It's not all Tom and Jerry

The men and women behind Britain's animation boom are a strange lot. Long live the weirdos, says Steven Poole

Listen to these people talk. "I think I was quite a miserable child." "I used to spend a lot of time alone." "I had a very isolated childhood." What do you think they all have in common? Are they, perhaps, serial killers? No, these men and women have devoted their lives to making animated films. They're let out of their cells and onto your screens in a new six-part series about animation called Secret Passions, under Channel 4's Four-mations UK banner.

The first film (Wed 10.55pm) profiles Alison Snowden and David Fine, who won this year's Oscar for Best Animated Short Film with the wonderful Bob's Birthday, a poignant and hilarious piece about a surprise 40th birthday party that goes horribly wrong. These hand-drawn characters have noses like gigantic boils but remain ineffably cute, in vivid contrast to the almost nihilistic portrait of married life in the story. This is quite worrying: Snowden and Fine are married themselves. But they're not letting us in on their private life, merely admitting demurely: "I suppose there is an undertone of bleakness in our films."

Indeed, what may be surprising to those unacquainted with modern animation is the genre's elasticity of theme: an animated film can be a light comedy, or a serious dissection of modern mores, or just a weird, abstract fairytale, like Petra Freeman's Jumping Joan, which would be impossible to do in any other medium. Paul Vester has even made a film about UFO abductees, crawling with animated aliens. So it's not all Tom and Jerry. Clare Kitson, C4's commissioning editor for animation, agrees: "There is an assumption, which I have to fight against all the time, that animation is just for kids and intellectuals."

The variety of techniques used is also confusing for those who would pigeon-hole animation as a genre ghetto. Cell animation, as in Disney films, is one thing, but then there is 3D stop-motion stuff. Think of the army of skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts, or the baroque weirdness of Tim Burton's The Nightmare before Christmas. Or Morph. And these days, those infernal computer things can also get in on the act. Secret Passions showcases Ange Palethorpe's brilliant Alter Ego, which mixes live-action film (of a real actress) with fluid pencilled cell animation, and a two- horned stop-motion devil, all put to the purpose of a lashing satire on the modelling industry. (Modelling, geddit?)

Yes, animation can be about issues, too. Tamsin Gilbert dramatised her own battle with bulimia in a harrowing film done with cut-out bits of paper and pictures from magazines. But generally, probably because it's such a broad church, animation does not lend itself to over-politicisation. For example, the second Secret Passions programme focuses exclusively on animators who are female, but they all balk at the suggestion that they might be making "women's films". Says Gilbert: "I would never like to make a film that excluded men."

Well, if we're not going to be sexist, we can at least be patriotic. British animation is booming, and so it should be, with places on art- school animation courses massively oversubscribed, with Channel 4's long- sighted encouragement, and with a climate dank enough to discourage healthier pursuits. Clare Kitson generously points out that there is some very interesting work being done in France - but then, they don't win half as many awards as we do. "I don't honestly think there is a British take on animation," she says, "but whatever they do, they do it wholeheartedly and you know what they're doing."

There remains the niggling suspicion that what they're doing is a deviant activity. Animators lock themselves away for years on end to come up with a few short minutes of film, and even the most well-adjusted will happily compare finishing a work to "childbirth without the marks". Still, you don't have to swallow Freud whole to realise that any kind of artistic activity is deviant, so long live the weirdos.

'Secret Passions', Wed 10.55pm C4

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game