With a long history in the United Kingdom, animation has developed along different lines to the much larger industry in North America. The lack of a large film distribution network meant a relative scarcity of work for animators in the postwar period. There was no market for syndicated cartoons, nor an equivalent of the large studio system employed by Walt Disney. At that time, the only real outlet for indigenous animators’ talents was cinema advertising.
   A handful of studios operated in London, the most notable being that of John Halas and Joy Batchelor. They produced the first British animated feature film, an adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1954). With its serious political allegory, this landmark production demonstrated the artists’ commitment to animation for adults. The first ever cartoon opera, Joy Batchelor’s Ruddigore, (1964), was further proof that animation was not solely intended as a novelty or for children. The arrival of commercial television, and the resulting increase in work for advertising (see advertising, television and video), led to a rapid growth in the number of small studios in the UK. During the 1960s a number of animators began to operate independently. Perhaps tired of the mass production techniques necessary to work for television, animators began to assert more individual, expressive styles and tackle a wider range of subjects.
   Influential in this shift was George Dunning, whose The Flying Man (1962) inspired others to push for greater artistic freedom. Dunning is perhaps best remembered for his work on the psychedelic Beatles epic Yellow Submarine (1968). Bob Godfrey worked anarchic humour into his parodies, many of which were concerned with sex; Kama Sutra Rides Again (1971) and Dream Doll (1979) are the most prominent examples. Godfrey’s irreverent attitude has been compared to the radio comedy The Goon Show. A blend of surreal humour and Dada-inspired cutout graphics formed the basis for Terry Gilliam’s animations for the television comedy show Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969–74).
   Advertising and children’s entertainment continued to provide the bulk of work for animators in the 1970s, representing opportunities to experiment with different techniques. Several feature-length animated films were produced for the cinema, largely adaptations of children’s books such as Lee Mishkin’s Butterfly Ball (1974), and Martin Rosen’s Watership Down (1978). As the number of films produced increased, so independent animators found they could explore more personal subjects and vary their graphic styles. Geoff Dunbar’s short film Lautrec (1974), based on the French artist’s cancan drawings, won wide acclaim. Ubu (1979), derived from Alfred Jarry’s play Ubu Roi, shocked many with its angry, grotesque characters. Alison de Vere’s films use powerful symbolism to convey emotional and spiritual states. Mr Pascal (1979) deals with religious belief and transformation, and The Black Dog (1987) is a journey through a haunting dream landscape. Certain artists began to move away from traditional techniques of two-dimensional cell animation in the Disney mould, and towards a more mixed media approach. In particular, stopmotion photography using real objects, people or puppets became popular. The Brothers Quay, influenced by Czech film maker Jan Svankmajer, started producing animated shorts using found objects such as dolls’ heads, pieces of meat, hair and bones. Their dark, neo-Gothic style with its macabre air of decay is seen in Epic Of Gilgamesh (1981) and Street of Crocodiles (1986). Much of their commercial work has been made for music videos or television channel identifying graphics. Aardman Animations, a studio started by Peter Lord and David Sproxton, specialized in plasticine animation. This technique was used throughout their Morph series for BBC children’s television in the 1980s, and to great effect in the milestone music video for Peter Gabriel, Sledgehammer (1986). Aardman enjoyed international success with Nick Park’s Creature Comforts (1989) and The Wrong Trousers (1993), the second film featuring two enduring animated characters, Wallace and Grommit. Animation has always been an area of the media industries more open to participation by women. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s they have taken an increasingly important role in the field in the UK. The role of Channel 4 in funding much of this work has been widely recognized. The channel’s remit to cater for niche audiences led to a separate commissioning department for animation for adults: many of the resulting films have been made by women.
   Kayla Parker makes films that are experimental in form, with uncompromising subject matter. Cage of Flame (1992) celebrates menstruation and uses a combination of live action, stop-motion and scratching on the surface of the film to convey haunting, powerful imagery. Sunset Strip (1996) is a time-lapse film of drawings of sunsets made every evening over one year. The images are drawn directly onto the film using a variety of materials including nail varnish, magnolia petals, hair and net stockings. Candy Guard examines everyday life through the eyes of her neurotic female characters in Fatty Issues (1990) and the series Pond Life (1996). Boyfriend trouble, shopping with Mum and weight watching all come under the microscope. The resulting mild misfortunes are played to hilarious effect. Sarah Ann Kennedy works with more biting satire. Her Crapston Villas (1996) is a raucous parody of community values as represented by the Eastenders soap opera. Kennedy playfully subverts the conventions of the soap genre, injecting an air of absurdity and desperation into her characters more reminiscent of a situation comedy. Coupled with outrageously scatological humour, the innovative animated series is a unique contribution to British culture.
   These two long-running series (Crapston Villas and Pond Life) indicate a wider trend in television towards including animation in the wider field of entertainment programming. Popular American shows such as Beavis and Butthead and The Simpsons have influenced this move. While children’s television (see television, children’s) and the films of Disney still dominate the popular perception of animation, it seems that an approach more geared towards adults is here to stay.
   See also: cartoons and puppetry
   Further reading
    Halas, J. (1987) Masters of Animation, London: BBC Books.
    Pilling, J. (1992) Women and Animation, London: British Film Institute.
    Russett, R. and Starr, C. (1976) Experimental Animation, New York: Da Capo Press.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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