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Jerry the Tyke to SuperTed: Welsh animation celebrated in new exhibition

Laura Chamberlain

From Jerry the Tyke, who predates Mickey Mouse, to the instantly recognisable SuperTed, Wales has a pretty firm friendship with the animation industry.

An exhibition detailing the history of Welsh animation has recently opened at two of Wales' national museums, National Museum Cardiff and the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea.

The exhibition charts the history of the industry in Wales from its very beginnings, almost a century ago, and gives an insight into the creative processes involved in bringing animated characters to life.

Visitors at the Wales Animation exhibition in Cardiff. Photo: Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

I caught up with Owain Rhys, the curator of the exhibition, who told me that the reaction to the exhibition by visitors so far had been positive.

He said: "I was there on the launch day and we had a lot of families coming in through the door. We had Sali Mali and SuperTed dancing in front of the children, we had workshops and I think everybody enjoyed themselves.

"The main feedback we’re getting is that people didn't realise that all this animation was made in Wales. People would know maybe of SuperTed and one or two of the others but things like Hana's Helpline, Igam Ogam, Rastamouse, Grandpa In My Pocket – they're all made in Wales, and people didn’t realise this."

The idea for the exhibition came about after the museum was approached by Gerald Emmanuel, a lecturer at the University of Glamorgan.

Rhys explained: “In the past Gerald had worked on animated projects and he thought it was high time for the animation industry in Wales to gain recognition to raise awareness of the importance of animation in Wales and the world, not only culturally but economically.

"We have provided iconic figures in animation but we have also provided students and animators who have developed to be some of the prime movers in Britain and the world.

"So it was his idea in the beginning, but it was also convenient that S4C were celebrating their 30th birthday this year. We coincided the opening of the exhibition with their celebrations, as S4C was obviously a huge influence on the industry in Wales."

Visitors at the Wales Animation exhibition in Cardiff. Photo: Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

While animated figures such as SuperTed and Fireman Sam automatically spring to mind, the history of animation in Wales dates back to 1925, and to a dog named Jerry.

Rhys said: "The first cartoon made in Wales was one called Jerry the Tyke. It was made by Sid Griffiths who was a cinema projectionist in Cardiff.

"He invented Jerry the Tyke two years before Mickey Mouse so he has got a claim to being the first cartoon character in the world maybe. What is amazing about that cartoon is that the techniques he used were way ahead of his time.

"He was combining live action film with animation, and was making the characters talk to and respond to each other - two years before this was developed much more famously by Walt Disney."

"What is striking is that between Jerry the Tyke and S4C there was about a 60 year gap. Then in the 1970s there was a kind of revival in Wales. People like Henry Lutman and Frank Koller were producing lovely little colour animations.

"My favourite is a Frank Koller film from 1978 called Mr Eppynt and Clara the Cow, which is a colourful, psychedelic story about a man and his cow travelling around the world."

The Wales Animation exhibition, which runs through to next spring, is split over two museums in Cardiff and Swansea, with very different offerings to visitors in each one.

Rhys said: “In Swansea visitors will get a chance to make their own cartoons. They will have a chance to experiment with the different types of animations, from the earliest things called zoetropes - where you put a strip of paper inside a turning wheel and you look through a slit to see horse jumping over a hedge, or a snake going around a bend - moving on to simple tracing techniques and making models out of clay right up to the more complicated CGI and digital capture of images.

"So in Swansea you get a snapshot of the techniques and the how-to of making animation, while in Cardiff you have the history, the iconic characters and the awards that people in Wales have won. The Cardiff exhibition is more of a chronological record of what’s happened in animation in Wales."

James Lewis and Lucy Thomas enjoy the Claymation station at the exhibition in Swansea. Photo: Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

While the exhibition celebrates the history of animation in Wales, it also highlights the fact that the industry is flourishing, not only through Wales-based studios such as Dinamo Productions, who are behind the likes of Rastamouse, but through the up and coming animation graduates in the country too.

Rhys added: "We’ve been working closely with Newport University, Swansea Metropolitan and University of Glamorgan and they have provided films through Skillset Academy Wales of the latest batch of animators that are coming through, the 2012 graduates. We are well aware that Wales is still providing animators and still churning out quality, classic animation."

Wales Animation runs at both the National Waterfront Museum and National Museum Cardiff until 17 March 2013, with a series of workshop events and film screening taking place in each. For more information visit the Wales Animation website.

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