In the first of hopefully many interviews to be conducted for this blog I spoke to Tony Barnes, who founded Fairwater Films and Channimation and worked on numerous cartoons including The Shoe People, Dr. Zitbag's Transylvania Pet Shop, The Baskervilles, Potsworth & Co and the Viz videos.
LC: In an earlier post I came across a reference to a project that you were working on at the time, based on Alan Garner's The Well of the Wind. Did anything ever come of that?
TB: Well Of The Wind never happened, sadly, as we couldn't get the necessary interest or finance to continue. Money and resources went into such greats as The Animated Operas and The Lampies.
LC: Was it going to be a theatrical feature?
TB: I think we saw it as more of a classy TV special - like TVC's Snowman. Theatrical animation was in the doldrums in the early 80's until largely American productions like Little Mermaid came along so that most likely wasn't on our radar. I don't have a copy of the script any more to check - maybe Alan Garner has?
LC: I'm interested in your eighties series Half-A-Dozen (above) as it seems to be a "lost" cartoon in a sense, with very little coverage online. Having seen clips from it on your showreel I saw that it looks rather like the American cartoons of the period - a sort of Hanna-Barbera or Filmation feel in the designs. Since this was the decade in which British cartoons started appearing on American TV, was this intentional?
TB: Not really. We were working in the genre of TV animation after all, and some of our influences were bound to come out. Some would be American like Hanna-Barbera, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Tex Avery, Robert Crumb and so on; some British, like Bob Godfrey and Leo Baxendale; or European, like Moebius and the Metal Hurlant lot.
LC: You worked on the Viz videos, which were a little unusual - adult British animation aimed at a mainstream audience, as opposed to the more experimental fare. Would you like to see our animation industry produce more work like that?
TB: Gorblimey, guv! There is an animation industry? Should it be so, then absolutely. It was truly great to have worked on the Viz stuff. But where are the outlets nowadays? I doubt if anyone would risk replacing ITV's X Factor even with The Simpsons let alone British material. So there's probably not enough audience critical mass and certainly not budgets for the dots to be joined. It is a business after all. Sad but true. I don't know if there'd be enough demand for say a specialist DVD label for this type of thing. So it's probably either t'Internet or Ye Olde Bog wall I'm afraid. Could be wrong. I am trying my best though.
LC: A lot of independent animators today are making animation for the Internet, and a number of them are moving into more traditional areas - for example, David Firth, who created the Salad Fingers series, is working on a feature film. Do you have any thoughts on this development?
TB: I like Salad Fingers and that sort of thing. That's one way to go I suppose. No two projects are the same.
LC: Can you tell us a little about your Man & Puppet project? Is that still on the cards?
TB: Woke up laughing as the title came to me in a dream. It was so clonkily 'on the nose' I felt duty bound to work on it a bit, then of course threw it in the bin with all the rest of my crappy animation ideas. But the very next night the Magical Animation Goblins turfed it out and got to work so the following morning I had a huge international hit on my hands. At least that's what they tell me here in my padded cell, between sedative injections and wiping the foam from my lips. In truth, I'm still pitching it around, with loads of my other stuff (Meet the Meat People, The Fabulous Toenail Folk, God Squad, Pubic Hare etc etc). I have Pitch Bible, sample animation and scripts even including a feature film to hand. Projects never die, as the man said, but of course people do.
LC: Any animation you've been enjoying lately?
TB: Strangely not, would you believe. There's not really much out there aimed at scumbags like me, or that my gnat-brained attention span can connect with. Which believe it or not is a spur for the mindless drivel I come up with. Of course I like the older stuff - like Tex Avery, Animaniacs and Ren & Stimpy. There are occasional things on the net like a stick-man dealing with a Flash interface, and of course Foamy the Squirrel. I think I must be growing up as I'm getting more acquainted with live action rather than watching CGI puppets being keyframed around the place for lowest common denominator marketing purposes. I'm preferring to fart rather than burp now too, so it's definitely the onset of puberty.
LC: Out of all the cartoons that you worked on, which do you have the fondest memories of?
TB: Probably the Viz stuff. Working on contemporary stuff with the creators, Harry Enfield, Comic Relief and so on at the top of their game was really fantastic. Plus they got to work with me, and I even got to do the 'Do you like chicken' gag which has cleansed me from a life of filth ever since.
LC: And just to round this interview off the traditional way: any advice for aspiring animators who might be reading this?
TB: Good luck - and don't give up the day job!