Interview with Dick Horn 1st March 2000
Infant School — Nursery year — afternoon nap on canvas beds , followed by drink of milk
Richness of stories — Old and New Testament
Kipling's Just So stories,
Kingsley's Water Babies
even a snatch of Beowolf — ( not in old English ! )
10th year of schooling lost altogether as all London schools closed at start of War..
11th year evacuated — father died—family moved — ran away from school managed to get home to new house
Following year , equivalent of 11 plus exams — nobody took at all
seriously ( including the teachers ) fatalistic assumption being that we were simply going to fill in time until called up for the services
At 13 , by a series of lucky coincidences I found myself at Art School. ( They were running junior foundation courses at that time ) previously I had no idea that artists actually existed outside of plays and novels.
In my final year , still uncertain what to do when the time came to leave , saved by news that John Halas was recruiting trainees for his studio.
I started in the animation industry way back in the dark ages juust after the war. At that time there were only two studios in town, Larkins, in a rather imposing 18th century house in Charles Street in Mayfair, and Halas & Batchelor in a rather less impressive building in Soho Square, which is where I found myself as an eager young trainee at the beginning of 1946.
The term trainee had a slightly different meaning in those days, referring more to an apprenticeship, rather than the casual employment of untrained people which it subsequently became. Just
prior to my joining the studio, the Union, then the A.C.T. , had signed an agreement with the Shorts and Documentary Producers which provided for a three year training scheme, with a minimum
wage, to be increased annually, plus cost of living increments . There were no standardized training schemes in existence, so it was largely a matter of learning on the job and varied from one studio to another. In the case of H & B this meant that everybody started as a humble painter, moved around the various departments during the first tear or so, before finally being graded in the department that best suited them. Much of the work being done at that time was in B + W using a standard range of grey paints, usually five, but occasionally squeezing in an extra tone between the lightest grey and white. if we wanted a degree of sublety . Of course there was no such thing as emulsion paint at that time, let alone the more refined products produced later by firms like Chromacolor, so we had to rely on an oil-based form of house paint that had been treated so that it dried flat on cel. It was usually necessary to thin the paint to the right
consistency for applying to the cel by adding turps. If too much was added, the balance had to be redressed by adding linseed oil. As you can imagine, working with these materials under pressure of deadlines made it very difficult to keep the cels clean, and time had
to be set a.side for polishing as there were no polarisers under the camera so that even the slightest blemish would be picked up.
There was quite a strict discipline in force for all this, the system being that each painter was allocated a daily quota of cels which had to be presented cleaned and in correct shooting order first
thing the following morning. Any cels not up to standard would be handed back for re-cleaning or retouching as the case may be, so that by the middle of the week it was difficult not to find yourself slipping behind quota and it would be necessary to stay late to catch up.
Needless to say this was done in unpaid time !
Winter of '47 - power cuts.
A cinema commercial for Kellogs was in fact the first film I worked on. It has an interesting history, having been started on at the beginning of the war, then shelved for five years, and finally
completed in 1946. The storyboard, by the way. was by Alexander Mackendrick , before he moved on to higher things.
John Halas , as you probably know, was originally from Hungary, and had his artistic roots in the Bauhaus, School and his originaltraining in animation with the George Pal puppet studio in Holland, so that his work inevitably reflected a European outlook rather than the American, represented mainly by Disney .
Line-test showings for the animators were held regularly at the CROWN viewing theatre in Wardour Street, and quite often the whole studio would be invited along to see examples of animation not likely to be seen in the commercial cinema. A practice for which I've always been grateful. One of the earliest examples from that time was a film called " La joie de vivre " made in France in 1934 by Hoppin and Gross. The style of animation is far removed from the .American model, being inspired more by the ballet than slapstick
comedy, while the graphic styling is reminiscent of Art Nouveau.
Another film-maker whose work we encountered for the first time at these showings was Norman McLaren. The first examples we saw were those made during the war to encourage the sale of Savings
Bonds. These were produced by the National Film Board of Canada which had been set up by the British documentary film-maker John Grierson. The films were originally scheduled to be farmed out to
Disney as there were no Canadian studios in existence at that time, but fortunately Grierson remembered the young Scotsman who had produced experimental films for the GPO unit ( the Post Office ) here before the war, tracked him down in New York, and offered him not only the War Bonds, but also the opportunity to set up a permanent animation unit at the Film Board—and the rest, as they say, is history !
All cartoon animators at Soho Square were women. Wally Crook ( Rosalie ) Vera linnecar , Elizabeth Williams. former animators included Spud Murphy ~ ( Houston )
By 1947 the first animation films from Eastern Europe were beginning to appear and Halas was quick to get his hands on them for us. The darker, satirical films came from Poland and were mostly in B and W, while those from Czechoslovakia were based mainly on folk-tales, and made excellent use of the Agvacolour film stock, which at that time was excellent at reproducing greens and blues . but not so hot at producing bright reds. Jiri Trnka, then still working on drawn animation rather than puppet work, made a fascinating little film based on a Grimm Brothers story, called " ANIMALS and BRIGANDS " which I would dearly love to see again, but it appears to have vanished from the face of the earth.
About this time in the commercial cinema, the first of the " ANIMALAND " series began to appear. These had been made at the big Disney - style unit set up by the Rank Organization at Cookham.
David Hand - Disney's 2nd in Command. Stan Pearsall and Arthur Humblestone on credits.
At the time these films began to appear in the cinema, we at H & B were in the midst of the " CHARLEY " series of cinema shorts commissioned by the C.O.I, to publicize the post-war Labour government's programme of social reforms. There were seven in all,beginning with the plan to build new towns like Stevenage and Basildon to combat the severe housing shortage, and following through with the policies on the Health Service, National Insurance.Mining, Farming , Education and so on. The central character was a rather weird creation, resembling one of the old George Pal puppets rather than the typical member of the British public he was meant to represent The fact that he was saddled with the terrible cockney voice of a popular radio comedian of the day didn't help much either.
Fortunately, you won't be seeing any of these this evening , but for those of you who are interested, the BFI have the whole series tucked away in their archives and |hey do occasionally surface, in programmes at the NFT.
I spoke earlier about some of the difficulties encountered with tracing and painting ; the camera also presented something of a challenge. It consisted of a rigid box-like structure with the camera mounted securely on top. and for tracking shots the actual table was moved up and down on pulleys. There was no provision for automatic fades on camera , we used an electrical resistance to dim the lights and bring them up again , so that even a simple mix was a rather hazardous operation . Only the bottom pegs were capable of panning and they were moved manually using calibrations drawn on the edge of the background. As you can imagine these limitations posed serious problems for the animators, as well as making shooting pretty laborious. Worst of all, there was no automated shutter release, not even a simple cable, so it was necessary to reach up to the camera and press a metal button for every single exposure. By the end of the day there was a very painful indentation in the cameraman's thumb ! ( Obviously, Health and Safety' regulations weren't all they might have been )
As part of my general training I was often called upon to assist on shooting and at the end of the day, unload the camera, make out the sheets, and deliver the film to the labs for processing - all this in unpaid time at the end of the working day.
My wife, who had already been through this routine some years earlier , tells me that she used to relieve the boredom of the nightly trek to Humphries, by rolling the cans along the pavement !
(The mind boggles at what might have happened if the tape W securing the the can had come unravelled.)
During any slack periods in the animation room, we would work on a personal project of John Halas , known to us for years by its production number H-1, but eventually to be known as " MAGIC CANVAS The style of the animation has a certain affinity to the Hoppin and Gross films although the design and storyline are quite different. The music, which is an important element of the film is by Matyas Seiber, who in addition to his film work had achieved a considerable reputation in classical music
circles, his work being influenced by Bartok and Kodaly , and to complete the trio another Hungarian, later to become a well-known film maker in his owu right, Peter Foldes , painted the backgrounds.
At the end of 1949, the CHARLEY films had come to an end, MAGIC CANVAS was completed, and cartoon work generally was drying up. The big Cookham studio had closed down, and the
George Moreno studio tucked away in the hinterland of the East End, had gone bust for the second or third time.
Moreno was an ex-Fleischer animator who settled here after the war, and attempted to survive entirely on entertainment cartoons for the cinema , but as always in this country the cards were stacked against
him. The films he produced could in no way be described as artistic, but they were certainly no worse than most of the American competition at that time. During the time that we were busy on the CHARLEY films in Soho Square, Halas had set up a separate Diagram unit in Catherine Street in Covent Garden, staffed by ex-servicemen under the supervision of his new business partner, an ex-naval commander, Francis Crick. This of course meant that much of the instructional work that had formerly helped to fill the gaps between cartoons at the Soho studio, was no longer available. It was never-the-less a considerable shock to all of us when we retumed to the studio in the New Year of 1950 , to be given two weeks notice of dismissal , bearing in mind that in those days it was not unreasonable to assume that providing you did your work
conscientiously , and barring the actual collapse of the company, vou had a job for life !
For the next three and a half years , apart from two short ' '
spells at Larkins. I waa out of the Industry.
Larkins: Worked for first time with Bob Godfrey , Nancy Hanna ,
Hugh Gladwish — Peter Sachs .
RIVER of STEEL BALANCE ENTERPRIZE
The next three years were spent working at an old-fashioned, almost Dickensian, advertising
studio in the City , where I struggled with hand-lettering, as LETRASET was looked upon as cheating, and also learned to paint realistic images of jam jars complete with reflections and the small
print on the labels . Strangely enough , I've never rnanaged to find a
use for such skills since !
1952 Halas was setting up the first British animated feature ANIMAL FARM . Drafted in Disney trained director , John Reed and animators from Cookham including Arthur Humberstone, Eddie
Radage, Ralph Ayres . Stan Pearsall had been working for Halas just prior to start of feature but left to work in South Africa — much to Halas's disappointment. Pearsall an animator's animator .
Lucky to have the services of Harold Whittaker from Anson Dyer studio at Stroud. Still with us — probably most experienced animator in the country !
During my period in the city I discovered the amateur film world, bought a second hand clockwork camera with single-frame facility,and made a couple of films that proved to me, at least that I could
actually animate without supervision, and then just waited for the wheel of fortune to turn .
Also during this period, there occurred what I think must be called the defining event for my generation, the 1951 Festival of Britain..
The little Telekinema, tucked away under one of the railway arches off York Road, was the only
building, with the exception of the Festival Hall to survive Churchill's savage destruction of the site the following year, and then became the first National Film Theatre. The programme at the Festival
featured 3D movies including some new work by McLaren. Meanwhile in the commercial cinema, the first UPA films were beginning to filter through. Dilys Powell, probably the most perceptive film critic we ever had in this country, and a great champion of animation, raved about them, and by the time commercial TV came in a couple of years later all the advertising agencies wanted was UPA clones.
I said earlier that l would happily the entire evening with
McLaren's, work but the same goes for UPA. I am concerned that for many younger members of the industry, recently schooled in the classic techniques of Disney animation , UPA has the reputation of simply introducing limited animation. It's true that many people, jumping on the band wagon, saw only this aspect of the style, failing to see that what you leave out in terms of animation drawings, has to be compensated by better stories, better design, in fact more creativity all round.
Current example of way animation might have developed after UPA can be seen in Disney's FANTASIA 2000 , RHAPSODY in BLUE sequence.
Designed in style of New Yorker cartoonist A1 Hirschfield , superbly animated.
By 1954, all the Agencies were gearing up for the opening of ITV the following year and were commissioning lots of pilot commercials as they were very nervous about how animation would work in short bursts between programmes . I was now back working for Larkins in a newly formed unit, to be known as Guild Animation Tenterden Street, before moving on to an all-star
studio set up for the Pearl & Dean company by Dave Hilberman, one of the founder members of UPA . Those of you familiar with animation history will remember that Hilbermann had the distinction
of being shopped to the MacCarthy Un-American Activies Commitee.
I have described Pearl and Dean as an all-star unit, but unfortunately the temperament that goes with such talent proved to be too much to be confined in one space and by 1957 the original team dispersed and the previously ill-fated George Moreno group moved in to run the studio for the next few years. ,
Contact with their way of working showed me the value of keeping drawings extremely rough while timing was being established.This was the opposite of Halas' method.
BECTU Members may be interested to know that it was in this year that Animation was first recognized as a Sub-section of the Union, and the first Animation Committee was formed, consisting mostly of cameramen as I recall.
Other noteworthy events in the latter part of the Fifties were the setting up of TV Cartoons by George Dunning as a result of the unsuccessful attempt to establish a branch of UPA in London and the appearance of Dick William's first personal film LlTTLE ISLAND.
Although I was in regular work at this time most of it was pretty run-of -the -mill stuff, although I did manage to take time out in the summer of 1961 to work on the first animated series in Canada. It was just like one continuous party, mainly because it was the first time on a series for al of us and we virtualv made things up as we went along!
Unfortunately, I was only there for a few months before having to return for domestic reasons, and after a period of plodding along on instructional work, I found myself in 1962 redundant once again and decided this time to stick my neck out and try free-iancing. which I've been doing virtually ever since.
1967 I was lured to Canada again and decided to take the family with me ostensibly for a year with the idea in mind that if it all worked out as promised we would consider permanent emigration. I had a rude awakening in Toronto. I returned in time to work on Yellow Submarine with with Bob Balser.
The Sixties of course saw the production of the Beatles series in '66 and The YELLOW SUBMARINE in '68. The series, like many another I've known were great fun to work on but pretty abysmal to watch. Fortunately, they were never shown here, but now that there is a book about them on the way, they yet surface here — so you have been warned! There are also plans to re-issue a new video print of YELLOW SUBMARINE, which is slightly better news.
Sandwiched between these two events I had my second spell of
working in Canada. If the first time had seemed like a party, this time was more like a nightmare. I won't go into all the boring details now, but just mention that one of the few redeeming features of this
episode was the opportunity of working with Shamus Culhane for the first time. Also George ? ? - veteran New York animator from the silent days of Felix The Cat. Impressed by method of planning series episode.
During the Sixties, the ACTT had an arrangement with the New York branch of IATSE, the American union, to send each other copies of their respective journals I think we got the better
part of the deal since their newsletter was devoted entirely to animation affairs and presented in a lively amusing format. Needless to say prize-winners at the various festivals were regularly featured, and one name that cropped up again and again was that of Bill Melendez who clocked up a record-breaking number of awards in very short order. I had remembered the name from the credits of most of the UPA films I had seen, and I remember thinking that would be a great guy to work with. This feeling increased when he went on to produce the PEANUTS shows and commercials, but if anybody had told me that within a few years I would not only be working for him, but that the association would continue for over 25 years — I would have said they were crazy — but that is in fact what happened. Bill's son Steve set up a company here in the Seventies which functioned partly as an independent British company , and partly as an overflow facility for the studio in L.A.I've brought along a short selection of stuff that I put together in the 80s to give some idea of what we were up to beginning with an excerpt from DICK DEADEYE.
I began free-lancing for Melendez with Jaques Vausseur , brilliant French animator/director on British Rail commercials, then in April 73 we began work on DICK DEADEYE , a feature based
on Gilbert and Sullivan themes and designed by Ronald Searle. After the first year, regrettably Jaques died of a sudden heart attack and Bill Melendez asked me to take over direction of the animation.
All the elements were there for a really great film apart from the most important one — an adequate budget. Without a decent budget it is impossible to allocate the time required to produce
quality animation — a problem that has bedevilled most British animation until Dick Williams and the young Turks such as Oscar Grillo, Geoff Dunbar in the mid-Seventies managed to demonstrate to advertisers and sponsors what could be achieved with realistic backing.
After DEADEYE I stayed on with Steve Melendez working on commercials, series, and the odd TV special for the States.
In '81 I had a third spell in Canada, working in Ottawa with some of the old faces of twenty years earlier on a series based on children's books in which we animated on " fours " ( explain ) which to my amazement proved quite adequate for the job in hand. In ' 89 Disney people set up a studio in London and I
thought it might be fun to work non Disney characters and in the Disney system. This turned out to be a mistake — mainly because the people running the unit were not exactly focussed on what was
required to get production up to speed, and so by the New Year of '90 I found myself working instead for the unit set up by Seilberg out at Acton to produce a sequel to " THE AMERICAN TAIL, thinking that this would be a good opportunity to experience American feature production techniques — what a mistake ! First shock actual layout of studio with animator's desks crammed into rows of cubicles resembling a battery hen production line. Hierarchical system of working in which rigid routines were maintained regardless of whether they were necessary for the task in hand thus stifling any individual creative output, and finally a time-keeping system reminiscent of a Victorian mill-owner. Needless to say Union
membership was not encouraged and meetings on the premises were strictly forbidden.
I survived 3 months before quitting and taking up a job directing a TV series for which I was actually paid a decent salary for a whole year !
Since then I have continued to work with Steve Melendez on an on and off basis mostly on commercials featuring Snoopy and the other Peanuts characters.
There is a sad story attached to the first little film. I had been working on an idea for a personal film for which I couldn't find a satisfactory ending, so I decided to go to an expert for advice. I
phoned up Stan Hayward who was at that time churning out prize-winning ideas for almost every studio in town , and asked if I could discuss the problem with him . When I got to his place he
listened politely while I outlined the problem , but when I'd finished he made it clear that he wasn't terribly keen to work on other people's projects at that time as he had a whole drawer-full of his own ideas that he was keen to see realized, and if I would agree to actually complete one of his ideas and submit it to a festival , I could have it for nothing ! Well this seemed to good an opportunity to
miss, and knowing that there was a festival with a special one-minute category coming up, I agreed to take it away and finish the film by the end of the year which was only three months away .
So I took it away, found a suitable sound-track , then
beavered away at the animation, got it shot, processed and entered for the first Ottawa Festival, and then rang Stan to tell him the good news. Unfortunately, he was less than ecstatic. His first words were, " Oh my God ! I'd completely forgotten I gave that to you, I've just sold it to another studio, only this week. " And for reasons best known to himself he stubbornly refused to tell the other people what had happened, the result being that not only two versions of the same story appeared, but I was accused of stealing the idea and even threatened with physical violence at one point, plus a threat to remove
my film from the projection booth and throw it into the river. Fortunately all that was long ago and all the parties involved have now retired from actual film-making so I feel reasonably safe in telling the story.
The second film, BACK ROW , grew over a period of almost ten years , believe it or not. The starting point was my reaction to a McLaren film called BLANKITY BLANK Those of you who know
the film will recall that it consists of images appearing intermittently on the screen in a teasing fashion, in fact some people estimate that something like 75% of the film is plain black leader! I wanted to do
something similar without appearing to copy it too slavishly , then somewhere along the line I remembered another project to do a potted history of the movies using only very primitive line drawings - similar to the style of Emile Gobi's pioneer animation. But still it wouldn't quite come together.
Now at this point I have to confess to ha\dng been a Freud freak for most of my adult life, and have always harboured a wish to use Freudian symbolism in animation, and eventually these three strands came together in the one film. It is only two minutes long,
it's very busy — so I warn you there's no time to blink!
Well, that's the end of my bout of self-indulgence. Thank you forgiving up a nice. Summer evening to be here, and sitting patiently through such a strange miscellany.
Now, as promised, another UPA film to round off the
proceedings. As a matter of interest, the animation of the lawyer is by Art Babbit , previously responsible for developing the Goofy
character and the Chinese mushroom dance in Fantasia.
ROOTY TOOT TOOT.