The Grasshopper Animators – part 3

Each frame of the sound-track was numbered, then pulled slowly past the playback head of a track reader and each synch frame noted on the dope sheet; this included the start and finish of dialogue, sound FX, musical interludes and scene changes.

The completed dope sheets clearly showed the number of frames required for each scone, the action in words, and the frames on which tight synch was necessary.

Titles and scenes with little or no animation were dealt with early on in the production. As we completed each sequence it was sent to Alex Morris, Jim Nicholson and John Cracknell for tracing.

John Daborn’s twin sisters, “ – having served their apprentice¬ship on THE MILLSTREAM, were press-ganged into coping with most of the painting on WANGAPORE. Bribed by aniseed balls, and being very much within range of the directorial whip, their output reached fantastic proportions at times. At one peak period about ten scenes, each containing over one hundred cols, were completed in one weekend – a fine output when one considers the professional painter aimed at ten cels a day.”

Black and white line tests were shot to check the animation and the camera movements. Canadian Bill Archer kept this important chore well in hand. In the cupboard which housed the camera rostrum, short sequences were cut off the reel after exposure and developed in a soup bowl on the shelf – as near to instant playback as we could manage. Faults in animation, timing and camera instructions could be corrected at this stage before shooting the final colour version.

I have only mentioned those members of the team who stayed the course but there were many others who came and went. Tracers and painters as far a field as Watford, Baling, Swindon, Streatham and Wokingham worked on the film over a period of eighteen months.

It all took longer than we had anticipated but the careful planning paid off, WANGAPORE won a great many awards. Later, at the Cannes Film Festival it won the Grand Prix, the Cup of Animation, the Cannes Cine Club Challenge Cup, the Gold Medal, a Sevres Vase, and 100,000 francs, which went to pay for a holiday in Paris for the leading members of the team.

We followed it up with a black and white live action film entitled LET BATTLE COMMENCE an illustrated lecture showing how WANGAPORE was made, designed so that the two films could be spliced together.

Dick decided to go solo next, on an idea he called THE WINDOW – a young man’s dream of sexual awakening. Drawn and animated in a most lyrical symbolic form, it nevertheless succeeded in being completely devoid of offensive imagery.

In 1958 the Group acquired a very large, filthy, disused storage room in Endell Street. The owner donated £100 towards it’s refurbishment and charged a barbican rent. Members transformed it into an extremely comfortable club room and bar, with full film projection facilities.

This was the heyday of the Group, now sporting a membership of 140. A succession of innovative experimental and cartoon films followed, including: THE SPARK – a live action film which featured a hyper-active animated spark scratched in place on the emulsion after the actors reactions had been filmed. SPRING IN THE AIR – all the characters were first cut from sheets of paper and sculptured into shape, then animated before the camera.

The new President, film star Peter Sellers, offered the loan of an Arriflex camera and with this lengths of coloured chiffon were filmed gyrating and weaving in the glare of a spotlight against a black back¬ground. However, CHIFFOONERY was not a memorable film.

CUPID AND PSYCHE – was the biggest non-starter cartoon in film history. For over ten years, three successive directors attempted to complete the pro-planning, each adopting a different style. Errol Le Cain, who had achieved personal success with his cartoon THE KNIGHT AND THE FOOL, very nearly managed it – but not quite. A number of composers attempted scores, the last one no less a person than Cohn Davis, all to no avail.

page 1 | page 2 | page 3