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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice