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Moving Art - The creators of Britain’s first animated feature film
Animated films were pioneered at the start of the 20th century. Anson Dyer was one of Britain’s best animators, known for his children’s cartoons and cinema adverts. In 1940 he moved his studio to Stroud to escape the London Blitz.
By 1951 Stroud was home to Britain’s most influential animation company: Halas and Batchelor. The company took over Dyer’s studio and went on to occupy various properties around the town until 1987. From 1955 to 1975 they were based in an old vicarage in Cainscross.
The studio, run by husband and wife team John Halas and Joy Batchelor, produced films for a range of audiences, from adverts to educational ‘shorts’. Their most famous work was the critically acclaimed Animal Farm - Britain’s first animated feature film
Halas and Batchelor had international impact. They became known for their distinctive graphic style and superb quality animation. The studio experimented with technology and technique, from paper cut-outs to computerisation.
From 1940 until the 1990s Halas and Batchelor created over 2,000 films and won countless awards.
The Acmiola was made in the 1940s by Acmade, for editing film. Halas and Batchelor used it to work on soundtracks and run test reels. It was found in the attic of Harold Whitaker’s home. He was the chief animator at Halas and Batchelor for 30 years.
Animation in Stroud
In 2017 the Museum in the Park was able to tell the story of the animation studios of Anson Dyer and Halas and Batchelor, that used to be in Stroud. This was part of a wider project funded by Arts Council England.
As a result of the project we received a number of donations of animation material, ranging from animation cels and equipment to photographs and artworks produced by the animators.
This photograph shows a group of employees of Anson Dyer, standing outside in the grounds of Stratford Abbey, where the animation studio was located. The tallest man standing on the right is animator Tony Guy.
In the early twentieth century, Anson Dyer was a major figure in animation, hailed at the time as Britain’s Walt Disney, known for his children’s cartoons and advertisements. With the onset of World War Two, he made films for the war effort and in 1940 moved his studio to Stratford Abbey (now the site of the Tesco petrol station) to escape The Blitz. He continued into his eighties, when Halas and Batchelor took over the studio, to expand their London base.
Animation (Stroud) Ltd. occupied various domestic properties in Stroud from 1951 until 1987. Initially at Tilbury House in Bisley, for the most part they were at an old vicarage in Cainscross between 1955 and 1975, and for the last years at a 19th century house called ‘The Acre’. Halas and Batchelor were Britain’s biggest and most influential animation company during their time.
A Card by One of Britain's Best Animators
This greeting card depicting a young girl sat tying her shoes was made by artist and animator Tony Guy in 2007. It is a limited edition card (30 of 100) entitled 'My New Shoes' and has his signature on the front. Inside is written a Christmas message from Hazel and Tony Guy to a former painter at Halas and Batchelor who they nicknamed ‘Bird’.
Tony Guy joined Anson Dyer in 1946 fresh from graduating at Gloucester College of Art. After completing his National Service with the Royal Air Force, he returned to work as an ‘in-betweener’ on cinema shorts and commercials. During this time he met his wife Hazel, who worked as a cel painter for Anson Dyer.
When Halas and Batchelor took over the studio in 1951 he became an assistant animator for Animal Farm. He was soon a top animator working on prominent series such as Popeye, Lone Ranger and Foo-Foo, the operetta Ruddigore as well as educational films and commericials.
Tony went freelance in 1972 and went on to work on some of Britain’s most beloved animations. He was animation director for Watership Down and animator for specials such as The Snowman and The Wind in The Willows, as well as series like Scooby Doo, SuperTed and Animals of Farthing Wood.
He continued animating into his 60s and also taught animation. He died in 2014 at the age of 84, in Gloucestershire where he lived most of his life. His wife Hazel said of him:
“He always said he was the most famous artist in the world that no one had heard of. They would all know his work but not the man, but that suited him.”
Drawing from 'The Question'
This pencil drawing shows a male and female couple holding a pink heart and walking into the distance. It was drawn by assistant animator Chris Norman for the final sequence of the film 'The Question' (1967). This was a preliminary drawing, completed in detail that would then be traced onto a cel.
The short film 'The Question' tells the tale of a man in search of the meaning of life. He picks up a question mark and presents it in turn to a priest, a politician, an artist, a scientist, a psychologist, a financier and an army commander. However the question isn’t answered until he meets a woman and falls in love.
Animation is the capture of individual drawings which are then stitched together to create the illusion of movement. At Halas and Batchelor story boards were prepared in London and sent to the studio in Stroud.
The animators drew the characters on paper and they were traced on to celluloid sheets (‘cels’) by the tracer. This process developed so that animators drew directly on to cels. The chief animator would illustrate key parts of the process and leave other parts for assistant animators to fill in.
The reverse of the cel was coloured by the colourist. At the beginning of the project the colourist would create and number a set of colours for a character, so these could be used consistently throughout. The cels were checked by the checker and excess paint was cleaned away if necessary.
A single cel would constitute 2 frames, and there were 24 frames per second of film. The subsequent cel would differ slightly from the former, to make the characters move. A fifteen second commercial could take up to 3 weeks to film.
Did you know?
Anson Dyer who moved his studio to Stratford Abbey, Stroud to escape the blitz in the autumn of 1940 is sometimes described as Britain’s Walt Disney!
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