History of British animation

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The history of animation in the United Kingdom began in the late 19th century. As in other areas of industry and culture, British achievements and developments in animation have been enjoyed and employed around the world. British animation has been strengthened by an influx of emigres to the UK, renowned animators such as Lotte Reiniger (Germany), John Halas (Hungary), George Dunning and Richard Williams (Canada), Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton (USA) have all worked in the UK at various stages of their careers. Notable full length animated features to be produced in the UK include Animal Farm (1954), Yellow Submarine (film) (1968), Watership Down (film) (1978), and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005).

History of animation in the United Kingdom[edit]

Animation is based on the phenomenon of 'persistence of vision', first identified in a paper by Peter Mark Roget published in 1825 by the Royal Society titled "Explanation of an Optical Deception in the Appearance of the Spokes of a Wheel Seen through Vertical Apertures."[1]

In 1872, English-born Eadweard Muybridge, a photographer living in San Francisco, started his series of sequential photographs of animals in motion.[2] Books of his work are still widely used for reference by artists and animators.

Circa 1899 two Dutch researchers (Tjitte de Vries and Ati Mul) have argued to be the first animation in film was made by Arthur Melbourne-Cooper of St. Albans for the Bryant May match company. (Most animation researchers, however, credit the film to George Albert Smith.) In "Matches Appeal", stop-frame puppets made of matches were filmed frame by frame as they wrote on a blackboard. In 1925, Cardiff-based animator Sid Griffiths working with Brian White, created the silent short Jerry the Tyke for Pathe, which was shown on their fortnighty magazine, Pathe Pictorial, on cinema screens around the world.[3] Griffiths and Brian White set up together in Charing Cross Road, London in 1929, producing animated advertisements for the Superads agency.

By the 1930s, as commercial animation was established in the USA, in the UK the creation of Government public information films from the GPO (Post Office) unit and later wartime and post-war information films allowed for greater experimentation than the more market driven work across the Atlantic. Established by documentary maker John Grierson the GPO Film Unit produced many films using animation as Grierson believed it was an idea medium to communicate information. For these films he hired pioneering experimental animators such as Norman McLaren and Len Lye who would go on to make many more important films and in the case of McLaren to later head up Griersons National Film Board of Canada animation department.

These GPO productions and the many wartime propaganda films led to an industry of animators with eye catching design styles and an ability to get a message across efficiently. Coming from this background Halas and Batchelor maintained their position one of the leading European animation companies, producing many commercials and short films during most of the second half of the twentieth century and were responsible for producing the influential and ground breaking animated feature Animal Farm (1954). Subsequently with the arrival of commercial television in the 1950s the UK became one of the world’s leaders in animated commercials.

The later impact of the music and film industries as London became the heart of the ‘swinging sixties’ meant that pop culture created other markets and areas of influence for UK animation. The 1968 animated feature film Yellow Submarine starring The Beatles and produced by London's TVC Animation, was a worldwide success and was highly influential on the course of animation and design in subsequent years.

In the 1978 the animated adaptation of the hit children's novel Watership Down was another worldwide box office success.

The 1980s saw the emergence of Channel 4, on British television, as one of the great supporters of animation. The channel gave great support to many animators working on the fringes, as well as global mainstream hits, and again boosted the idea of the UK as a centre for innovation in the form. The television animated special The Snowman an adaptation of Raymond Briggs children's graphic novel, again produced by TVC Animation, was a huge success that remains a perennial Christmas favourite. Also establishing London studios in this era were Walt Disney Productions, producing Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 1988, and Steven Spielberg's Amblimation which made several features and made for television animations, including An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991).

In the 1990s the UK’s instinct for invention saw the emergence of the British video games industry as one of the world’s largest and helped to establish its place in the forefront of the digital revolution. By the turn of the century the UK had become a world leader in digital animation and computer graphics, with London post production companies such as Framestore and Double Negative producing visual effects and computer graphics animation for many of Hollywood's biggest movie productions.

Bristol's Aardman Animation rose to global fame in the 1990s and 2000s with the commercial success of their characters Wallace and Gromit in award winning films such as The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

The UK’s ability to consistently produce innovative and globally popular work in all main areas of the popular culture; pop music, television, film, fashion and interactive media, has helped UK animation stay at the cutting edge.

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  1. ^ [1] Explanation of an Optical Deception in the Appearance of the Spokes of a Wheel Seen through Vertical Apertures. Roget, P. M., Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 115, 1825, pp. 131-140
  2. ^ "Eadweard Muybridge (British photographer)". Britannica. Retrieved 3 March 2012. "English photographer important for his pioneering work in photographic studies of motion and in motion-picture projection." 
  3. ^ Andrews, Robert (22 September 2002). "Cartoon pioneer dog has his day". BBC News. Retrieved 3 March 2012.