Thursday, 25 March 2010

British contributions to Heavy Metal

"This is best seen when one is thirteen, a boy, and a budding antisocial", said science fiction novelist John Scalzi on the 1981 Canadian-produced anthology film Heavy Metal; "the further one gets from this demographic, the more ridiculous the overall film appears to be."

Still, whatever its conceptual shortcomings, Heavy Metal is worth a look for its visual style, an adventurous attempt to translate various comic strips from the titular magazine to the screen. It's also relevant to anyone who wants to learn about British animation as two UK-based outfits were amongst the studios involved: namely, Halas & Batchelor and TVC. In addition the overall director, Gerald Potterton, started his career at Halas & Batchelor before moving to Canada.

Carl Macek's tie-in book The Art of Heavy Metal: Animation for the Eighties contains plenty of concept art and behind-the-scenes information.

TVC handled the first segment of the film, Soft Landing, which was directed by Jimmy T. Murakami. The sequence uses photographic cutouts of a car taken from live-action footage and composited onto drawn backgrounds.

Comparison between a piece of the storyboard and a frame from the finished film.

A model house that is used in the sequence, built by Brian Borthwick.

Halas & Batchelor provided two sequences; the first, Grimaldi, follows on from Soft Landing and was directed by Harold Whitaker.

Two rather gruesome animation cels.

Comparison between Lonnie Lloyd's concept art of the little girl character ("A little Tenniel influence?", comments Macek) and her final appearance.

The second sequence provided by Halas & Batchelor is So Beautiful & So Dangerous, directed by John Halas and based on a comic by Angus McKie.

Above is a model sheet provided by Angus of the story's female lead; she eventually evolved into the character seen in the Neal Adams drawings below.

The alien characters changed quite a bit during the making of the film, too.

Computer animation was used in the development of the Pentagon scene.

And finally, there's Den, directed by Jack Stokes and based on Richard Corben's comic work. The sequence was originally assigned to Halas & Batchelor, but as the studio had its plate full with Grimaldi and So Beautiful the staff working on Den had to rent space in Bill Melendez's studio, forming an temporary outfit called Votetone Ltd. TVC head John Coates served as production manager.

"The style is unusual, since it couldn't be used as a working board for the animators", says Macek of the above storyboard.

Character designs. The female character was drawn by Jack Stokes.

Two stills showcasing the approach to shading termed "Corben lighting", which proved extremely difficult to pull off and was largely scrapped.

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