Ken Clark chats with Dick and Elizabeth Horn – Page 4

CLARK: Or an amusing character like Keehar in “Watership Down” would have done.

D.HORN: Yes, you need a strong comic character. In “Deadeye” they all seemed to be the same ‘weight’. Schlammy comes over as the nearest thing to a ‘character’, all the rest are throwaways and all grotesquely drawn. Even so, you can make characters like those acceptable but you have to think hard about it – and that was the trouble -nobody had given it much thought. Leo was thinking only of the joke of jazzing up G & S, he wasn’t concerned with the complexities, this being his first experience with animation. Originally, “Dick Deadeye” was intended to be a stage production, an agent in New York suggested to Leo Rost that the idea would work better as a cartoon and why not ask Ronald Searle to design it? Searle suggested Bill Melendez for the animation and Steve Melendez came over here to set it up. Searle was in France so Steve might well have set up the production unit over there but he came to Britain, I believe, because this country was able to offer him more facilities. And, I suppose, he thought it might solve language problems.

CLARK: Did you have difficulty locating good character animators?

D.HORN: We found it difficult to afford them! You know, character animation wasn’t called for on commercials, until very recently, until Dick Williams set the standard. Everyone had assumed that only Disney could do it and so it never occurred to the agencies to ask for it. And of the animators, well – many were raised on series, others on commercials, some on both but few, if any, had worked on entertainment cartoons in this country because there is no market for them. There is no possible way you can recoup your money on the home market, so the opportunity seldom arose. Dick Williams was the first person to make it happen, by doing “A Christmas Carol” and selling it to America.

CLARK: American sponsorship has always come to the rescue of the big animated production.

Corner of a notice board at Melendez studio. Click for larger pic.

D.HORN: Sure! But that is because they have the market for the product and consequently can afford high budgets. Even so, one or two European cartoons have been absolute disasters. You see, it was only people like Dick Williams who could afford character animators. When the agency people started to ask for it fortunately there were people like Oscar Grillo and Sergio Simonetti around, and Dragon Productions was set up for that purpose. And they were able to command the right budgets. At that time, the top payment for artists working on our type of entertainment film series was £8 per foot, whereas £30 per foot could be earned working on commercials. I mean – what can you do??? You might get one or two good people in a slack period who have nothing better to do, but you could hardly ask them to produce a high standard of animation for the money we were offering.

CLARK: I imagine the best animators are in high demand much of the time, making them unavailable when you most want them?

The Perishers ¬relative height guide. Click for larger pic.

D.HORN: Yes. It is almost an insoluble problem. We work on terribly low budgets compared with the commercial makers. Fortunately “Charley Brown” had enormous popular appeal and there were people around who thought it would be nice to work on the series, and who were prepared to accept less money for doing so. That was the only way we were able to get them done.

CLARK: What do you consider has been your best work to-date?

The Perishers ¬relative height guide. Click for larger pic.

D.HORN: That’s difficult to answer. It has been a scene here and a scene there or just part of a scene here and there. That’s why I haven’t been able to put it all together to make up a show-reel; this places me in a difficult situation whenever I have to go outside looking for work. I can only go to people who have been in the business the same length of time as myself, some twenty – no, thirty years. They know me, and there is usually no problem. Actually, I do have a show-reel but it is years out of date.

CLARK: You had better let me have that, Dick. It might become very valuable.

D.HORN: Yes – antique value!

Model sheets for Snoopy. Click for larger pic.

CLARK: You know, if everyone passed on their show-reels to the National Film Archives whenever they became dated, think of the archival legacy they would leave behind. Their reels would preserve forever the changing fashions in animation. But there’s the rub -persuading people to recognise the importance of their material and, more difficult still, persuading them to part with it. What are your plans for the future?

D.HORN: A long retirement? -No, seriously, we are about to start on a new feature length film here at Melendez. It will be made in the style of children’s drawings and should take us a year to finish. We have the script and the voice track and we are only waiting for the purse to open to enable us to proceed with the visuals, It is a cartoon treatment about divorce intended for Public Service TV in the U.S.A.

The future is almost impossible to predict. I had hoped, when Don Bluth made “The Secret of NIMMH”, and the specials, and then the laser disc video games, that would be the way, offering a new start for us by creating a fresh demand for animation. But it hasn’t happened – not yet, anyhow!

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Printed in Animator Issue 12 (Spring 1985)