Arts and Entertainment

Don't worry, Disco Stu is safe

Why cartoon Britain keeps on winning

Animators are the success story of British film. But we risk losing them to Hollywood, warns Jayne Pilling

You make me feel virtually real

Toy Story had more PhDs on `set' than any other film. Steve Homer takes a look at the crew's handiwork, while, below, Adam Mars-Jones finds there's more to this movie than clever graphics

Animators' Disney deal for animators

Two British animators have signed a multi-million pound deal with Disney on the strength of one 90-second cartoon, writes Marianne Macdonald.

numbers the anaesthetist

It has been a week of large numbers: a particle that weighs a trillion trillionth (that's one over ten to the twenty-fourth) of a grain of sand; a computer that analyses a billion chess positions a second. It is very difficult to have even a grasp of what such huge numbers mean. Once you get past a million or so, another couple of zeroes seems, to most of us, neither here nor there. So here's a quick guide to a billion:

Tails of adventure

CRICKET: England batsmen unable to maintain interest on cloying surface that bowler DeFreitas belatedly finds is to his liking Choice

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

A great animator PETER WOOD : SHOW PEOPLE : ARTS

TOM STOPPARD'S Indian Ink, which opens this month, marks the resumption of the longest-running playwright-director partnership on the English stage. After a break for Arcadia, directed by Trevor Nunn, Stoppard is back in harness with Peter Wood, for the eighth time since Jumpers in 1972. It's a relationship which Wood counts as the most precious and fruitful of his working life. That is quite a claim. A Cambridge contemporary of Peter Hall and John Barton, Wood had been directing for over 20 years before Stoppard crossed his path. During that time, he had run the Oxford Playhouse and the Arts Theatre, launched Ionesco in Britain, directed the premieres of Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party, Peter Shaffer's Five Finger Exercise (the plays which first made their names), and John Whiting's The Devils - which brought Whiting in out of the cold - besides contributing a string of lustrous and long-remembered classical revivals to Hall's RSC and Olivier's National Theatre. You would expect a man with that kind of pedigree, not to mention his membership of the self-promotional Cambridge mafia, to be more public. But, where media attention is concerned, Wood, now 66, has remained faceless. You seldom find him pushing his shows on arts pages or gracing awards ceremonies. Also, since he left the Arts Theatre in the late 1950s, he has never run a building or a company of his own. He is deeply wary of institutions. "I discovered," he says, "that I had a streak of irresponsibility a mile wide, and taking on a theatre would have been very unfair to other people." With many misgivings he succumbed to Peter Hall's persistent cajoleries and had a 10-year spell as associate director at the National Theatre in the 1980s. Otherwise, he has lived the life of a freelance, dividing his time between England, Vienna and Zurich. Invisible off-stage, Wood declares himself with a venge-ance on it. His is the most distinctive presence of any living British director. If a production is his, you don't need a programme to tell you so. He is a great animator: in his hands you see familiar actors achieving a state of fizzing, emotional agility beyond their normal range. The effect does not end with acting. Thanks in part to Wood's operatic experience, you find all the theatrical elements coming together like orchestral instruments; enlarging the play's resonance and making the stage itself seem like the director's keyboard. There is nothing original in the idea of "total theatre", an ideal close to the heart of the lowliest German Intendant. What, again, is peculiar to Wood is his conversion of this earnest Continental tradition into comedy. One typical example came when hesegued Vivaldi's "Gloria" into a chorus of "Why Are We Waiting?" at the start of Jumpers; another (from Stoppard's Hapgood) when he set a pack of spies racing through the locker room, led on, as though by the Pied Piper, by the flute "Badinerie" from Bach's B minor Suite. The stage, Wood says, "is like an elaborate stringed instrument. To find the right music cue with the right movement of scenery and the right inflections of lighting and voice, produces an effect of great beauty. Those are the things that I labour for: those conjunctions of sound, light, and speech that produce Schubertian modulations. Those, really, are what the theatre is." Wood's comic bias is partly a by-product of his love for the great line of Irish prose dramatists - from Congreve to Shaw - who happened to write comedy and for whom, he thinks, nothing is being done. "They need as much training to perform as does Shakespeare. Their language really needs looking after, and nobody's looking after it. The plays are superbly written; but they're in danger of dying from starvation. So, in the end, it's my fascination with verbal music that leads me towards comedy." It was in this spirit that Wood tackled The Birthday Party in 1958. This was the first public sighting of Harold Pinter; and its dominant impact - for all the enigmas and lurking menace - was violently funny. I can still see the lugubrious Richard Pearson, like a monstrously enlarged toddler, beating his toy drum; and Beatrix Lehmann as a hobgoblin landlady skittering on to serve slices of burnt toast like a champagne breakfast. I thought it was marvellous. But Pinter, Wood says, was not pleased. He sawhis work in a grimmer light, and the two did not work together again. Nor did the Shaffer connection last for long; though here the problem was different. "We were a bad influence on each other - too much fun and not enough work." As in the fable of the three bears, Wood found his ideal comic partner in Stoppard, and the reciprocal dance of high-flying ideas and low gags. "He susses things out in my plays," Stoppard once said, "which somehow I've just left to look after themselves." The relationship had got off to a bad start as an arranged marriage set up by Olivier. Wood, brought up a Roman Catholic, had reservations about Jumpers, and asked Stoppard what the play was about: to which the author unhelpfully replied that it was about a man writing a speech. That seemed to be that, but Olivier held them together and they worked their way round the compass from "guarded antagonism" to the creative partnership that stretches over 23 years from Jumpers to Indian Ink. Indian Ink, which follows the life and death of a young woman poet in India at the turn of the 1930s, began as a radio play, In the Native State, on Radio 3 in 1991. A leisurely two-hour script, it was a far cry from Stoppard's previously concise radio plays. It had, he told Wood, "got out of hand. It shouldn't be a radio play at all, because I now find that I'm writing a play about the Raj; and while I wasn't looking it worked its way into being a theatre piece." Wood had followed its development from the first draft and says: "It suits me down to the ground because it allows of a very loose approach to the narrative. The wonderfully generous thing about Stoppard is that he allows me to add. This gets me into frightful trouble with some writers. I shouldn't say this, but I like to have an influence on what happens. I want to order a scene. I want to say how it ends. I seem to like to help. I want to do a bit as well."

John Halas : Obituaries

It is tempting to dub John Halas "the father of British animation". But, although he and his wife Joy Batchelor formed the longest-running animation studio in our history (spanning over half a century), and produced the largest number of cartoons (some 2,000 films, long and short), they remained curiously European in their styling, design, colouring and humour, raising the occasional smile rather than the gutsy guffaws of the slapdash works of Bob Godfrey. Nevertheless, Halas's hard work for the animated cartoon, which he saw as an international rather than national form, secures him a permanent place in the history of the art.

FILM / Valley of the doldrums

Abraham Valley (PG)

Creator of Woody Woodpecker dies

The animator, Walter Lantz, who created the conniving Woody Woodpecker cartoon character after a woodpecker disrupted his honeymoon in the 1940s, died yesterday, AP reports from Los Angeles. He was 93.

Underrated: No success like failure

An ingenious friend of mine once came up with an idea for a new specialist publication: Loser, a magazine aimed at hopeless failures. Part of the beauty of this concept was that it would involve no effort, since the kind of losers who might work for such a publication would, by definition, be far too incompetent to produce so much as a single issue. There was never any question, however, who ought to grace the cover of that hypothetical issue. Step forward, Homer Simpson.

Arts: Animation: Creatures great and small: Nick Park won an Oscar for 'Creature Comforts'. His new film looks as if it may well repeat that success. Robin Buss visits the animator at his Bristol studio

THERE HAVE been many false dawns in British cinema over the last decade, but only one certain success: the animation branch of the industry. There are several reasons for this. Animation is television-friendly, and has been well supported by television itself - especially Channel 4 and S4C. And commercials can provide animators and studios with the money they need for other work. The medium is also relatively low-tech and inexpensive - needing to be fed more with brainwaves than with bucks - so it is easily accessible to young people or to college and art students. Anyone with the right ideas and the necessary patience can make animated films on the kitchen table.

Animated by a return to the enchanted forest

ONE evening in what seems a lifetime ago, my nephew did something he had never done before - he went to the pictures with his grandma, his mam and his aunt. We have never forgotten it. He was four, the first child of a new generation. Going to see Bambi was a great event in his childhood - it was also meant to be a memento, created for our collective memory.

Obituary: Dianne Jackson

Dianne Hillier, animator and director, born 28 July 1941, married 1963 Michael Jackson (marriage dissolved 1971), 1975 David Norton (one son, one daughter), died Brockenhurst Hampshire 31 December 1992.

FILM / Drawn by numbers: Scores must be settled before Disney animators set to work. Alan Menken gives Sheila Johnston a song-by-song guide to the making of Beauty and the Beast

Corny as it sounds, you have to describe Beauty and the Beast as a fairy-tale success: it received universal critical acclaim, has grossed nearly dollars 150 million to date at the American box-office and was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar - the first time an animated feature has been so honoured. In the event, the film didn't win that prize, but it did bag two other Academy Awards, for Best Original Score and Best Song. Credit for them goes to the composer Alan Menken and the lyricist Howard Ashman, who performed the same trick for Disney's previous animated feature, The Little Mermaid.
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