A VISION FROM THE PAST -- 1948Gaumont British Animation, David Hand, Moor Hall studios and the team as seen through the eyes of noted movie columnist and screenplay writer, Connery Chappell and published in the John Bull magazine, October 30th 1948. (Copyright IPC Media 2007)
Where drawings start to move. David Hand (centre) and Bert Felstead (right)
watch animator Arthur Humberstone at work. On the wall are master sketches.
THE ANIMALS CAME IN TWO BY TWO...
First there was one animal sketched on a piece of paper.
Then the animators took a look at it and made it "move."
As it moved it multiplied. One sketch became one thousand sketches.
Then a camera turned them into Animaland, and
Britain's first big attempt at "Walt Disney" was complete.
By CONNERY CHAPPELLTHE MEN WHO MAKE cartoon films always remind me of those earnest people who spend years learning to engrave the whole of the Lord's Prayer on one side of a farthing. For cartoon making is an incredibly slow, laborious and detailed piece of organization. There is nothing else precisely like it, either in films or in any other art form.
Now we are starting to make cartoon in Britain. We tried them before, and a certain amount of animation-as film people call it-has been done in British studios over the years. But not until 1944, when Arthur Rank formed a special company for the purpose, wa a full-scale attempt made to create a cartoon-film industry in London.
The start was made a month or two after the company was formed. And it has taken all that time for the first British cartoons to reach London's cinemas.
The first - Animaland and Musical Paintbox - were shown to the critics a few weeks ago. In the main their reception was friendly, but it seemed that a few of the professional viewers really appreciated what a weight of work had gone into the making of those first pioneering efforts.
Caroon making as as expensive as it is painstaking. In Wardour Street they tell me that producing cartoons has become so costly that even Walt Disney has abandoned theidea of making full-length films like Snow White and is now putting real-life scenes into his feature cartoons.
They tell me, too, that a cartoon studio can now expect to make a profit only from the royalties its receives from the mechnical reproduction of its characters. Every time you buy a Mickey Mouse doll or postcard you pay a tiny royalty to Disney, and his income from those copyright fees is very large indeed.
CHIRPY THE SPARROW, CHESTER THE CAT....
Already the Rank Organization is arranging to license toy manufacturers who will use its Animaland characters on the Christmas market. Soon you will be seeing Chirpy the Sparrow, Chester the cat, Boko the parrot, Wanda Waddle the duck and others in the shops.
If they catch on with the public, then the royalties will start rolling in---and Rank and his henchmen will start recovering some of the fortune they have spent on the special cartoon studios at Cookham, up the river beyond Maidenhead.
The man behind Cookham, the man who will decide the success or failure of British film cartoons, is an American named David Hand. He is grey, hefty, quiet and just under fifty.
Hand started to work on cartoons as early as 1919. Later he joined Walt Disney. That was in 1930, when Disney had only a dozen or so workers.
He began as an animator on Mickey Mouse cartoons---an animator being the artist who makes the master drawings which determine the chief movements in the finished film. Later he was a director, then a production supervisor, and he had more to do with Bambi than anyone.
When Rank brought him over to England he was Disney second in command.
I met Hand a day or two after he arrived in London. Nobody knew he was here. There were no elaborate Press parties, no front page headlines. Instead he settled down on two floors of a building just off Soho Square and he started building up a team of artists.
For work he gave them what he called five-finger exercises in cartoon making. His company, G.B. Animation Ltd., proceeded to make animated diagram sequences for children's films and for educational and technical pictures. Later he made a short advertising cartoon in Technicolor-a two-minute film about a litle darkie pixie named Coco.
ARTISTS' COLONY ON THE THAMES
In its way it made a little bit of film history, for it was the first effort of Hand's team in the field of cartoon story-telling.
In those days, G. B. Animation had only a score or so of employees and little equipment. Gradually, piece by piece, the complicated machinery used used in photographing cartoons was assembled, and the unit moved up river to Cookham.
There it is today, a complete artist's colony of more than 200 people in a pretty Thames-side village. They have their own club, their own restaurant, and even their own dormitories---for the housing problem is acute down at Cookham. The women have a house to themselves in the village. The men have a long chalet. The lucky nes have found houses in the neighbourhood.
The marriage rate among the cartoon artists is very high. They meet on the job. They marry. And if the wife retires after marriage, David Hand, who knows how hard it is to find these artists, shrugs his shoulders and talks sadly of the difficulty of replacing them.
Of an evening they are apt to invade the local pub, which they have decorated with a really brilliant Rake's Progress, a mural occupying one whole room, representing the various stages of insobriety. Life, they have found, can be very pleasant down at Cookham.
JOB WITH A FUTURE
The job itself is tolerably well paid and it offers a future. If British cartoon films succeed, and if Cookham builds up into a studio comparable, say, with Disney's, then there will be some handsome salaries for the animators who will be the pioneers of a small but important industry.
With the exception of the technical staff and the camera staff, and the girls who fill in the various colours on the sketches, almost everyone in the studio is an artist who has started as an assistant animator.
They are found when working in art schools or commercial agencies, are taken to Cookham and given quite a long course of training, during which they are housed by the unit. If they succeed they are attached to a senior animator and set to work in his studio.
How are these cartoons designed? How many drawings are necessary to get one finished picture, lasting eight or nine minutes on the screen?
The answer is that the film moves through a projector at the rate of twenty-four pictures or frames a second, which is over 1,400 a minute. In practice nearly every frame needs a separate drawing, so in a ten-minute picture there will be well over 14,000 sketches. This is where the time and the organization comes in.
The process starts in the story department, with David Hand in charge. Here the idea is conceived, the characters and their goofy antics created. A rough shape emerges in a series of rough-and-ready master drawings pin-pointing the chief events of the film.
These roughs are given to the film's director, who is responsible for the laborious job of building up the thousands of pictures.
His first concern is sound and dialogue. A piece of talk - even wild, cartoon talk - is first recorded. When it is perfect it is timed, each vowel and sound being marked on a "track sheet." The sheet tells the animators exactly how long the dialogue or special effect lasts, and they can adjust the number of frames accordingly. If a character speaks for one second his lips would need to move for twenty-four frames, this being the number of pictures that go through the projector in that time.
PASSED TO THE ANIMATORS
Thus, piece by piece, the director marks out the main points in the film. He discusses each scene with layout artists and with background artists, and slowly sketches are produced for the animators. All this while a colour scheme is being agreed on.
Then, when he is satisfied with his master scenes, the director hands them on to the animators. The animator woks out the details of the various drawings required to make the movements on the screen. These are first done in rough. When agreed, they are numbered, and an "in-betweener" then starts the long job of making the drawings of the action to link up with the key sketches of the animator.
The act of a man bending his elbow might start with a key sketch showing a straight arm and end with a second sketch showing the elbow bent. The in-betweener would need to draw the arm bending in several positions, otherwise the finished movement would look to jerky on the screen.
When the in-betweener's sketches have been approved they pass to a "clean-up" man, who sharpens the outlines and generally cleans the drawings.
After that they go to the inking and painting department, where they are traced on to transparent celluloid tissues known as "cels," and are painted to an agreed colour scheme.
DETAILS SPRING TO LIFE
Once the drawing has been transferred to celluloid, it is ready for filming. Special cameras, pointing down from the ceiling, are used to photograph the sketches one at a time.
As the film itself is put through a projector, each tiny movement on the individual drawings springs to life, as it were; the antics conceived in the story department a year or even two years before become part of a pattern, moving on the screen.
Then, last of all, the various sound tracks, the dialogue, the special effects and the music are combined and the picture takes its final shape.
The job is finished. It has been a feat of organization and it has requoired enormous patience. Everybody concerned has had to fight the tendency to go stale on so long an assignment. That is why Hand moves his key animators from picture to picture, to vary the monotony.
One thing is certain. Not one picture-goer in a thousand, chortling at the finished cartoon, ever stops to think of the headache that went to the making of it.
Reproduced by permission
-- Copyright IPC Media 2007 --
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