Jonathan is a multi-award-winning figure for his films, TV ads and, more recently, animations for documentaries. In 2008, as Course Director he created the BA Animation programme at Middlesex University.
On the night, Jonathan split his talk in two, talking about his own work in the first half and presenting work by his BA students in the second. He spoke as much about the circumstances surrounding his films and his experience of making them as the films themselves. This gave a very honest insight into his outlook with its successes and frustrations. The second half was an exclusive, as it preceded the Middlesex BA Animation Graduation Private View by three days. The films were screened in HD from a projector rather than from DVD as previously.
Jonathan began with examples of his TV ads:
1. Saab: “Find Your Own Road”, 1995?, gouache on paper
2. Bell Atlantic: “Wild Things”, 1997-1999, with Maurice Sendak, pencil on paper with colouring on separate layers
3. Persil: “For Love, Life and Laundry”, 2000-2003.
Although he only screened five Persil ads on the night, he actually made twenty-five over three years. Jonathan described how the advertising work dried up for him, partly because tastes changed and the demand was for 3D animation, but mainly because as a commercial animator, you have a shelf-life: a warning for us all.
4. Excerpt from The Age Of Stupid, 2009, Spanner Films, for which he was co-Animation Director with Martyn Pick (no relation).
Jonathan showed a sequence on the historical exploitation of Africa by Europeans, using book illustrations and cut-outs, animated in AfterEffects. After this experience, Jonathan decided he only wanted to work on ethical projects and never to fly again. He added that you never know where your next job will come from. This job had come about because his son was at nursery with the twin daughters of the editor.
5. Excerpts from The Trouble With Love And Sex, BBC, 2011, for which Jonathan was Animation Director. This was the BBC’s first entirely animated documentary and based on genuine interviews with participants describing their own love- and sex-lives, which were all very moving. This was a project Jonathan had to fight to get but it was really what he wanted to make. He had to be creative under commercial pressure and the film was animated in Flash and composited in AfterEffects.
6. The End Of The Death Penalty, 2012, for Amnesty International. It is the story of Mohammad Mostafaei, an Iranian defence lawyer who was traumatised by seeing a boy hanged in public and ever since has worked to save teenagers sentenced to death from execution.
7. Banana Land – animation excerpt, 2012. The hideous story of the Colombian Banana Massacre. Although Jonathans recent films are animated in Flash, which he hates, preferring instead to work on designs in PhotoShop and hand the actual animating duties to others. Jonathan decided never to eat bananas again.
8. Guantanamo Bay: The Hunger Strikes, 2013, commissioned by The Observer. It was constructed from interviews with inmates, written entirely from memory by human rights lawyers. It is a series of first-hand accounts from prisoners of their agonising force-feeding and constant terrorising by prison guards. Truly terrifying. Absolutely hideous. This film almost moved me to tears.
9. What Comes After Religion?, 2014 Again, you never know where your next job will come from. People sometimes see Jonathan online and contact him with a job: in this case Alain de Bottom, who started following him and contacted him with the message “I really like your work. Will you make a film for me?” Jonathan made it in evenings over two months.
10. Rough House, work in progress Jonathan wanted to get back to drawing, and as a result this film reminds me of Night Club (1983), which he made while a student at the Royal College of Art. A story about bullying, the film is based on a personal experience but, unusually, told not from the point of view of the victim, but one of the bullies. The story is based on his experience of living in a student house and the pranks he and the others played on a housemate.
Then in second half Jonathan showed a selection of films by his BA students at Middlesex University: current first-, second- and third-year graduating students. Apologies in advance if I spell some of the students’ names wrong.
For the first years’ one-minute films, Jonathan gives them an hour to think of a childhood memory and then record their narration spontaneously.
First years’ one-minute films:
1. Little Shoplifters by Sofja Umarik
2. Runaway Kid by Giulia Riva
Second years’ two-minute films
3. More Than A Game by Adara Todd
4. Mr Frosty by Kate Balchin
5. Introducing Allen by Ida Melum. A stop-motion animation in which Ida auditions a puppet actor for her film, with a voiceover by David Holt.
6. Her And Hubbub by Kyle Xuereb Cunningham
7. Kaffeen by Zulfaisal Zulkipli
8. Hunger by Shadeque Abdul Khaleque
9. Mediterranean by Antonia Diakomopolou
10. The Storyteller by Eleanora Quario
The films were all introduced by the students themselves. These are all remarkably strong, authored works, each with an identity and sensibility of its own. All the students were young, beautiful and remarkably talented, to the extent that I almost wanted to give up animating myself.
He is justly proud of all his students and of the course he created.
A massive thanks goes to Jonathan and all his students.
London Animation Club returns on Tuesday 7th July with our guest Tim Hope.
I was delighted to welcome Vivien Halas and Jez Stewart of the BFI as our special guests at London Animation Club on Tuesday 5th of May. This event celebrated the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Halas & Batchelor studio, the exact date of which is today.
The last few years have been particularly busy for Vivien: 2012 was the centenary of the birth of her father John Halas and 2014 the centenary of her mother Joy Batchelor. Last year Vivien produced a book about Joy and a digitally restored version of the 1954 film Animal Farm was released on BluRay and had a limited theatrical release. Later this year a compilation of H&B animated shorts will be released and her parent’s illustrated version of Orwell’s novel republished. So I was delighted when she chose London Animation Club for a screening event to coincide with the 75th anniversary.
Vivien introduced a selection of lesser-known Halas & Batchelor shorts, two of which have scarcely been shown since they were released. She showed:
1. For Better, For Worse (1959). This is comedy about the effect that the new-fangled television has on home-life and could just as easily have been about tablets and iPhones. It is very ambivalent about television and was designed in a very modernist style. Interestingly, it features Maurice Denham as the narrator, Matyas Seiber as composer and Harold Whitaker as animator: so in a funny sort of way it is a reunion of the team behind Animal Farm. It was particularly nice that Matyas Seiber’s daughter Julia was in the audience.
2. The Owl & The Pussy Cat (1952). One of the more famous H&B shorts, this was originally made in 3D and its Matyas Seiber score is very much foregrounded in the action.
3. To Your Health (1956). This medical information film about alchohol and alcoholism is really not what you would expect. It is brilliantly informative, visually sophisticated and not at all partonising. It has a very grown-up design and drawing style, with an atmospheric use of shading. It reminded me of George Dunning’s 1973 film The Maggot. It was very apt that we screened it in a pub!
After the break, Jez Stewart told us that according to Companies House, the studio’s launch date was 18th May 1940 and although it is uncertain which their first film was, it may well be Train Trouble, an ad for Corn Flakes in which a squirrel needs a proper breakfast to operate his railway.
Jez finished by screening a beautiful advertising film, Fable Of The Fabrics (1940), in which a tiny cupid and a gypsy girl extol the virtues of Lux flakes and in a bucolic idyll. However, by the time the film was completed, Britain was at war and washing powder rationed, so a new ending was added in which the cupid announces that the product will not be available until after war has ended. So it was an advertisement for something you cannot buy.
We then screened a new version of Vivien’s and my documentary Remembering John Halas (2012/15), which launches online today. It features a new score by Tanera Dawkins, a sound mix by Tom Lowe and is narrated by Zoe Wanamaker.
Vivien then finished the evening with an encore, The Shoemaker And The Hatter, an animated morality film which extols the virtues of export and free trade:
Many thanks to Vivien and Jez for a fantastic evening. Captain Zip’s video record of the event will be available online soon.
At our event, Edwin will be presenting a selection of his own work, alongside some work by fellow experimental filmmakers from around the world, including Alexander Stewart, Caleb Wood and Al Jarnow. Edwin has sent me these details and links about them:
Alexander Stewart’s short films have screened internationally, including at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, the Tribeca Film Festival, and ImageForum in Japan. He is co-director of the Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation, and teaches animation at DePaul University in Chicago.
A film by him here:
Caleb Wood is one of the most talented and hardworking young experimental animators around today. Since graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2011, Caleb’s work has been shown widely around the world in numerous festivals. He was chosen for the prestigiousJAPIC Animation Artist in Residence Tokyo programme 2012-2013, he is part of the international animation collective Late Night Work Club and was the 2014 Festival Guest at Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation.
Edge of Frame interview with Caleb here: http://www.edgeofframe.co.uk/caleb-wood/
A film by him here
Al Jarnow is an animator, artist, sculptor, and filmmaker, whose video and animation works encompass sequences for Sesame St, including the legendary Cosmic Clock, and more personal explorations of light, shape and form. His work has influenced a generation of artists and animators, and his work has been shown at museums, festivals, universities, schools, and televisions around the world.
Documentary on Al’s work here:
I have had some interest in the George Dunning event that Jez Stewart of the BFI gave at London Animation Club on 5th November 2013, so I have put the write-up for it up here:
Dear Fellow Drinkers and Animation Lovers,
On Tuesday 5th November, Bonfire Night, our guest speaker Jez Stewart of the British Film Institute delivered an excellent talk about the work of Canadian animator George Dunning (1920-1979). You can see a video of the talk filmed by Dennis Sisterson here:
Dunning is best known for having directed the feature film Yellow Submarine but has otherwise been rather passed-over in animation history. Jez set the record straight by presenting a beautiful selection of Dunning’s short films, which ranged from thoughtful comedies, to industrial films, to experimental films.
The films that Jez showed were:
1. The Apple (1962)
A thoughtful line-drawn comedy written by Stan Hayward.
In the second half we showed work which audience members had brought along on the night.
Win The Game by Anna Savva
A marvellous stop-motion plasticine animation of an evil game show and Anna’s Arts University Bournemouth graduation film. You can see part of it here: http://vimeo.com/72856631. I hope Aardman is listening.
A 3D Surrealist film based upon a dream David once had. It was a real treat and to our shock David told us he had never screened the film. I hope this showing and the reaction he had will encourage him to commission a new score and start sending it to festivals. You can see David’s showreel here: https://vimeo.com/30379818
We had a very healthy audience of 25+ people and a thoroughly good time was enjoyed by all.
Thank you very much to Jez and also to Dennis who filmed the talk.
We return a week early on Tuesday 26th November with our special guest Peter Firmin.
I have wanted Phil to come and show work ever since he visited us at the Dog & Duck in June 2010 during a massive rainstorm and so I was delighted when he agreed to come again. I expected a fascinating evening of scatological mayhem and social comment: what we got was something even more profound.
He started by telling us how he started as a live-action filmmaker and came to animation late, when he saw the success that Aardman was enjoying in the early 90s.
Although he kicked off the screening with Intolerance (1999), Phil focussed mainly on his Christies films (2006-present) and told us that for all the Christies shorts and feature films he uses a set of 120 drawings which he made eight years ago – although he admitted he often makes this figure up. If you watch the video I shot of him introducing The Christies: Dead But Not Buried at LIAF 2011, you will hear him say it was 108 drawings:
Of his working method and outlook, he said he wanted to work continually and not be beholden to anyone. He can make the Christies films at home for nothing – apart from his time – and this frees him from the need always to be raising finance in order to make a project. Their minimal animation gives the Christies a visual and emotional remoteness, requiring the viewer has to work harder; the very opposite, he explained, of the Pixar films in which all of the work is done for you. Their mask-like profiles and synthesised voices make for a greater suspension of disbelief and even empathy for the characters. On the one hand, we can all too easily believe that Mr Christie is a suburban Nazi; and on the other, sincerely pity him for having been kept as a sex slave in a cupboard in Tunbridge Wells.
The Christies films Phil showed were:
The House Painter
Mr. Christie’s Sex Manual
The Sex Slave Of Tunbridge Wells (a London Animation Club exclusive)
You can see all of these films at philmulloy.tv. I cannot give individual links as the embedded videos are invisible on Vimeo and not on YouTube.
Phil then showed a selection of his recent Sleepwalker films, which are intended for gallery exhibition as triptychs. They are experimental films which comprise live-action video of a variety of locations, with a 3D animated man planted in the foreground of the frame. This human figure came free with the animation software Poser, yet Phil consciously messes up the figure to avoid the seamless perfection to which that 3D motion graphics artists generally aspire. This search for glitches, like the crudeness of the Christies drawings, illustrates Phil’s comment that “when things don’t work, they can make something which is intrinsic to the medium.”
The Sleepwalker films are deeply unsettling visions in black and white. Despite being undeniably cinematic, they contain no plot or resolution as such and the relevance of the figure is decidedly unclear. Phil says the presence of the figure serves to create a dramatic tension in the films and indeed, without the figure, the films would merely be back-projections of different locations; and with the figure they are visions of a nightmare space. As he says, “films in which I don’t know what is going on are more interesting than those in which I do. Resolving the narrative is a let down.”
He then closed the evening with one old film and one very new one.
The old film was Sex Life Of A Chair (1997): scarcely-animated chairs perform a variety of sexual acts while the title of each is read out by an unseen German narrator, whose voice gets lower and lower with each successive word, to the point that it becomes inaudible. Once again, a conventional interpretation is impossible and somehow the film resonates far beyond its simple comic premise.
The new film was Preparing To Fly (which is not available online), in which an instantly recognisable Phil Mulloy character appears four-fold on the white screen, swooping and swirling like four dancers in an evil Busby Berkeley routine. Gradually the figures recede into the distance until they appear to be little more than flies on the horizon: an appropriate scene with which to finish the evening.
Many thanks to Phil for a fascinating and very thought-provoking talk. I hope to put a video of it online soon.
Thanks also to Captain Zip for filming the event, to Dana Dill Tasker for taking photos (you can see them here) and to newcomer Jon Fitzsimmons who told us of his plan to develop his children’s book “The Prince, The Fairy And The Fouly” into an animated film.
Our first guest of 2015 was Lizzy Hobbs, whose work I first saw at Animafest Zagreb 2006 with The True Story Of Sawney Beane (2005), a beautiful folk story of a 16th century Scottish cannibal. I was lucky enough to see it on a 35mm print and the effect was devastating. The texture of each image is as arresting as the story it tells, with all the rubbings out and redrawings building up a trail that follows each character like a ghost as they walk across the screen. It was an ambitious film and produced in Montreal with the National Film Board of Canada.
Two years later I saw The Old, Old, Very Old Man (2007), again at Animafest Zagreb: a far more minimal film in which blobs of blue ink dance on a single ceramic style and tell another historical story, this time of the oldest man in England. It is a much more intimate film – so much is told with so little – yet it is easily the peer of its predecessor; and it seems apt that a film made on a single ceramic tile should have been made in Lizzy’s bathroom studio.
Last year at the Ottawa International Animation Festival, I saw Lizzy’s latest film Imperial Provisor Frombald (2013), in which she had actually carved her own rubber stamps to stamp the animation directly onto strips of 35mm film. Her filmmaking clearly comes from a love of working directly with materials (as well as her choice of eclectic historical mysteries), so it was no surprise to discover that her background was in printmaking and making artists’ books.
Lizzy started by showing some of her artists’ books whose drawings seemed to anticipate her animations.
Then she showed some films:
These two early films were made at Edinburgh Video Access Centre, when Lizzy had access to a rostrum camera and some Fuzzy Felt.
3. Last Regret Of The Grim Reaper (1999). This film was made while Lizzy was a student at Dundee and is the film in which her “trails’ style begins. She sent Reaper to Animate!, which led to her making her next film for this scheme.
4. The Emperor (2001). The story of Napoleon’s pickled private parts which uses a more advanced watercolour style. The Waltz scene in particular is exquisite. Lizzy told us that she had to do up to seven goes on each scene before she got it right. This is Lizzy’s favourite of her films.
5. The True Story Of Sawney Beane (2005). Thus was funded by the National Film Board of Canada in Montreal and made in the Caroline Leaf studio. Apparently Lizzy was working on this film until the week before she gave birth. This film is unavailable online as the copyright shared between the NFB and Red Kite Productions.
6. Little Skipper (2010). This film marks a kind of return to artist’s books and was included in Volume 4 of Kerry Baldry’s touring programmes of One Minute artists’ films and videos.
7. The Old, Old, Very Old Man (2007). From here on Lizzy started making films on her own in her spare bathroom. All voices were provided by Edward Fox, whom Lizzy had for only twenty minutes in the studio: he did all the voices in two goes!
8. Imperial Provisor Frombald (2013). A commission for Random Acts on Channel 4 and Animate Projects. She made 800 hand-carved rubber stamps to stamp the images onto clear 35mm film, which she then scanned. It took six months of working every day to make it! Interestingly, although Lizzy’s recent films are all made using traditional craft skills with no digital compositing, they are all digital films apart from The True Story Of Sawney Beane.
After the break, Lizzy described how she runs animation workshops (she has done over two-hundred of them at schools) and teaches at Anglia Ruskin University to make a living. She showed some of her workshop films and some commissions for the singer KT Tunstall.
9. The Nature of Bow (2003). A collaboration with the Bow Art Group. The members made a series of drawings of birds from a walk along a canal and Lizzy made did the in-betweens.
10. Our House (2014). It is base upon interviews with young people about their experience of living in care homes and uses live-action footage printed onto paper then painted and refilmed.
11.Come On, Get In(2013). A film for the single by KT Tunstall, who asked Lizzy to work on the live-action material, which she did by making prints of all the frames, cutting them out and drawing over them on cel. It took a year to do.
And we finished with
12. The Filing Of The Fangs (2010). A rare hand-drawn film which tells how KT Tunstall was taken to the dentist as a child to have her canines filed down, after she bit another girl at school.
Years ago I sat next to Lizzy at a screening at no.w.here lab. I was just about to become a parent for the first time and was very worried. Lizzy told me that having two children was even better than one, so I thought to myself, if she can produce an amazing body of work whilst having two children, then there is hope for me. I now have two children of my own and remember her advice in the dark days of no sleep – and it really helps.
Anyway, at this London Animation Club we had a very healthy audience of thirty people – very good for a weekday evening in early January.
Thank you again to Lizzy for a fascinating evening and lots of marvellous films.
London Animation Club returns on Tuesday 3rd February with a mystery guest…
When I discovered earlier this year that London Animation Club attendee Lindsay Watson had just become UK representative of the Canadian company Toon Boom, I immediately asked if she would like to come and do a demonstration for us. Lindsay herself is originally from an animation, production and fund-raising background.
As you know, I am anxious to showcase animation in all its forms and in the last twelve months I have been lucky enough to cast the net a lot wider than in previous years. This event was London Animation Club’s first corporate presentation and, just like all our other events, was free. It was also our last of 2014.
Lindsay had mentioned beforehand that her colleague Lilly Vogelensang would also be speaking but it was only at the last minute that I discovered that while Lindsay would be talking in the upstairs room of the Green Man in Fitzrovia, Lilly would be addressing us from her office in Montreal. Thus it came about that we had our very first London Animation Club transatlantic event and the first to use a digital projector in about three years.
Lindsay introduced the evening before handing over to Lilly who gave us an in-depth tutorial on using Toon Boom Harmony and Storyboard Pro.
You can see Lilly’s entire tutorial here:
and read more about Toon Boom Harmony and Storyboard Pro here:
Not only was Lilly’s tutorial an excellent showcase for the possibilities afforded by the software, it would also make an excellent user’s guide for any interested animator. What with Lilly’s disembodied voice and a giant computer screen projected onto the wall, it felt as though we were watching a giant onboard computer on the bridge of a spacecraft – although a spacecraft with wooden pub furniture.
Both Lilly and Lindsay also gave lengthy Q&As, Lilly discussing mainly technical issues of the software, Lindsay more about its history and usage.
It became clear the discussion that Toon Boom is generally the 2D animation software of choice for North American studios for producing long-running animated TV series, such as The Simpsons, American Dad, Family Guy and even South Park; so it will be very interesting to see how Toon Boom is taken up over here in the next few years.
I was delighted also to welcome back erstwhile regular Philip Green, a prolific and entirely self-taught animator, comedian, actor and voice artist. As Toon Boom is generally used by animation studios for producing ongoing series, I was keen to have Philip show us what he has achieved as a solo filmmaker.
The intention behind London Animation Club has always been to provide a place for people to meet, exchange ideas and generally enthuse each other in informal surroundings and to have no separation between speaker and audience member. Through London Animation Club I am lucky to be able to invite people I admire to come and present their work and it’s great to see a lot of the same faces coming month after month to watch them.
I try to celebrate animation in a multitude of styles, techniques and intentions, so I am delighted with the variety of our 2014 events. We had independent films, artists’ films, a children’s TV series, corporate videos, comedy sketches and even a transatlantic software demonstration. Some of the speakers were LAC regulars, others outside guests; and I notice that we featured the work of a lot of women in animation.
We had eleven events (we never do one in December), always on the first Tuesday of each month, all unfunded and all made possible by the generosity of our speakers and by the continued interest, help and enthusiasm of our growing audience.
Our guest speakers were, in order:
Sarah & Duck
Richard Hallam and Thalma Goldman-Cohen
Aaron Wood and Slurpy Studios
Lindsay Watson and Toon Boom
RUTH LINGFORD, 7TH JANUARY 2014
Ruth showed a selection of her hand-drawn, mostly independent films. They are by turns witty, lyrical and transcendent and often deal with issues of female identity and sexuality in a beautiful and arresting way. They are heavily influenced by European folk tales and mythology, but, paradoxically, whilst her animation style calls to mind wood cuts and ink on paper, her films are actually all executed on a computer.
You can see a video of her talk, filmed by Stuart Pound, here:
I first met Ruth at Animafest Zagreb in 2004 and this experience (along with meeting Bob Godfrey) led directly to my applying to the animation course at the RCA where she taught. On my first day at the RCA, however, I discovered that she had just taken up a post at Harvard where she remains to this day! The RCA’s loss is Harvard’s gain and I had been hoping to get Ruth to come and give a talk at London Animation Club for many years.
London Animation Club regular Emma Calder gave us a special presentation – and the London premiere – of her new film Boudica. The film was a commission for Norwich Castle Museum and is now a resident video installation for their Boudica display. To give a sense of history literally coming to life, Emma carefully animated coins and other artefacts from the museum collection and made her own figures from wire and ceramic pieces.
Emma brought along reference material and even some of the figures she had made for Boudica and discussed the contribution of mud-larking both to archaeology and animation. You can watch her talk, filmed by Captain Zip, here:
Emma first showed her work at our October 2012 event, so it was a great opportunity to catch up with her most recent work.
This time we were able to feature an animated children’s television series. Our special guests were Jamie Badminton (Producer), Sarah Gomes Harris (creator and writer), Benjamin Thomas Cook (co-writer) and Tanera Dawkins (composer). Jamie and Tanera are London Animation Club regulars and actually met at one of our events back when we were based at the Coach & Horses.
Jamie hosted the event and after a solo introduction and did a Q&As with Sarah Harris and Tanera, with screenings of episodes in between. You can see the video (filmed by Captain Zip) here:
The last section was a more informal talk, in which Jamie spoke to Tanera, Sarah and co-writer Benjamin Thomas Cook.
It was particularly nice then that they went on to win a BAFTA award for best Children’s Preschool Animation!
This time our guest spoke as a commissioner of animation, rather than as a filmmaker (although he does make films too). Gary, who is Associate Director of Animate Projects, showed work funded by the old Animate! scheme and by Animate Projects, including LAC regular Katerina Athanasopoulou’s film Engine Angelic: http://www.animateprojects.org/films/by_date/2010/engine_angelic.
An informative and very witty speaker, he also talked about a number of things we should all know, including:
Regular London Animation Club guest Vivien Halas came to present a selection of short films by her mother, Joy Batchelor, who was born almost exactly a hundred years before (12th May 2014). Joy is best remembered today for co-directing the 1954 film of Animal farm with her husband John Halas, but this hardly does her justice.
Our event was just one of many Joy Batchelor events in her centenary year and was preceded on 13th April by a screening at the Barbican, followed by the launch of the book A Moving Image – Joy Batchelor 1914-91: Artist, Writer and Animator (see photo below).
Our London Animation Club event was a rather more intimate do than the Barbican one. Vivien made the point that even when working almost entirely on works for clients, it is still possible to produce works of genuine artistic merit.
RICHARD HALLAM AND THALMA GOLDMAN-COHEN, 3RD JULY 2014
Richard Hallam had contacted me out of the blue to ask whether I could include a post on our Facebook page about the book he was writing with Sylvie Venet-Tupy about their old friend animator Thalma Goldman-Cohen: Thalma – An Artist’s Life.
I was more than happy to oblige and asked if he would like to come and do an evening of her films at London Animation Club. Richard delivered the talk whilst Thalma sat nearby, lobbing in occasional comments and correcting Richard on some of his facts. She was, to say the least, formidable – but very amusing too, perhaps in equal measure.
Thalma said that if her films move, they have power, they are magical, they have power over her. Her films deal mainly with the experience of sex, sexual fantasy and sexual objectification from a female perspective. Their style has the buxom humour of Beryl Cooke, on the one hand and the sharp observational satire of George Grosz, on the other.
When the talk began it was thought that Thalma’s films exist only as off-air recordings made by her friend Neil Hornick, but during the course of the evening it became clear that inside a cupboard somewhere in the centre of Thalma’s North London flat lay all of her original 16mm film cans (“Come to my cupboard!” she declared). I can happily announce that thanks to our friend Jez Stewart, her films have been moved to the BFI archive and telecine-ed, and in the process another of Thalma’s films was discovered.
You can see Richard’s excellent talk (filmed by Captain Zip) here:
Afterwards LAC regular Alice de Barrau showed a selection of graduation films by her animation class at Westminster University, most of which were created in TV Paint.
CHRIS SHEPHERD, 1ST JULY 2014
Chris spoke hilariously about his life and work and showed a selection of his animations, sketches and live-action films. He is a brilliant speaker with the uncanny ability to laugh at the darkest things in life. He also illustrated that if you have something to say, it doesn’t matter whether you make animations, live-action films or TV sketches. He also treated us to a rare London screening of his latest short, the semi-autobiographical film The Ringer (2013).
I simply can’t do justice to Chris’ talk in this write-up, so please just watch the video (filmed by Ben Fox):
Afterwards LAC regular Ged Haney and the latter did a short presentation of his students’ work at Leeds Beckett University. He also very kindly gave me a piece of artwork from his film 1992 film The Kings Of Siam. Thanks, Ged.
DENNIS SISTERSON: STEAM STREK, THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY RESTORATION, 5TH AUGUST 2014
LAC regular Dennis Sisterson came along to show his 20th anniversary digital restoration of his 8mm masterpiece Steam Trek, an hilarious reimagining of Star Trek as though made in 1905. Dennis also brought along the set, which made us feel we were on the bridge of a George Melies spacecraft, rather than in the function room of a London pub.
The film was originally made by the Ad Hoc Film Society and is enjoying a new lease of life at Steam Punk festivals and events. Dennis had all the original 8mm rushes telecine-ed at HD quality and reedited it in keeping with the original VHS tapes. You can see the restored film here:
Our special guest at London Animation Club on Tuesday 2nd September, was Aaron Wood, MD and Producer of the London-based animation studio Slurpy, the company he founded with Creative Director Katie Steed. Aaron has also been coming to London Animation Club for as long as I can remember.
Slurpy specialises in explainers, corporates and online promos, which might suggest the evening might be a slightly serious affair – but the absolute opposite was true. This was one of the most fun events we have ever had. It was absolutely hilarious. For a start, there was an audience of 45+ people and team Slurpy had brought along loads of young fans and many new people were in attendance.
The event gave insights into how to found a production company, how to acquire clients and how to establish a house style. Coming so soon after our Joy Batchelor event in May, it was interesting to be able to compare the commercial and corporate work of a contemporary studio with that of an director-animator-designer working in the 1940s to 1970s and find they have a lot in common.
A video of the evening will be available online soon.
I was delighted to welcome Max Hattler as our guest speaker at London Animation Club on Tuesday 7th October 2014. Whilst very much a contemporary digital and audio-visual artist, his practice links to the tradition of Cubist and Abstract Cinema which goes right back to Hans Richter through Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Leger, Oskar Fischinger, the Whitney brothers and even William Latham, and this is immediately apparent in his work. What is also very clear is that although Max’s work is by and large abstract, usually experimental, and sometimes deeply political, watching it is always a genuinely pleasurable experience. This was one of Max’s last events in London before his move to Hong Kong to take up a faculty position at the School of Creative Media.
The video of Max’s talk, filmed by Captain Zip, will be online soon.
LAC regular Lindsay Watson had recently become UK representative of the Canadian software company Toon Boom and provided us with our very first corporate presentation. She was joined from the Montreal office by Lilly Vogelensang who gave us an in-depth tutorial on using Toon Boom Harmony and Storyboard Pro, making this also the first London Animation Club transatlantic event. You can see Lilly’s tutorial (recorded by Lilly herself) here:
We were then joined by erstwhile regular Philip Green, a prolific and entirely self-taught animator, comedian, actor and voice artist. As Toon Boom is generally used by animation studios for producing ongoing series, I was keen to have Philip show us what he has achieved as a solo filmmaker.
Thanks to these excellent speakers, 2014 has set the bar quite high for London Animation Club. Looking forwards, I can tell you that Lindsay Watson will be offering a special discount on Toon Boom products exclusively for London Animation Club members in the new year. Our first guest speaker will be Lizzy Hobbs (https://lizzyhobbs.wordpress.com/) on 6th January and I hope to have Aaron Wood (and friends) coming back to talk about Skigly and stop-motion genius Tim Allen showing his work later in the year.
I have three London Animation Club new year’s resolutions for the year ahead:
I had the British Council Film Department to thank – once again – for their generous travel grant which enabled me to attend HIAF, which took place between 21st and 25th of August 2014. My film What Is Animation? had not been selected for the Short Competition, but festival director Sayoko Kinoshita wanted to include it in a retrospective of films by Bob Godfrey who has been Honorary Festival President in 1990. The film is based upon an interview with Bob that I recorded in 2006 in which he expounds his theories of the nature of animation. I felt very flattered to be invited.
I had been to Hiroshima before in 1989 on a theatre tour from my university, but I confident solo traveller and kept posting photographs from my trip on the London Animation Club Facebook page partly as a way of feeling connected to home on my voyage into the (fairly) unknown.
The trip, with changes at Frankfurt and Tokyo, took exactly twenty-five hours door-to-door, from my front door in South East London to the festival headquarters. The festival supplied me with accommodation nearby at the Sun Route Hotel. Hiroshima was oddly familiar, with a large river snaking through the city centre, criss-crossed by bridges at regular intervals, reminding me of the Thames. Walking to my hotel on the first night reminded me of walking along the South Bank.
The Hiroshima International Animation Festival takes place every two years and this year was the 15th festival and the 30th anniversary. It was based entirely inside the Aster Plaza, a massive building which contains a hotel, three cinemas – the Grand, Medium and Small halls – with about seven floors of offices, some of which were used for press conferences and exhibitions during the festival. You can get a sense of the scale from this video:
The festival was extremely well organised, with a festival office inside the main entrance and a daily paper, called Lappy News, after the festival mascot. The festival logo is a Dove of Peace upon which Lappy is based.
The festival staff were extremely friendly and polite and we were very well looked after. They had laid on trips to the beach and even the opportunity to stay as a guest with local families for one night. However, although we had regular contact with staff and saw plenty of Japanese people at screenings, we were rarely able to mix socially. This troubled me a bit and I wondered whether I was somehow doing something wrong.
Our hosts were extremely generous and on the opening night laid on a giant buffet reception of food from around the world, served in a Japanese fashion. Sayoko welcomed us to the festival and we were served Sake from a giant wooden pail before the event finished promptly at 11pm, when the lights slowly dimmed and we were ushered out to a Japanese arrangement of Auld Lang Sine.
There were very few other British filmmakers in evidence but I did meet Paul Bush and Gemma Burditt’s fellow director Anna Benner. I also ran into Pia Borg, the other co-director, who is Australian, but is an old colleague from the RCA and was actually in the process of moving from London to California (via Hiroshima!).
The films in the Shorts Competition programmes had many recurrent themes, devices and motifs:
1. They were generally beautifully and expertly made with a lot of value on screen and very rich graphically.
2. With a few notable exceptions, they were all made by young filmmakers.
3. Many were stories which feature “God’s lonely men”-type characters observing a situation of existential misery, which is generally never resolved. As a result any comedy films really stood out.
4. Many were told without dialogue or narration and ended abruptly.
As a result, some of the films were slightly hard work for someone with jet-lag.
As in the Ottawa International Animation Festival, the judges didn’t differentiate between student and professional work, so several films from the student programmes also appeared in the Shorts Competition; unlike the selection at OIAF, the programmes were more consistent thematically. The selection criteria in the latter seems to favour makers of student films or first films and I imagine this comes out of the festival principle of Love And Peace, in that it cultivates and celebrates young people as a hope for the future.
I saw three of the five Shorts Competition programmes and my favourites were:
Through The Hawthorn (UK, 2014) by Anner Benner, Pia Borg and Gemma Burditt
Grace Under Water (Australia, 2014) by Anthony Lawrence
The Soldier And The Bird (Russia, 2013) by Valentin Telegin
The festival also ran a massive showcase of Hungarian animation in which one of the highlights was Maestro (Hungary, 2005) by Geza M. Toth. My old RCA friend Reca Gaks’ film Yarn (UK, 2006) was also shown, but sadly I missed it.
Other strands were Festival Award Winning Titles and a series of Honorary President Special screenings, which celebrated the honorary festival presidents year by year. My own film was shown as the final film in the Bob Godfrey retrospective. The screening was at 11am on Saturday 23rd August. It was attended by seventy people – a decent crowd – but as it was in the Grand Hall, there was a lot of empty space.
The films by Bob Godfrey they showed, all on 35mm prints, were:
Instant Sex (1979)
Dream Doll (directed with Zlatko Grgic, 1979)
Alf, Bill And Fred (1964)
Dream Doll, in particular, looked magnificent and it was interesting to see common themes of comic loneliness, sexual frustration, friendship and salvation in the first three films.
Another treat was the Raoul Servais retrospective – which showed Harpya (1979) and Nocturnal Butterflies (1998) – and the Hiroshima Festival Award Titles series, which featured the prize-winning films from earlier festivals.
I made sure I visited the Peace Museum, as I had done in 1989, and the Genbaku Dome, one of the five buildings in Hiroshima to survive the explosion. These, and the gardens around them, dominate this city centre and were only five minutes’ walk from the festival headquarters.
Throughout the festival there was a party every night but as I had to fly back on the Sunday, the last one I attended was a rooftop party on the Saturday night. I had a very stressful taxi journey to the bus depot at 5.20 am the following morning, as I had discovered that the earliest bus only left the city centre at 5.55 am, which left very little time for me to catch my flight, but in the end it was not a problem partly as I had another filmmaker, Petra Dolleman, to chat to in the taxi and bus. I also discovered that Petra had met John Halas in 1994 and had worked on the Holland episode of his last project, Know Your Europeans. As with the outgoing journey, my trip back took twenty-five hours do-to-door.
The festival is a remarkable cultural celebration which brings a wealth of overseas films to a Japanese and international audience and gives visitors the experience of Japanese hospitality and an impression of a city which literally rebuilt itself from nothing to take home with them.
I am very grateful to my hosts and to the British Council – in particular Will Massa and Julian Pye – for enabling me to take part.