Animation B.C. (Before Computers) – Page 3

Animation armature for Falkor the Luck Dragon for Neverending Story. 1984.

Following the demise of Force of the Trojans, I was hired by Clearwater Films in Battersea – which no longer exists – to animate on various TV commercials. On most of these, I worked alongside Steven Asquith for directors David Mitton and Keith Turner. This led to more animation work on various other commercials for such people as Steve Barron, of Limelight and Gerry Anderson. The Steve Barron commercial for Reed Employment I received the Silver D&AD award for most outstanding special effects. The Royal Bank of Scotland commercial I animated the Giocometti inspired statue figures in 1986. Special effects director Steven Begg (of Terrahawks) and Joan Ashworth also animated on this. It is interesting to note that the Gerry Anderson TV pilot film, Space Police began filming at this time and is only now being shown some seven years later.

Other commercials followed and a horrendous “rest” period or unemployment. Then I got a call. A small bit of animation was required on Terry Gilliam’s Adventures of Baron Munchausen – a project that Ray Harryhausen had considered filming as a puppet animation short back in the fifties. Despite the crushing burden of a film that had gone wildly over budget, Gilliam appeared carefree on the day I bumped into him. The chaotic location shooting in Italy had been finished and Gilliam and his special effects crew were under pressure by film insurers to complete the film as quickly and as cheaply as possible. I had come to Pinewood studios that day for some reason connected to the film when I caught Gilliam’s eye.

Steve Archer animating the Crystal Spider for Krull.

“Has anyone talked to you about death?” he asked walking backwards in the general direction of the door. It was true that I had recently been ill and I do have a deathly pale complexion which has no doubt been made paler by working in dark animation studios, but I’m not as bad as Michael Jackson. “No” said I. “Oh” said he. “Well there might be some other shots for you to do,” he replied. A visit to the effects workshop answered my question. “Death” was a skeleton character in the film who when airborne wore what could be described as tattered net curtains. I passed on that particular job (tricky animating clothes) and instead animated a brief shot of the Baron making a mid-flight change from cannon ball to mortar.

Then came one of my most enjoyable periods of work animating short sequences for the TV series Spitting Image for then art director (now director) Steve Bendelack. These included the “Mount Rushmore” takeoff and “Numbskults” sequence for their “Reagan Years” special (inspired by characters in “The Beano” comic), and spoofs based on the “Royal Bank of Scotland” commercial, “Camberwick Greenbelt”, a butterman who has a heart attack and a mickey-take of Cher (“I got bits of you, Babe”). This was followed by animation and miniature work on the Spitting Image series, Wingin’ Pom with Peter Thornton. We worked in rather cramped conditions on the series, trying to avoid grips, sparks and smoke which drifted into our little work area from the adjoining live-action set. With the understanding air of an overworked vicar at teatime, Thornton had the trying job of diplomatically dealing with all this chaos and a temperamental co-worker. So polite in his ways, he’s the only one I know who can make the phrase “I didn’t want to piss you off” sound endearing.

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