For People Crazy About 2D Animation!

Acme Punched! is for people crazy about 2D animation. It may be enjoyed by beginners and others, but it is aimed at animators who know already something about the process of animation and the basics of character animation. In large part, it will attempt to provide a deep look into the problem solving that goes on in my head as I work out a scene, often in step-by-step posts that I will sometimes enter in "real time", without knowing in advance what the outcome will be. Mistakes and false starts will not only be included but emphasized, so that the creative process of animation will be portrayed realistically. And, while my own bias is for 2D drawn animation, many of the effects and principles discussed here can apply to CGI 3D animation as well. I hope the blog will prove useful and instructive for all.

-Jim Bradrick

Thursday, September 11, 2014

No. 74, Rare Animation Books: The Animated Film

The Animated Film, by Roger Manvell, pub. 1954 by Sylvan Press. 63 pages.


This book, subtitled "with pictures from the film 'Animal Farm' by Halas and Barchelor", was remarkable in its day for not being about the Walt Disney studio.  Indeed, it was about a British studio and their production of the first British feature-length animated film.  Across the pond at Disney, work was going forth on Lady and the Tramp, another sentimental adventure with songs that had become a Disney mainstay.  Animal Farm was nothing of the sort.

The film was based on a popular book of the same name by George Orwell, who was a journalist and, later on, author of the  more famous dystopian novel 1984. The book was a satire of the communist form of government and, more specifically, of the Soviet version of communism, which in its heavy handed way had become in many ways indistinguishable from fascism.  It told the story of farm animals who rise up and overthrow their human master and then attempt to govern themselves, with the more cunning and ruthless among them eventually rising to the top.  "All animals are equal," goes the famous quote, "but some are more equal than others."

Expressive animation of the pig who decided he was "more equal than others."

Two still frames in black and white from the color film Animal Farm.

Today it is known that the CIA, interested in any kind of anti-Soviet propaganda, obtained the film rights to Animal Farm, and that under the direction of Howard Hunt (of Watergate infamy) the producer Louis De Rochement was chosen as front man.  De Rochemont then selected the Halas and Batchelor studio to create the film. It is not generally believed that the studio had knowledge of the source of their funding at the time.

The Halas and Batchelor workflow chart of animation production.

The film was remarkable for being of adult interest rather than that of children.  John Halas, a Hungarian immigrant to England, and his wife and partner, Joy Batchelor, expanded their studio to a staff of 70 for the production. Three years, from 1951 to 1954, were spent in the making of the film. The technique and style chosen were not unlike the Disney model, with drawn animation traced and painted onto cels, and with care taken to achieve a certain amount of realism in the movement and design, again in the mode of Disney.  It was, after all, intended to be released as a commercial product, so it needed to be able to compete.

A page showing development of the design for one of the human characters in the film.

Model sheets of some of the animal characters.

The book includes expressive model sheets of the characters, sections of storyboard, layouts and animation drawings.

A detail of the Tension Chart.

An interesting insert is a foldout "Tension Chart" showing the flow of tension or excitement from beginning to end, including notes on mood, music and color.

Background layouts.

But although the film was in color, the books illustrations are all in black and white.  Altogether it is a fascinating look through a parallax lens of feature animation production in a country other than the US.

Views of production work around the Halas and Batchelor studios.

Roger Manvell, the author, was a writer who had worked for years with Halas and Batchelor "as a researcher, author and screenwriter", according to the 2006 book Halas and Batchelor Cartoons, An Animated History, by Vivien Halas and others.  In addition to The Animated Film, he also wrote in association with John Halas three other books on animation.

The Animated Film is out of print and likely to be very difficult to obtain.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

No. 73, Rare Animation Books: The Art of Animation

The Art of Animation, by Bob Thomas, 187 pages. Pub. 1958 by Simon and Schuster.

 This colorful book was conceived around the Disney studio's production of Sleeping Beauty (1959) and showcases its art in particular. And unlike the Robert D. Feild Art of Walt Disney, published in 1940 and reviewed in my post no. 72, it gives due credit to the names and personalities of the many great Disney artists throughout the history of the studio. Surprisingly, there is even a Compilation of Animation Credits section at the end. On the other hand,  it is also like the previous book in that it has the taint of a corporate production, a Disney promotion that makes no mention of any other studio or of anything negative such as the labor union battles of the 1940s or the diminished interest of Walt Disney himself in his animated productions.

A double-page spread using a still from the film of Sleeping Beauty.

The Disney story was presented in an entertaining and beautifully laid out book.  There was plenty of production art to look at, though it was often juxtaposed with non-production art that had the look of Little Golden Books art--flattened, not quite on model.  Even as a boy I recognized and resented this insertion by an art director of what I considered second generation interpretations of the real thing.

Another spread showing stills from three cartoons, two illustrations featuring production art, and at lower right a Golden Books-style illustration.

Nevertheless, there was information here that had never before reached such a wide audience, much of it in archival photographs and their captions.

Shot of a story conference in the old Hyperion studio, mid 1930's.  That's inspiration artist Albert Hurter at extreme right.

First photo and first mention of which I am aware of Disney's Nine Old Men of animation. The term was not used by Walt endearingly.

Pictures of the animators at work intrigued me particularly, as they showed the artists with pencils actually in hand, actualy animating, the stacks of drawings and pinned-up model sheets all around them. To me, already in love with the idea of animating as a career, it was thrilling.

Animator Ollie Johnston at his board, mugging into his mirror while animating a fairy.

Looking back from 2014, with all the wealth of critical writing about Walt that we now have, with all the interviews and research accomplished by animation historians like Jim Korkis and Mike Barrier, the Bob Thomas book seems without depth, but it marked the beginning of a time of greater interest in the people of animation who made Walt Disney look good and in the art of animation itself.

A spread showing the work of background stylist Eyvind Earle, whose angular and geometric designs influenced even the character design in Sleeping Beauty.

My copy is a first edition that I have owned for more than fifty years, as evidenced by its worn appearance.  An internet search through rare booksellers or ebay might turn up a copy for you.