Film Studies

Animation Nation: A History of British Animation

British animation has enjoyed a long and successful history, existing since the inception of cinema itself. From early stop-motion to animated cut-outs, traditional hand drawn cel animation, and more recently CGI, innovation has always been at the heart of animation in Britain. Television has seen a wealth of cartoons and stop motion work, especially during the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Oliver Postgate became a household name with children's shows such as Noggin the Nog, Pogles Wood, Ivor the Engine, Bagpuss and The Clangers, alongside other classics such as Captain Pugwash, Mr Benn, Willo the Wisp, Danger Mouse and Postman Pat to name but a few. Bob Godfrey's surreal creation, Roobarb and Custard, was also a highlight during this period of seemingly endless imagination from British animators.

Despite the sheer quantity and quality of animated material for television, though, there has been rather a dearth of feature length examples. Obviously, they are expensive to make and time-consuming, plus the huge competition from, for example, Disney Studios and American animation more generally. However, there have been notable examples which have found audience success and critical acclaim. Significantly, Halas and Batchelor's Animal Farm (1954) - based on George Orwell's satirical novella - is regarded as the first British animated feature. Although the visual style is similar to Disney features of the period, it is far darker and more adult in tone in line with the source material. This film initiated the idea that animation could be used for serious purposes, such as commenting upon the social, political, and cultural concerns of the time.

As the 1960s is renowned as a decade of artistic creativity, especially in music, it is no surprise that the next important and innovative animated feature was inspired by The Beatles and their hit song Yellow Submarine. This surreal, psychedelic fantasy was created using hand drawn images, painting on glass, and rotoscoping and the film is rightly regarded as one of animation's great achievements, also helping to cement animation as a significant art form. The latter part of the 20th Century saw more innovation in the form of Martin Rosen's Watership Down (1978) and The Plague Dogs(1982) which were both based on novels by Richard Adams, and Jimmy Murakami's When The Wind Blows (1986) based on the comic book by Raymond Briggs. None of these features were intended for a young audience and therefore cemented the idea that animation was not just for children, although there was plenty to keep both kids and adults happy with the work of Nick Park and Aardman Studios. The incredible success of Wallace and Gromit and the major advancement in stop motion animation techniques speak for themselves.

This course will focus on the history of British animation; the key innovators in the field; the cultural context in which the films were made; and the artistic qualities and often subversive potential of a selection of animated films.

The Showroom’s Film Studies programme is open to everybody interested in film, with alternate screenings and discussions led by film lecturers from Sheffield Hallam University every Wednesday. The terms are 8 weeks long, with 4 films and 4 sessions.

£65 / £50 concessions for the full term. Tickets for the whole term can be booked at the Box Office. Tickets are also available for the films individually. 

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