The Grasshopper Group – part 1

We decided we needed a President. Norman McLaren was approached and he readily agreed. A choice which influenced, the first two live-action films we made entitled TWO’S COMPANY and BRIDE AND GROOM. The stars of BRIDE AND GROOM were Bob Godfrey (KAMA SUTRA RIDES AGAIN and the TV series ROOBARB) and Gerry Potterton (who recently produced the professional feature length cartoon HEAVY METAL).

These live-action films wore pixilated comedies, made using the stop motion technique. The actors would move slightly – one frame exposed – then progressively move a few inches at a time for successive individual cine frame exposures. In the scene where the villain is knocked out, he falls on his back and slides out of sight into distant bushes and ferns. For this sequence he lay down – click – moved away about twelve inches and lay down again – click – another twelve inches – click – and so on till out of sight. We were animating using human beings instead of cartooned pencil drawings.

At the same time as these films were in production we started working on a very ambitious cartoon film. It was to be the first British fully animated lip-synch colour cartoon to be made by amateurs. It occupied three years of my life in the making, but I had no regrets. THE BATTLE OF WANGAPORE was a success, winning over fifteen international awards.

A share system was devised and members were encouraged to buy shares in forthcoming productions. Later, when a respectable handful of award winning films had been made they were sold to the public through Adventure Films.

Kevin Brownlow illustrated the ‘Grasshopper News’, which was edited by Stuart Wynn Jones and printed by my wife and myself.

Stuart Wynn Jones’ film “A Short Spell”

Those were the days when Stuart skillfully scratched his animated version of the alphabet on raw black 35mm film stock, then for good measure, drew the sound track as well. He called it A SHORT SPELL. In those days, animating directly on to film was still an innovation and thought to be a creative flash-in-the pan. But Stuart went on to astound the cine fraternity with fully animated cell films; OODLES OF DOODLES, RAVING WAVING, BILLOWING BELLOWING, and a beautiful single drawing film which changed in tone, texture, colour and scene (single frame evolutions) called LINDEN LEA. The others were made without script or storyboard because the visuals wore abstract wave forms in various permutations and cycles of harmonic motion.

“The movement of a wave form can easily be plotted on a graph derived from the subdivided circumference of a semi-circle,” explained Stuart, “The principle of harmonic motion can be applied in an infinite number of ways. The graphs can be drawn in perspective: a number of graphs can be drawn and the relationship between different wave forms can be used to create undulating forms and shapes. There’s no end to the fun to be had from designing these movements.” We believed him, they were indeed great fun, but few of us knew what ho was talking about.

Stuart Wynn Jones’ film “The Rejected Rose”.

To confuse us still further ho made his own musique concrete sound­tracks consisting of plops and gurgles put together in rhythmic pattern. Stuart recorded the sound of biscuit tins being struck, running water, paper being torn, piano chords, and sustained notes on a tin whistle, often recorded at one speed and replaying at a different speed to alter their pitch and character. These sounds wore cut together to produce the track, the musical notation thus formed was scored on paper and from it ho made a ‘dope sheet’ with camera instructions for shooting the visuals. Each four minute film took him approximately 18 months to complete.

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Originally printed in Animator’s newsletter Issue 1 (Summer 1982)