Animation in Welsh film

Image of SuperTed

Last updated: 05 March 2010

Animation is unquestionably the strongest area of Welsh film and has been since the early 1980s, when S4C's launch allowed young filmmakers a showcase for their talents.

S4C executive Chris Grace, with a shrewd eye for international markets, helped develop a stimulatingly creative Welsh animation scene built around what might now be regarded as a Wales First Wave, which soon included a host of talent lifting international festival awards.

Notable Welshbased animators in the 1980s and 1990s (some gaining the bulk of their work from other channels) included Joanna Quinn, Vera Neubauer, Phil Mulloy, Candy Guard, Gerald Conn and Jane Hubbard - and the Aaargh! team of Michael Mort and Deiniol Morris, responsible for the success of S4C's often amusingly gross Gogs Neanderthal man series.

Experienced Welsh based animators and companies also featuring prominently in the post 1980 animation 'renaissance' included Dave Edwards, Les Orton and companies such as the revamped Siriol Productions (now Calon) and Cartwn Cymru.

For years it was thought that no worthwhile animation had been produced from Wales before the 1970s, but the "father of Welsh animation" has proved to be ex-Cardiff cinema projectionist Sid Griffiths, grossly neglected by film historians until the 1990s.

Since then his 2D drawing cartoon work has been hailed at festivals following re-discovery of 40 episodes of his Jerry the Troublesome Tyke series featuring a mercurial and often downright dishonest pooch, and screened in major circuit cinemas by the Pathe Pictorial magazine fortnightly, from 1925 to 1927, the creative heyday of silent cinema.

The episodes, found in British Pathe vaults at Pinewood, constitute the most comprehensive surviving material of a British screen cartoon creature. The Jerry episodes by Griffiths and his fellow Cardiff projectionist and former professional photographer Bert Bilby were launched as British Pathe's answer to America's Felix the Cat, the most popular animation creature before Disney's Mickey Mouse.

Griffiths and Bilby had first developed Jerry by inspecting Felix cartoons frame by frame, so it's no surprise that these films are derivative in form and content. Griffiths though, developed his own playful style, melding live-action sequences with animation, as in the U.S. Out of the Inkwell series by the Fleischer brothers (now best known for Betty Boop and Popeye).

Bilby a skilled photographer, was the perfect ally for Griffiths and the live action and cartoon blend prove especially effective in episodes in which Griffiths and his often irascible cartoon creation interact, with Jerry hectoring his artist from a drawing board serving as a screen-within-the screen.

In one episode A Flash Affair, Jerry takes a photo of Sid and leaves him blackened by the 'flash' explosion. The most engaging is A Sticky Business in which Jerry persuades Sid to draw him for a cinema poster, and then embarks on an illegal fly posting spree. The episodes are often appealingly self-reflexive, with much emphasis within the narrative on Jerry's Pathe links and his perception of himself as a star.

Griffiths went on to animation, supervisory and photography roles for the British company Anson Dyer and helped make the company's series of experimental 1930s colour cartoons featuring Stanley Holloway's voice and his famous monologue character Sam Small. He also worked on the first British animation feature, the Halas and Batchelor version of George Orwell's Animal Farm (1954). Some Jerry films have been televised by BBC Wales, with new scores by John Rae.

The dormant Welsh animation scene developed in the early 1980s - on the back of the success of SuperTed - the children's series eventually sold to the Disney channel and made by Siriol under Dave Edwards and Robin Lyons - and the astonishing triple award acclaim for Joanna Quinn at the world's leading animation festival, Annecy, in 1987 with Girls' Night Out. This film introduced her buxom, feisty valleys housewife figure Beryl.

Quinn's remarkably fluent and versatile line drawing, sharp characterisations and often genial brand of feminism, soon won worldwide admiration and with partner and writer Les Mills, she consolidated her reputation with Body Beautiful (1990) in which Beryl delivers the come-uppance to a narcissistic macho bodybuilder.

Many critics consider her Leonardo da Vinci-prizewinning Britannia (1992) to be Quinn's purest work - and much her most trenchant. It's a savage satire on Britain's Empire-building in Victorian Times, drawing some parallels with the Thatcher era.

Famous Fred (1996), Quinn's longest animation, made with Channel Four and London's TVC company, gained the animator her first Hollywood Oscar nomination, and she repeated the feat with her Wife of Bath episode in S4C's The Canterbury Tales (1998). She landed the Cartoon d'Or in 2006 for Dreams and Desires-Family Ties.

Animators with highly distinctive styles and preoccupations working in Wales during the 1980s and 1990s period included abstract artist Clive Walley, and Phil Mulloy noted for brutally frank, often sexually graphic short drawn films debunking male macho attitudes and film genres as in his series Cowboys (1991) and The 10 Commandments (1994-96). More recently - as in his series Intolerance - Mulloy has relied more on computer animation, but widened his range of targets to embrace a host of male, media, and political and religious attitudes.

Czech-born Vera Neubauer also worked in Wales in the 1990s, gaining a BAFTA Cymru award and has achieved success internationally with the feminist thrust of her work, occasionally using collage techniques exploring elements of the landscape and Welsh folk myths and legend.

Sand animator Gerald Conn surfaced as a significant talent with Eastern Promise (1995), a sly tourist's eye view of India, and his diverting, well constructed The Comet's Tale (1997), inspired by the rare appearance of Halley's Comet, won a BAFTA Cymru Best Animation Award.

Tracy Spottiswoode, a radio and stage dramatist and live action filmmaker, has won acclaim and BAFTA awards in Wales, making a particular impression with her animation Code Name Corgi (1999), with its amusing play on national identity and gender issues.

Wales' first animation features emerged in 1992 - both from a reformed Siriol company - Under Milk Wood (dir. Les Orton), from the Dylan Thomas radio play, and the more visually impressive The Princess and the Goblin (a co-production with Hungary). Cartwn Cymru's feature Y Mabinogi (director Derek Hayes) emerged in 2003.

Chris Grace developed animation series of Shakespeare tales and Operavox based on international operas, aimed at school and an educational market. He also showcased short films by much new talent, and other animators this decade have developed skills with company's such as Siriol, Quinn and Mills' Beryl Productions, Dinamo (formed 2004 by Aron Evans and Owen Stickler) and Griffilms.


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