Saturday, 27 February 2010

Halas & Batchelor's The Figurehead

Here are a few stills from The Figurehead, a 1952 Halas & Batchelor short directed by Allan Crick. One of the studio's forays into stop motion, the short also made use of experimental cel techniques, as explained in John Halas and Roger Manvell's book The Technique of Film Animation:
The idea of drawing and painting with light had been tried out by my colleague Alan Crick in our film Figurehead. This was a technique based on the use of transparent celluloids, polaroid screens, and filters. By the adjustment of polaroid filters the colours of transparent celluloids could be automatically changed. These light effects suited the subject well; it was a fantasy about Neptune's daughter who falls in love with a handsome but unresponsive wooden figurehead and takes him down with her to the sea bed.
The film can be found both on the DVD included with the book Halas & Batchelor Cartoons: An Animated History and in the French DVD compilation Halas & Batchelor: Le best of "so British"!.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

A rough guide to Musical Paintbox

As well as their slightly better-known Animaland series, G-B Animation - the short-lived British studio founded by Disney animator David Hand - brought us Musical Paintbox, a series of ten shorts that lasted from 1948 to 1950.

Each short in the series focuses on a British or Irish locale, showcasing folksongs, legends (often with comical twists) and other bits of local flavour.

Here are some stills from the sixth short, Sketches of Scotland, which covers a Scottie dog's dream, a reimagining of Robert Bruce's encounter with the spider and the reminiscences of the narrator (voiced by future Dad's Army actor John Laurie):

Denis Gifford's book British Animated Films, 1895-1985: A Filmography reprints a number of contemporary reviews for most of the shorts in the series:

The Thames
The subject of this completely novel technicolor cartoon is the Thames, and the journey from the source to Southend Pier contains clever hand-painted impressions of the popular beauty spots and show places. These are bound by effective vocal and orchestral accompaniment. The new idea is neatly exploited, yet still leaves tremendous room for expansion. (Kinematograph Weekly, 10 July 1948)

We hear the song, 'Old Father Thames,' and pass from the trickling source to Magdalane Tower at Oxford. We glide on to Henley Regatta, meet the ghost of the Vicar of Bray, and then pass the playing fields of Eton. At Runnymede, King John signs the Magna Carta, at Hammersmith the Boat Race is won. Slowly the cartoon slides through London and ends up jovially on crowded Southend Pier. Charming and original. (NSTA Review)

The Land of the Leeks, needless to say, is the happy hunting ground of this cartoon. Here again still life drawings are employed, and the highlight is a clever satire on the famous legend of Devil's Bridge. The second of the series, it is an improvement on the first and is clear proof that the new Rank cartoon organisation is on its toes. (Kinematograph Weekly, 7 October 1948)

A typical Welsh public house which contains pictures around the walls of Welsh beauty spots. The Welsh legend of Devil's Bridge is brought to life with cartoon characters. Excellent, beautiful, humorous, the best of David Hand's to date. (NSTA Review)

This musical cartoon deals with the beauty and fables of Somerset. Several of the county's famous songs, including 'Strawberry Fair,' 'Somerset Farmer,' What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailo,' and 'Up From Somerset' provide cheerful accompaniment for local legends and colourful characters. (Kinematograph Weekly, 17 March 1949)

We see a typical Somerset landscape and travel along to a gypsy encampment, where a woman is crystal gazing. A number of sequences in the crystal are recalled and include shots of Bath to the music of 'Strawberry Fair,' parallels between humans and animals to the words of 'Somerset Farmer,' the Wookey Hall Hole Caves, the local legend being related, Cabot Tower, Bristol, Docks ... Attractively presented but desires humour. (NSTA Review)

Fantasy on Ireland
David Hand cartoon presenting amiable caricatures of the Hibernian scene further enlivened by a variety of national airs. Pleasant of its type. (Today's Cinema, 27 April 1949)

Abstract cartoon impressions on popular Irish melodies, using colour and rhythm to great effect. Mainly for aesthetic tastes. (Film Report, 29 April 1949)

A Yorkshire Ditty
A series of colourful drawings depicting the country of Yorkshire representing the light and shade between the countryside and the rather grim mill towns. The story, which is suggested by the song 'On Ilkley Moor Baht 'At,' is brought to life and we see the romance of Mary Jane. Artistic, colourful and clever, but lacking in popular entertainment value. (NSTA Review)

Sketches of Scotland
This issue of the Musical Paintbox series goes to the Scottish Highlands to the tune of 'Annie Laurie,' which changes to 'A Hundred Pipers and A,' played by a band of Scottie dogs and a comical Scotsman. The Scotty dog has a macabre dream and we see him leading a battalion of other dogs against a fort, the front of which resembles a nightmarish cat. Weird figures spring out at him and he rushes back to his kennel. An old crofter shows us his home and reminisces before finally he and his friends leave us with the singing of 'Auld Lang Syne.' Attractive and arty, but this series is not slick enough to please everyone. (NSTA Review)

This cartoon opens in a typical Cornish fishing village. Passing a tin mine and china clay works, we follow a rainbow down to the little town of Helston. The characters in an antique shop's window come to life and dance the Helston Furry Dance. We go to the church of St. Neot and the legend of St. Neot and the Well is related. Visiting the Cornish coast, ghost smugglers appear to the tune of 'Blow the Man Down.' The last scene shows a signpost at sunset pointing to Lands End. (NSTA Review)

Canterbury Road
This opens to the tune of 'Greensleeves' and a book is shown dealing with the road from Winchester to Canterbury and the pilgrims who followed it. Then the pages seem to be missing and the narrator turns to his inspiration to show the history. The first legend is about a maiden, her lover, and a wicked king. The narrator then produces Titus, a pilgrim, who tells the story of Alfred the barrel-maker and Nicholas the astrologer. They both love Alison, the only girl for miles around, who in turn loves both men. Finally we see a view of Canterbury cathedral. (NSTA Review)

Devon Whey

Unfortunately, I have no synopsis for this short.

A Fantasy on London Life
(Directed by G. Henry Stringer)
A parody of the life of London including the Billingsgate Fish Market, flower sellers, Covent Garden Opera House and its surroundings, the pin-striped gentleman of the City travelling to work on the Underground, St. Paul's, glimpses of suburbia, and other facets of life in the city. About the best of the Musical Paintbox series, more humour than usual. (NSTA Review)

It is well designed, agreeably coloured, has touches of humour, some sardonic comments on City workers, and a delightful musical accompaniment. Excellent addition to any programme. (Today's Cinema, 29 March 1950)
See Toonhound for more on this series.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Eighties TV opening sequences: All in Good Faith, Yes, Prime Minister , Naked Video

Three more TV title sequences from the eighties.

First off here's All in Good Faith, a sitcom that ran from 1985 to 1988. The opening mixes brief spots of live action with a photo-animation technique.

Next is the opening to Yes, Prime Minister (1986-1988), featuring caricatures by Gerald Scarfe.

And finally, here's Naked Video (specifically the third season, from 1989; the first two used a differentopening).