Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The early nineties: promoting British animation abroad

Most of my readers will know that there was a boom in independent British animated shorts in the late eighties and early nineties, largely thanks to Channel 4. In this post I'll take a quick look at a couple of attempts to promote this body of work in the US as something resembling a single coherent movement.

First off, here we have the poster for Expanded Entertainment's "British Animation Invasion" show which toured North America in 1991. It showed a range of shorts, some of which are well remembered today (such as the works of Nick Park, Peter Lord, Candy Guard, Joanna Quinn, Barry Purves and David Anderson) and some which later fell from view (Richard Ollive's Night Visitors, Ian Andrew's Dolphins). A VHS tape of the show's selection was released in 1993, using the poster image as a cover.

The show featured a good range of films taking a number of different approaches, and representing them in a single image would be a tricky prospect. The poster ended up taking a rather generic tack by depicting an audience member doing a Tex Avery take, an idea which could have just as easily have been used for about any other animation festival. While contemporary British animation was deemed worthy of a dedicated screening, then, there seems to have been a problem in finding a suitable image for the movement.

Also released by Expanded Entertainment in 1993 was a laserdisc focusing solely on Channel 4's shorts and bearing the title "New British Animation". Its cover takes a very different approach: instead of a specially made image, it shows a still of two background characters from Derek Hayes and Phil Austin's The Victor.

It is perhaps odd that the cover is dedicated to characters who appear only briefly in a single short, but the image works. The characters are in some ways very traditional - cel animation with hard black outlines - but in other ways strikingly new and, above all, cool.

These releases date from around the same time that Japanese animation was being branded as "anime" in the English-speaking world, and tied to a specific visual style and range of subjects. One wonders if Expanded Entertainment was trying to produce a similar image for British animation.


  1. I bet they were, I use to love spending big money on those tapes when they were out. Arguably trying to clue us Americans into watching British Animation was a tough one I bet (at least outside the alternative ground that Liquid Television thrived on).

    The still shot from "The Victor" was a good choice for that cover certainly for what the film conveyed in it's design and style. I've enjoyed watching films like that since it gave me some idea of how interesting and unique animation was outside my home country.

  2. The early 90's was certainly an interesting time when you also had the anime thing happening, of course back then they were trying to market that as edgy, sexy, adult entertainment much the way Expanded Entertainment was marketing independent, award-winning shorts in much the same way at their festivals (the tape covers themselves would have "Animation for Grown-Ups!" as it's motto).