Why cartoon Britain keeps on winning

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

Share
Related Topics
You won't see two of Britain's most popular stars among the glittering throng of Hollywood contenders at the Oscars ceremony tonight, but Wallace and Gromit will be represented by Nick Park, the animator who created these much-loved Plasticine characters. Winning the category of Best Animated Short with A Close Shave, would be a hat-trick for Park, as he already has two of those golden statuettes - but at least he won't be competing against himself, as he did in 1992 when his film school graduation piece, A Grand Day Out, vied with his first Channel-4 financed short, Creature Comforts, for the award. Two years later, another outing for that man and his dog, The Wrong Trousers, won again.

The appeal of Wallace and Gromit is doubtless linked to the cosy, nostalgic "forever England" atmosphere they evoke, and the ingenious mechanical solutions provided by eccentric inventor Wallace's long-suffering canine sidekick Gromit. Strong story-lines and characters, along with technical virtuosity, have made these films popular with audiences here and abroad, perhaps for the novelty of seeing them in animated form.

But the success of British animation isn't confined to Nick Park alone. Over the past decade British animation has won the lion's share of all prizes at every major festival for animated film the world over. The prestigious Cartoon d'Or, a prize for Best European Animated Film, has gone to British films almost every year since it began in 1990: the one exception was a film made in France (by a British animator).

British animated short films have won such a strong international reputation because of their astonishing range and diversity, both in technique and subject matter. They have long since gone beyond the old distinction between "cartoons for kiddies" and "animation as art" - the latter an allegorical fable, usually concerned with man's inhumanity to man. Instead, British animation has pioneered the concept of animation for adult audiences, which has become a crucial part of its appeal - and its impact.

Drawing from the experimental approach of art-college education, young animators have been making films on hitherto unlikely subjects - including incestuous abuse, autism, sexual relationships and UFO experiences - while the expressive potential of animation has led them to new techniques and materials.

Channel 4 was the catalyst for the animation explosion. Jeremy Isaacs, the channel's first chief executive, seeing that a remit to encourage minority viewing could extend beyond shocking soaps, hobby programming and hitherto unknown forms of sport, established the first commissioning editor for animation, to finance short, personal films. The striking number of award-winning films that emerged via Channel 4 created a critical mass of exciting work that has attracted many aspiring animators.

Many animators mix their own short film-making with more lucrative work on commercials. High-budget TV ads can also provide subsidised R&D: new techniques, expensive computer facilities can be tried out, and the experience fed back into more personal work. And sometimes it works in reverse: Creature Comforts led to a popular TV ad campaign (those cute zoo animals talking about electricity), and is just one of many short films that have inspired commercials. Animators in Britain also have opportunities to work on title sequences, rock videos, computer games, and now multi-media computer technologies (such as those in Jurassic Park) which blur the lines between what is "real" film-making and what is animation.

Channel 4 continues to pioneer. The cult animated sitcom Crapston Villas, shocked many with its ribald dissection of bed-sit life and it will shortly be followed by an animated soap opera. Yet this success is vulnerable, for Channel 4 and the other broadcasters do not seem to be able to come up with scheduling strategies to maximise the adult audience that exists for animation. Also, the BBC needs to invest in new talent, and recognise the importance of the short form to the development of that talent, not just rely on a Nick Park franchise. And the Government must protect the art school budgets where cuts threaten to stop the flow of young innovators.

In the wake of Disney's resurgence, and the realisation that adults will pay to see animated features, all the major Hollywood studios are desperately bidding against each other for scarce talent - and recruiting heavily in the UK. It would be a shame if British animation skills became simply part of the special-effects sector that has long serviced the Hollywood film industry.

Media coverage has largely ignored animation, the one consistent success story of the British film industry, and instead has focused on the hand- wringing and dire threats of doom and destruction that come from the lobby for feature films. It might be best to play to our strengths. Perhaps the recent parliamentary motion calling for recognition of animation, in all its aspects, as a popular art-form will prompt the Lottery to fund the development of animation as part of our unique national heritage.

The writer is the organiser of the British Animation Awards.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education are curre...

Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: You must:- Speak English as a first lang...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: If you are a committed Te...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: There's a crackle in the Brum air

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Obama has admitted that his administration underestimated the threat posed by Isis  

Syrian air-strikes: Does the US have the foggiest idea who their enemy is?

Kim Sengupta
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style