Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Looking back at 2013

Amanda Nevill, Oli Hyatt and Ed Vaizey at the BFI Animation Day.

Another year done - we seem to be getting through this decade like nobody's business. In terms of British animation, the highlight of the year for many of us will have been the BFI's Animation Day, on which it was announced that 16 new animated projects were certified by the BFI and would take advantage of new tax reliefs. One of the most intriguing series on offer was a revival of The Clangers, to be headed by Peter Firmin and Daniel Postgate, the son of original writer Oliver Postgate.

Sarah & Duck, Strange Hill High and Mouse and Mole at Christmas Time.

In the field of children's television, one of the highlights of the year was Karrot Entertainment's charming Sarah & Duck, which I had the pleasure of reviewing for Cartoon Brew. Slightly older kids, meanwhile, were catered to by Strange Hill High, a British series written by Simpsons and Futurama scribe Josh Weinstein (who, somewhat unexpectedly, revealed himself to be a fan of Postman Pat); the series was animated at Manchester's Factory Transmedia.

Mouse and Mole, the series of ten-minute shorts based on the children's books by Joyce Dunbar and James Mahew, were the subject of a 28-minute special entitled Mouse and Mole at Christmas Time. Meanwhile, CITV continued to adapt stories submitted by children with the Share a Story series, outlined at length by Skwigly.

On the feature film front, 2013 saw the national release of A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman, a film that was shown at festivals late last year; it received mixed reviews.

Saving Santa, Walking with Dinosaurs and Moshi Monsters.

Beyond this, as far as Britain was concerned 2013 was very much a year for animated features targeted at the younger set. In November came Saving Santa, a US/UK film that had a limited cinema release as well as going to DVD and Blu-Ray. It features the voices of actors such as Martin Freeman, Noel Clark and Tim Curry (Curry plays a character called Neville Baddington, which sums up much of his career as a voice actor).

Earlier this month the 1999 BBC documentary series Walking with Dinosaurs was adapted into a feature film called Walking with Dinosaurs 3D; another US/UK co-production, the film combines live action backdrops with CGI creatures - the latter coming courtesy of Australia's Animal Logic (Happy Feet, Legend of the Guardians). Finally, there was Moshi Monsters: The Movie, directed by Wip Vernooij and Morgan Francis and based on the online game. According to IMDB it was animated at Spider Eye Productions, the studio that previously brought us the edutainment series Jungle Junction.

Unusually, there appears to have been only one direct-to-DVD film based on a popular kids' series this year: King of the Railway, starring Thomas the Tank Engine.

Gergely Wootsch's The Hungry Corpse, Elizabeth Hobbs' Imperial Provisor Frombald (part of Secret Monsters and Random Acts) and Kim Taylor's Smack Bear.

2013 saw a number of acclaimed animated shorts, from Gergely Wootsch's The Hungry Corpse to Rok Predin's The Chase (even Banksy got in on the act). Perhaps a special distinction should be given to Kim Taylor's Instant tentacles with this one weird trick!, which managed to use - of all things - annoying Internet adverts as a source of creativity.

This year's shorts were given a boost from two overlapping sources. Animate Projects commissioned a series of films under the theme of Secret Monsters, while Channel 4 continued its Random Acts strand.

As an aside, in last year's overview I came down rather harshly on David Blandy's short Anjin 1600, which consisted almost entirely of footage lifted from two uncredited anime films. I think that pop artists should be allowed leeway in using copyrighted work - Andy Warhol's usage of a Marilyn Monroe photograph being a famous example - but in that case I think Blandy went over the line. In the interests of goodwill, then, I should mention that his second Anjin 1600 short (sardonically titled Anjin 1600: Episode 4) is a marked improvement. Framed as a documentary, with Blandy narrating his views on Western impressions of Japanese culture, it combines original animation with a few restrained clips of pre-existing anime footage.

Music videos: Easy, G.O.D. and Winter Trees.

Amongst the music videos of distinction this year were Cyriak's promo for Bonobo's "Cirrus", showing another of his hypnotic motion collages; Louis & McCourt's video for Mat Zo and Porter Robinson's "Easy", which draws on anime imagery; Persistent Peril's video for The Leisure Society's "Fight for Everyone", a minimalist piece; Tom Jobbins' visualisation of "We Can Be Ghosts Now" by Hiatus, which transfers a similar aesthetic to stop motion; Tom Bunker and Nicos Livesey's video for "G.O.D." by Binary, am homage to early vector graphics; and finally Aardman's video for the Staves' "Winter Trees", a blending of CGI and 2D animation with a fetching wood-derived aesthetic.

Looking over these videos, it is remarkable how many deal with characters escaping from mechanised urban environments...

Amongst this year's award winners were Room on the Broom, I'll Take it from Here - Because I'm a Girl (a pixilated promotional film shot in Malawi) and I Am Tom Moody.

On to the awards...

At the BAFTAs, the Short Animation category - dominated by British work for some time - showed a definite Irish influence this year. The nominees were I’m Fine Thanks, made by Irish animator Eamonn O'Neill at the Royal College of Art; Here to Fall, a UK/Ireland co-production by Kris Kelly and Evelyn McGrath; and the winner, the all-conquering Making of Longbird by Will Anderson, and Ainslie Henderson. Meanwhile, the London-animated Frankenweenie was nominated for the Animated Film award, but lost to Brave; and James Bobin was nominated for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer for his work on The Muppets.

At the BAFTA Children's Awards, Room on the Broom beat out The Amazing World of Gumball, Strange Hill High and The Snowman and the Snowdog in the Animation category; Timmy Time won Pre-School Animation, ahead of Octonauts, Peppa Pig and Sarah & Duck; and Share A Story took the gold for Short Form. Gumball was also nominated in the Television category, but lost to Jessie, while its script team won in the Writing category (the crew behind Peppa Pig being amongst the runners-up).

British animation did not win a single award at the Ottawa festival this year, but it took a few prizes at Annecy. Room on the Broom took the Cristal for Best TV Production, Benjamin Scheuer "The Lion" took the Special Jury Award in TV/Commissioned Films, I Am Tom Moody won the Special Jury Award in Graduation Films and Shona Hamilton, Mary Matheson and Raj Yagnik's I'll Take it from Here - Because I'm a Girl earned the UNICEF award.

Over at the Bradford Animation Festival, the UK-based German animator Christian Schlaeffer won Best Student Film with his Royal College of Art short The Dewberry Empire, and Room on the Broom was named Best Film for Children. Mikey Please's Marilyn Miller received a special mention in the Professional Film category, while Raj Yagnik, Shona Hamilton and Mary Matheson's I'll Take it from Here - Because I'm a Girl was the special mention in Commercials. Finally, the pupils of Bricknell Primary School won the award for Best Film by Young Animators with their short My Bicknell, with Jane Hubbard's Methyr Views received the special mention in the same category.

The 2013 London International Animation Festival had only two UK winners amongst a rich international showing, both of them in the Best British Film category: In the Air is Christopher Gray by Feliz Massie and Sleeping with the Fishes by Yousif Al-Khalifa, the latter winning the audience vote.

As for the Annies in February, the only British nominee to win was the Best Student Film: Timothy Reckart's Head Over Heels, which was nominated alongside Ainslie Henderson's I am Tom Moody.

Beyond this, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists was the most honoured British production. It was nominated for Best Animated Feature (alongside Frankenweenie); individual crew members who received nominations for their work on the film were Will Becher, for Character Animation in a Feature Production; Norman Garwood and Matt Berry for Production Design in an Animated Feature Production; Queen Victoria's voice actress Imelda Staunton for Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production; author Gideon Defoe for Writing in an Animated Feature Production

Meanwhile, the Chuggington episode "Magnetikc Wilson" was nominated for Best General Audience Animated TV Production For Preschool Children; The Amazing World of Gumball's episode "The Job" received a nod for Best Animated Television Production For Children. Finally, two animators known for their work in the UK - Oscar Grillo and Terry Gilliam - earned the Winsor McCay award.

Once again, we must say goodbye to the members of the British animation community who left us this year.

Richard Briers was an actor whose career stretched back to the 1950s; along the way he appeared in series such as Dixon of Dock Green, Jackanory, The Good Life and Doctor Who. His roles as voice actor in animation include Fiver in Watership Down, the title character in Alias the Jester, Rat in Martin Gates' Wind in the Willows cartoons, Captain Broom in the Watership Down TV series, Bob the Builder's father Robert, Reggie the Landrover in Sir Billi the Vet, Mouse in Mouse and Mole at Christmas Time and, in his most illustrious contribution to the medium, all of the voices in Roobarb and its latter-day revival. He passed away on 17 February, aged 79.

Bob Godfrey was born in Australia but lived in Britain since his early childhood. After working for the commercial studios GB-Animation and Larkins, Godfrey began a long and fruitful career as an independent animator in 1952/ He helped to start up the Biographic group and later founded Bob Godfrey Films; during this time he carved out a niche in British animation with hilarious and ribald shorts such Henry 9 'til 5, Kama Sutra Rides Again and Great. As well as entertaining adults, he lent his talents to series for children including Roobarb and Henry's Cat. He passed away on 21 February, aged 91.

Richard Griffiths played many memorable roles during his career as a character actor - the strange uncles in Withnail and I and the Harry Potter series being amongst his best-known credits - and also lent his talents to animation. His work as a voice actor can be heard in The Adventures of Peter Rabbit and Friends, Funny Bones, Archibald the Koala, The Canterbury Tales and the puppet film Jackboots on Whitehall. He passed away on 28 March, aged 65.

Born in the United States, Ray Harryhausen worked on a series of stop-motion fairy tale films before becoming one of the key names in the history of special effects animation: his delicately crafted fantasy creatures were the true stars of films such as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, 20 Million Miles to Earth and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. After moving to England in 1960, he contributed his talents to a string of British or part-British productions: Jason and the Argonauts, First Men in the Moon, One Million Years B.C., The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger and Clash of the Titans. He passed away on 7 May, aged 92.

Paul Shane was an actor associated closely with the character of Ted Bovis in the live action sitcom Hi-de-Hi!; amongst his lesser-known roles were the Teds, two bumbling bears from the stop motion series Hilltop Hospital. He passed away on 16 May, aged 72..

John Wilson was an animator who worked at GB-Animation in the forties. In the following decade, he moved to America and worked at UPA and Disney before setting up his own studio, Fine Arts Films; his directorial credits from this period involve the feature film Shinbone Alley and the opening sequence to Grease. Later in his career, he made a return to Britain. He passed away on 21 June, aged 93.

Mel Smith worked in live action comedy as a writer and director, but was best known for his work as a performer. particularly in a popular double act with Griff Rhys Jones; he also entered the world of animation by voicing the title character in TVC's 1991 adaptation of Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas. He passed away on 19 July, aged 60.

Felix Dexter was born in Saint Kitts and moved to Britain in 1968. Appearing as a comedian on television since the nineties, his credits include The Real McCoy, The Fast Show and, more recently, Citizen Khan. as a voice actor, he played Francis in Crapston Villas and multiple characters in the puppet series Mongrels. He passed away on 18 October, aged 52.

Richard Taylor began his career at the W.M. Larkin Studio, becoming the studio’s director of production later its executive director. At Larkins, Taylor directed heavily stylized industrial films such as Earth is a Battlefield (1957) and inventive theatrical commercials including Put Una Money for There, made for Barclays Bank branches in Africa. His main legacy lies in the dozens of public information films and educational shorts that he made from the Fifties to the Eighties, such as the Charley series. Taylor had the natural ability to work in a range of styles, ensuring that his films remained entertaining while imparting their messages within limited budgets. He passed away in December, aged 84.

Early in his career, Harold Whitaker worked for the pioneering British cartoon director Anson Dyer; he was amongst the staff members of Dyer’s company to be hired by Halas & Batchelor, which was where he made his name. He contributed to many of the studio’s best-known productions: Animal Farm, Automania 2000, Foo-Foo, DoDo the Kid from Outer Space, Tales from Hoffnung (one short in this series, The Hoffnung Palm Court Orchestra, earned Whitaker a BAFTA nomination), parts of Heavy Metal ("Grimaldi" and "So Beautiful and So Dangerous") and more. His other work includes providing key animation for TVC’s When the Wind Blows, and the 1981 book Timing for Animation. He passed away on December 26, aged 93.

John Fortune was a writer and performer known for satirical comedies such as Bremner, Bird and Fortune; in addition to this, he voiced the Knight in S4C's The Canterbury Tales. He passed away on 31 December, aged 74.

Monday, 30 December 2013

British web animation

 For a while, I was planning to write a short article on online animators from the UK - namely Jonti "Weebl" Picking, David Firth, Cyriak and Joel Veitch. I never got round to it, however, and now Nathan Wilkes of Skwigly has pipped me to the post.

Nathan's article focuses on Weebl, Firth, Cyriak, Tom Ridgewell, Ben "Wonchop" Smallman, Jamie "RageNineteen" Spicer-Lewis, Harry Partridge, Lee Hardcastle, Simon Tofield and Element Animation, along with Birdbox Studio, the Brothers McLeod and White Robot. It's a good selection, one that gives an idea of the variety of work out there on the 'net.

As an aside, perhaps it's just me, but "British web animation" seems like almost like a self-contradiction. A large amount commercial animation is made internationally these days, of course, but with animation made for the Internet, even the audience will be international.

As far as English-language work goes, just how relevant is nationality when discussing web animation...?

Saturday, 28 December 2013

90s adverts: Ribena, Tetley and Vitalite

A look back at a few of the characters from advertising campaigns gone by; I believe that all of these adverts are from the nineties. First off, the Ribena blackcurrants (I found surprisingly little coverage of these characters online, you know) introduce us to new, non-blackcurrant flavours.

Next we have the best-known of Wyatt-Cattaneo's creations: the Tetley Tea Folk. This advert is designed to promote the new development of circular tea bags by showing us how square tea bags merely lead to a harsh, angular dystopia.

Finally, the Vitalite Sun. This character originated in the eighties, but this must be a later advert - witness the flashier designs, not to mention a change in sunglasses.