Reminiscences of an animator

By D J M Coleman
I first began to draw ‘animatable’ pictures in the early seventies, after seeing Bob Godfrey’s excellent DO-IT-YOURSELF FILM ANIMATION SHOW. The fact that I did not possess a cine camera did not bother me. I hoped to borrow one of the two I knew existed in my wider family and save up for “a film” myself. I spent a great many hours drawing complete scenes on IZAL medicated toilet-paper a convenient source of standard-sized sheets of tracing paper.

I have just filmed about half of these early efforts, which have been lying around in a box full of spiders for years somewhere, and I am not really as pleased with them as I would have been when I drew them, but the appearance of movement is there, and it is quite amusing to see the green words “IZAL MEDICATED” flitting around the screen and coming to rest in a corner when I go into a hold.


Perhaps due to my lack of finished film results, my enthusiasm waned for a while until my art teacher asked us to choose a topic to work on for a term. He was a rather terrifying man, highly critical of mine and my classmates’ drawings and had the sort of sense of humour which one would expect to find in a P.E. teacher.

When I entered the classroom, he generally seized me by the throat and roared “Die, boy! Die” which he found most amusing. For these reasons, I felt I had to find some aspect of art about which he knew next to nothing – and, of course, hit on animation. I was able to start work in school time on a “cut-out” three-and-a-half minute film called CAPTAIN ART-ROOM which I actually completed and showed to a small audience of staff and boys at school. Unfortunately the only copy of this film was “lost” shortly afterwards by the boy whose father’s standard 8 camera I used while he was moving house. I had only seen it through about four times myself.


In 1980, I bought myself a standard 8 cine camera for £5 and 100 ft. of silent, unedited holiday film later, I became so enthusiastic that I sold my model railway equipment (a consuming passion for the previous two years) to buy a second hand Super 8 WITH A SINGLE FRAME RELEASE. My first complete film was a plasticine animation western called SADDLE SORE about a cowboy trying to sell a stolen orthopedic saddle. The sight of a posse of seven rudimentary plasticine cowboys (none more than 7 cm tall) on uniformly brown “horses” slithering across a budgie-paper desert with a pastel blue paper sky and model railway foliage is now beginning to be a little embarrassing for me, but audiences from an eighty-strong Darby and Joan club to a bevy of toddlers at an ‘open weekend’ at our local community centre do still laugh at the gags, even when SADDLE SORE follows a borrowed ‘TOM AND JERRY’ so I suppose it is a success. It was shot two frames at a time and runs at 24 f.p.s for 7 minutes. It took about fifty hours to shoot, plus a lot of time building sets and composing the music. It cost about £25.


After a few more holiday films and a dabble in live-action documentary at the computer centre where I worked during my “year off” before university, I began work on my most ambitious project so far – an adaptation in plasticine animation of a Franz Kafka short story called EIN ALTES BLATT – (in English “An Old Manuscript) which involves a community of townsfolk living in the shadow of an imperial palace yet occupied by a terrifying race of incommunicative nomads with carnivorous horses – a suitably surreal story for the medium. Following my experience with SADDLE SORE which was shot entirely on the dining table in my front room I made my basically 6’ x 4’ set as flexible as possible to allow the camera to get in with, and if possible, beneath, the action.

page 1 | page 2