Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Animation Nation: The Art of Persuasion part 2

Here's my second transcript of BBC4's 2005 documentary series Animation Nation. This half of episode one, The Art of Persuasion, focuses mainly on advertising. The transcript of the first half can be read here.

Footage from a Shippam's advert. More stills here.

Narrator: In 1955 ITV was launched, introducing American-inspired advertising breaks. Suddenly animation was in demand - not from government, but from hundreds of clients keen to promote their brands to a potentially massive new audience.

Vera Linnecar: I really think without ITV we wouldn't have had British animation as it is now, because it was the complete underpinning of the money side. It was the bread and butter.

Paul Wells: What this brought to bear was the fact that advertising requires distinctiveness in the ways it got across and sold its products, and animation was the perfect vehicle for that. And this is a very different kind of agenda, because you're selling brands that you want the public to consume. You don't want them to just take away propagandistic ideas, ideology and didactic views, you want them to say "oh, that's entertaining, that's engaging, I'll go out and buy that toothpaste".

Footage from a Cherry boot polish advert. More stills here.

Narrator: Animation's classlessness was one of its main attractions for advertisers and viewers. In the early years, perhaps a third of all TV commercials were animated. Unlike the previous information films that had five or ten minutes to sell an idea, on television animators had just thirty seconds.

Footage from Halas & Batchelor's famous Murray Mints advert.

Bob Godfrey: It was like stagecoaches going to locomotives. They'd give us a jingle, and all we had to do was dance to it, basically! the early commercials were like sound radio.

Footage from a Frear's biscuit advert. More stills here.

Narrator: Television was available in two colours: black and white, and early adverts were quite primitive. With the sudden growth in the industry, many of the more ambitious young animators left the big studios to join smaller companies or set up their own.

Footage from a Rael-Brook advert. More stills here.

Dick Horn: Suddenly, everybody had work, that was the most exciting thing, and then the studios springing up in all directions, you know, from one man and a dog up to the big studios.

Footage from a McDougall's flour advert. More stills here.

Vera Linnecar: It was the very beginning of ITV, and you didn't really need any capital so long as you could get hold of a camera and a few people who knew how to draw, yo could set up.

Footage from a Castrol advert. More stills here.

Bob Godfrey: Suddenly, forty little animation studios sprung up all like mushrooms. Hire equipment, get an Aeroflex, get a Mitchell, for the day!" You know, so you could start a production company in a telephone box! You know, you could suddenly... suddenly you had the equipment, you could do it!

Narrator: So he did. Bob set up Biographic with editor Keith Learner, and they were later joined by Nancy Hanna and Vera Linnecar. Biographic had a fresh approach that worked well for the new, faster-style ads.

Footage from an unidentified advert, presumably by Biographic. More stills here.

Paul Wells: One of the kind of interesting things about Biographic, particularly in the shape of Bob Godfrey, is Bob Godfrey's resistance to the whole idea that animation has to be from the Disney style or from a modern art style. He wants it, as it wee, to be much more simple, direct, straightforward, and actually not be full animation - you know, the figures can jump about a lot, they actually don't have to do fluid, lyrical movements, they can just jump from one thing to another.

Footage from a Glenryck pilchards advert, presumably by Biographic. More stills here.

Bob Godfrey: You see, when commercial television came, we couldn't do traditional animation because it was too expensive and it took too long. So we would find quick, cut-out ways of doing things. We were very forward looking, avant gard.

Footage from a Shippam's meat paste advert, presumably by Biographic. More stills here.

Vera Linnecar: I think people were trying to experiment, you know, trying to make different ways of expressing things instead of, you know, following the usual type of drawn animation. I think with advertising you can be as creative as you're allowed to be!

Footage from a 1963 Kit-Kat advert by Keith Learner. More stills here.

Paul Wells: Our commercial work has been hugely appreciated worldwide. It's been recognised for its technical skill, its aesthetic skills and for its sheer invention.

Footage from a Remington razor advert.

Narrator: Animation's broad appeal made it the perfect international sales vehicle, and overseas clients began to use British animators to promote their products abroad. This advert was made for release in West African cinemas, and animated at the Larkins studio, now part of the Film Producers' Guild.

Footage from Put Una Money for There. More stills here.

Dick Taylor: The Film Producers Guild were approached by Barclay's Bank for a film to encourage rural people in West Africa to put their money in a savings bank rather than putting it in the thatch or burying it in the ground. It seemed to be that if we were going to work on something which had to appeal directly to people in West Africa, it'd be nice to have some of the same kind of music.

Narrator: Dick Taylor and his team found a young music student called Sam Akpabot, who came up with a West African street band style soundtrack and told the story in a local dialect.

Dick Taylor: It went down very well once the bank'd gathered the courage to show it, because they'd been persuaded that something that showed caricatures of Africans would in fact infuriate the Africans. But in the end they showed it and the film was extremely successful and ran for years and years, and people used to go along to the cinema especially to see it.

Footage from a Rowntree's cocoa advert. More stills here.

Narrator: Not all animated portrayals of Africans were as sympathetic, as this cocoa ad demonstrates.

Footage from a Spam advert. More stills here.

Narrator: By the mid-sixties , TV adverts had become part of Britain's popular culture, and one of the most memorable campaigns was about a group of city gents working in a flour factory. The Homepride flour men were one of the first successful examples of character branding. They were animated by Ron Wyatt and Tony Cattaneo, although the idea for the little English flour graders had actually come from two Americans.

Footage from various Homepride adverts.

Ron Wyatt: Well, they came in with a matchstick man, and because they were Americans they thought all Englishmen wore bowler hats. An d they aid "we've got this wonderful idea - these blokes with bowler hats all go in this bag of flour, and they throw out all the lumps, and they come out and they wipe this bag - 'cause you don't know what it is yet - he wipes it and underneath, 'cause it's all covered in flour, it's the packet. And because they've been in there they haven't got black bowler hats then, they've got white bowler hats, how about that? What a great idea!" You know, I thought, "eurgh". And anyway, and he said, "and graded grains make finer flour". And I said, "no, that won't work".

Narrator: But graded grains and bowler hats caught the British imagination, and within four months Homepride was a brand leader. Wyatt and Cattaneo went on to animate a host of other commercially lucrative characters.

Footage from various adverts, presumably all by Wyatt-Cattaneo.

Ron Wyatt: I found that if you've got a character or a personality you had a good bit of merchandising property there. You could... you had a product identity.

John Webster: I think every company wants its own property that it can use for a long time, everyone's looking for that.

Narrator: Creating a successful animated character is as hard as finding the next Elvis - it's the holy grail of commercial animation.

Andrew Ruhemann: It's like, you know, what makes a star, and what makes just a normal actor. You know when you're in the presence of a star. Well, a drawing is no different, and an animator is no different.

Footage from various Cresta adverts by Richard Williams.

Narrator: Cresta Bear had star quality. He appeared in a series of ads in the seventies and was the brainchild of animator Dick Williams and advertising executive John Webster.

John Webster: We created this bear, who had a kind of spasm which was pinched from Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider. When he takes a drip of whisky he goes into this kind of spasm. "Fresh to the day", he says. And this became a feature in all the ads, he did this spasm. And it got picked up by children, and they all copied it and did it in the playgrounds, and it became quite well known.

Narrator: Cresta Bear sold lemonade to thousands of children who'd never seen Easy Rider, but who loved the crazy bear and his catchy slogan.

Andrew Ruhemann: I think animals work particularly well in animation because I think we as human beings have a tendency to anthropomorphise our animals anyway. We give them human personalities, characteristics, even with our pets, an somehow in animation you can actually make that happen. You can actually give them a personality.

Footage from Oscar Grillo's Kia-Ora advert, a Frosties advert, and a Knorr advert.

Narrator: Anthropomorphic ads like these literally brought brands to life, and it was an animated animal that the Central Office of Information turned to in the seventies to get across a message about child safety.

Footage from various Charley shorts. More stills here.

Dick Taylor: I was using cutout animation and the same littery bits of cutout paper could be transferred from one film to the next, so it was a very economic job from that point of view.

Narrator: The very basic animation was carried by the voice track, with the bizarre yowls of Charley the cat interpreted by his young master. Charley was voiced by the DJ and comedian Kenny Everett.

Dick Taylor: He volunteered to do the entire soundtrack, in fact - music, effects, everything. The only thing was that the voice he provided for the boy was terribly transatlantic and not at all nice, and so I used all the work he'd done except the boy's voice, and I recorded a neighbour's child to do it.

Narrator: Kenny Everett and the neighbour's child spoke directly to their audience, proving that in animation the voice is crucial. In the 1980s the idea of using ordinary peoples' voices to sell something was taken a step further. The Heat Electric ads combined the unscripted musings of members of the public with witty animation, and gave Aardman Animation their first break into advertising.

Footage from various Heat Electric adverts by Aardman.

Peter Lord: The great thing about the advertising is it's hungry, very hungry for ideas. The advertising world is full of people who actually are all looking outward, all round the world, and they're looking for something new. And we had something very, very new, there.

Andrew Ruhemann: It was a clever approach - you know, this sort of documentary style - "real people talking, and let's put animals onto those voices". Now everybody's doing it, hundreds of students are doing it every year in their graduate films and stuff, but then it was pretty novel and it was done so brilliantly.

John Webster: It was something completly new. Understated and yet wonderful humour. And if you had to pick one animation house that represents Britain it would be Aardman.

Narrator: When musician Peter Gabriel was looking for someone to rejuvenate his record career in the mid eighties, he turned to animation and to Aardman. The resulting video used stop frame animation in ways that hadn't been seen before, certainly by a record buying public.

Footage from Aardman's music video for Sledgehammer.

Andrew Ruhemann: Just felt like a very... capturing the spirit of an age, really. It was very British. It was one of those points where you just thought "oh, this is something new", and it moved us up another rung, as it were. It just felt like it was kickstarting, potentially, a new era - which it did.

Peter Lord: The big appeal was that every frame of the finished film, that what you see you would've seen if you' looked through the camera at it. There was no post production, there was no electronic tinkering. In the modern day, if you wanted Peter Gabriel's face to turn blue and clouds to cross it, you could do that so easily with electronic effects. But we did it whereby he sat in a chair like this, and somebody painted his face blue, and then somebody painted the cloud on, and then we took a couple of frames on the camera, and then they painted over the cloud, and painted it on again, a bit further, and so on and so on and so on.

Paul Wells: It's always been the case that animation has remained experimental even as it's entered the popular mainstream. And in the British tradition this has been hugely consistent.

Narrator: Because of the video, Sledgehammer made number 1, not only in Britain, but also America, where it was showcased on the new international music channel MTV. Like ITV in the 1950s, MTV provided a new influx of commercial clients for British animators.

Footage from the Gorillaz video Clint Eastwood and a second music video which I'm not familiar with.

Robert Hewison: I suppose what you could say about MTV is that finally the commercials take over, because what, after all, is a pop promo, but a commercial for a pop record? So what you actually finally end up - which I suppose is the glorification of commercial television in the end - is you have wall to wall advertisements, only they're called pop videos.

Narrator: The music industry has become new of the biggest consumers of animation, where it can be used to enhance or repackage a band and create a world around them. And the introduction of computer generated images or CGI has given the industry a whole new world to explore -the key word for advertisers being "new".

Footage from Shynola's video for Junior Senior's Move Your Feet; Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris's video for Oasis's All Around the World; two videos I can't identify (the singer in the first may be Bjork); and the Gorillaz video Rock the House.

Andrew Ruhemann: I think one of the most powerful things about commercial animation is it's constantly pushing for new things. The most common thing you here is, from an agency, is "we want something that looks different". And because that's the most common brief it really forces people like ourselves and our competitors to look for new things.

Footage from Tim Hope's video for Don't Panic by Coldplay.

Narrator: This award-winning video uses CGI, but in ways that software designers probably hadn't imagined. Drawing on old fashioned animation techniques such as cutout and modelmaking, Tim Hope experiments by bringing a new depth to computer imaging.

Tim Hope: I never liked computer graphics, it always looked dead, and the characters were dad, and the worlds were ugly. So I always said "well, actually you can scan pictures in, stick it on a shape in 3D and move it."

Bob Godfrey: I've been in animation a long time nearly always I can tell how things are done. But when I saw his work it completely blew me away, because I quite honestly didn't know how it was done. And I said "how does he do it? I mean, how's it done?" "Oh, he does it on a computer." "Oh, on a computer! Use a lightbox?" "No, he doesn't use a lightbox, no, he makes it up as he goes along, you know, and he just does this." I was just amazed by it.

Narrator: A strong element of Tim Hope's work is carrying on what the best of British animation has done for a hundred years, which is to sell its customers a vision of Britain.

Footage from Tim Hope's video for My Culture by Faithless.

Tim Hope: I think is very British. The architecture 's all based around London, and it's Dixon's and Curries and housing estates and masses of satellite towns. the high street is so uniform now, I think that's a defining thing of modern Britain.

Narrator: Computer technology means that reality and fantasy can now co-exist on screen. When this is done to promote a serious message, as in a recent charity public information film, the effect can be disconcerting and powerful.

Footage from Passion Pictures' NSPCC advert. Live action by Frank Budgen, animation by Russell Brooke.

Andrew Ruhemann: The NSPCC ad, I think that was a script that really needed animation because, here was this ad of a very sort of dark, grungy live action setting of a real person beating up an (albeit animated) kid. And we're used to seeing, you know, if you think Tom and Jerry, we;re used to seeing violence n animation where the characters do bounce back. I think it had to be animation, I don't think people could've tolerated it as live action, it'd have been too much.

Narrator: British animation's ability to create this kind of impact means that new clients are using its services, and old clients keep coming back. The government still uses animation to get a political message across. But today, it's democracy rather than war which needs selling.

Footage from an Electoral Commission film encouraging votes in the 2004 European Parliament election.

Narrator: Propaganda and advertising have come a long way since Arthur Melbourne-Cooper broke new ground promoting patriotism and matches. Today, British animation continues to be at the forefront of new ideas and techniques.

Footage from Matches: An Appeal.

Andrew Ruhemann: It's all about strong graphics, strong colours, fast cutting, new looks, new techniques, and quite frankly I think we're the world leaders at that, I don't think there's anyone to beat us.

Footage from a Murphy's Irish Stout advert directed by Mamoru Oshii at the Japanese studio Production I.G.

Narrator: And British animators continue to push the medium as an art form, whilst still delivering the sponsor's message.

Footage from Alan Smith and Adam Foulkes' 2004 Honda advert. All together now: hate something, change something, hate something, change something, make something better...


No comments:

Post a Comment