the operetta by Gilbert & Sullivan of the same name, it humorously displayed the atmosphere of London at the turn of the century. In the late 1960s, the production company made a daring move, when it began to operate in the field of computer animation – one of the first studios in Europe and in the world to do so. What Is a Computer (1969) and Contact (1974) were the first examples, while Autobahn (Highway, 1979) and Dilemma (1981) were the best productions. In the 1980s, Halas filmed a semi-documentary series on the old masters of painting, from Leonardo to Botticelli. As Halas admitted, he was a direct disciple of the Bauhaus and, in particular, of the Hungarian László Moholy-Nagy. The goal of the Bauhaus was to reinstate artists inside society after the industrial revolution had alienated them. Consequently, to design a chair was as artistically dignified as to paint on canvas, while the notion of authorship dissolved in the need, or even the opportunity, to share work. Above all, Bauhaus believed in machines and directed its efforts toward building a society in which machines could positively be of service to humankind. This is why Halas put his skills as an animator at the service of the public or rather society. Later, he dedicated himself to the training of other animators, or invited them to collaborate with him. He was ready to spread culture, participating in innumerable public discussions and festivals. Above all, he took upon himself the task, or even the mission, of divulging the advantages of the computer which, in his opinion, was capable of bringing the animators to the highest levels of creativity by saving them the burdensome manual work. John Halas’ skills went beyond his activity as an intelligent producer and director. He brought together the many aspects of the culture of animation and worked in various fields, from writing on theory, criticism and technique, to editing a collection of works on animation, to directing ASIFA (Association Internationale du Film d’Animation). Every step of Halas’ career is the consequence of the artistic choices he made in his youth, from his comic, experimental and educational activities, to the diverse applications he found for animation, to the many collaborators and students he taught (Harold Whitaker, Tony Guy, Tony White, Bob Privett, Derek Lamb, Peter Földes, Alison De Vere, Paul Vester and Geoff Dunbar), and who carried on the Halas tradition. France While Alexeïeff was quietly researching illusory solids, Bartosch was trying to give life to his cosmogonic dreams and Starewich was continuing his independent activity as a puppet animator, some talented new artists emerged, and others brought to maturity the skills they had developed during the war. Arcady left classic animation for special effects and became known for the instruments he designed to produce unusual images. (An example is the traceur d’ectoplasmes, a sketcher of ectoplasms created with an oscilloscope). In 1960, he made a magniloquent but effective abstract film, Prélude pour orchestre voix et caméra (Prelude for Orchestra, Voice and Camera). A year later, he completed L’ondomane (Wave Spirit). Henri Gruel (5 February 1923), who apprenticed with Arcady, came out in 1953 with his first work, Martin et Gaston (Martin and Gaston). In Gitanos et papillons (Gypsies and Butterflies, 1954), he animated children’s drawings with the technique of cutouts. Three years later, he made his last film, La Joconde (Mona Lisa, based on a subject by Boris Vian). His best film ever, La Joconde is an example of playful iconoclasty worthy of a Duchamp. Jean Jabely (3 April 1921), another student of Arcady’s, was a pioneer in the animation of collages, and worked actively in the field of advertising. He distinguished himself with comic films such as Teuf Teuf (1956), Ballade chromo (Colour Ballad, 1957) and Lui et elle (He and She, 1958). Henri Lacam (1911–1979), master craftsman of classic animation and a long-time collaborator of Paul Grimault, made the clever Les deux plumes (The Two Feathers, 1957) and Jeu de cartes (Cardgame, 1960). Albert Champeaux (29 November 1922) and Pierre Watrin (1918–1990) joined forces for some successful comic productions such as Paris-Flash (1958), and Villa mon rêve (The Villa of My Dreams, 1960). Omer Boucquey (17 August 1921) is remembered for his Disneyesque Choupinet (1946). Albert Pierru (7 August 1920) was a follower of Norman McLaren, from whom he learned the technique of painting on stock. Pierru’s Surprise boogie (1957) deserves mention.