Saturday, 21 November 2009

The W.M. Larkins Studio

The W.M. Larkins Studio (also known simply as Larkins) is a poorly-documented studio responsible for some brilliant work from the likes of Peter Sachs and Richard Taylor. The BFI database has a filmography for the studio split across two entries, one titled W.M. Larkins Studio and the other just Larkins Studio; the films listed date from 1945 to 1983. Giannalberto Bendazzi in Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation gives a brief history of the studio:
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.
Cartoon Modern by Amid Amidi, meanwhile, says that
Larkins is one of the great "lost" studios of animation history, and it is tragic that its work isn't better known today. The primary reason for its obscurity is that, unlike Halas & Batchelor, it didn't produce entertainment films, focusing almost entirely on industrial films and commercials for TV and theatres.

This is the only Larkins image in Cartoon Modern. The film is identified as a theatrical advert for Barclays Bank, but no title or year is given.

The first episode of BBC4's Animation Nation documentary series from 2005 discusses Larkins. I took some stills from the clips that were shown:

In Skymaster, an instructional film made with the RAF Film Unit, Sachs uses animation to tell gunners how to distinguish between aircraft.

T for Teacher is another one of Sachs' films, made in 1947 for the Tea Bureau; it tells audiences how to make the most of tea while rationing was taking place. Amidi says that the short is "an incredible exercise in graphic animation and equals (if not exceeds) the level of graphic maturity of UPA and other American studios during the same period".

In 1948's Men of Merit, where a lecturer's slides come to life, Sachs combines stop motion with drawn animation. "A mixture of cartoon and puppetry concerning fuel economy and electricity council public relations", says the BFI database.

The documentary doesn't name this film, but says that it was made for the British Iron and Steel Federation. It could be River of Steel - if that's the case then it was directed by William Larkins himself, with Sachs handling the designs. The documentary says that the backgrounds were painted by Bob Godfrey ("he was like Mr. Toad - he was always having these terrific enthusiasms" says Godfrey of Sachs).

Balance 1950, from 1952, was influenced by the Bauhaus artist Paul Klee. It was made to be viewed by the employees of Imperial Chemical Industries.

Put Una Money for There is a 1956 Barclays Bank advert directed by Denis Gilpin and shown in West Africa. Sam Akpabot provided a song in dialect.

The documentary was shown alongside two complete Larkins films: the propaganda short Without Fear and another Barclays advert, both of which I've covered here.

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