Halas and Batchelor part two

| January 21, 2008

In the 1950s, Halas and Batchelor were able to expand their work yet further, producing films on purely artistic subjects. Experimental work as early as the 1950’s included stereoscopy (with Norman McLaren) and advanced forms of film puppetry, combining the multi-projection of film in close synchronization with the live player on the stage and the production in the 1960’s of about 200 8mm cassettes to illustrate through brief animation loops important points in scientific and technological instruction linked directly to the textbook. The 1950’s represented the true birth of the studio as a recognised source of high quality animated films. It continued to make public information films for governmental offices. These high quality films, especially their shorts for the Marshal Plan, The Shoemaker and The Hatter (1949) and, for the Ministry of Health, Fly About the House (1949 ) were instrumental in attracting funding for the studio’s future development. Its UK profile was further enhanced with the production of the Charley series (1946-47) for the Central Office of Information.

They are best known, however, for their adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1954). Rumors persist that the film was funded by a CIA covert operation, but Halas insisted that it was humanist and anti-totalitarian rather than anti-Communist, and the film is a considerable achievement: a feature length work of poignancy and deep emotion which revises our expectations of animal characters as comic or sentimental figures. The sombre satire of Orwell’s novel is muted by a controversially upbeat ending in which the animals once again mobilize in resistance to authoritarian leadership but the film’s highly politicised viewpoint still seems a bold and unusual one, particularly within the context of the British film industry of 1950s.

During the production of Animal Farm Halas & Batchelor employed over seventy people based in different offices in London, including a studio in Stroud. In texts held in their archive, the number of staff employed during the production series varies from author to author: figures range between 70 to 100. At the start of production in 1951, the studio experienced a large increase in personnel: some of these were former employees from Anson Dyer’s studio. To support the production of Animal Farm, Halas & Batchelor established Animation Stroud Ltd. in 1951 under the management of Harold Whitaker. The Stroud department became an established part of Halas & Batchelor and became the training base for new staff and new generation of animators. In order to sustain its high level of output and development, the studio was proactive and flexible in identifying and exploiting new markets. It achieved this by recruiting talented staff and advisors whose skills and knowledge helped to achieve these results. The company actively promoted this aspect of its work in promotional leaflets and in the trade press. Due to the high demands that making these films put on the studio, they were forced to divide the studio space into different units and different production areas. This also led to setting up divisions dedicated to key commercial areas of the studio. Much of the structure has not changed from that of the 1950’s, except for the creation of additional units aligned to different commercial areas that the studio oversees.

Even with production centered on Animal Farm, the studio was able to continue making commercials, information and educational films. A survey made during current research of the creative output of the studio during this period gives an indication of the range of films they produced. At the proposed launching of the new television channel ITV in the UK in 1955, Halas & Batchelor were already investigating the impact the launch of commercial television would have on animation studios. The most significant effect of the new station was the increased number of commissioned commercials, and in particular animated commercials, by advertising agencies. By 1955 the number of studios producing animation increased as a response to this demand.

By 1955, Halas & Batchelor was promoted as the largest cartoon studio in Europe. The economics of animation have always been precarious, and Halas and Batchelor primarily supported their unit by the mass production of commercials for television, the production of sponsored public relations films, films made in association with other production companies, and by sponsored entertainment series undertaken for television, such as the Foo-Foo cartoon series and the Snip and Snap series. The latter introduced paper sculpture animals, and both series, made in association with ABC-TV, enjoyed worldwide distribution.

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