The Shadows Move – the 1950s (page 2 of 4)

With the collapse of G.B. Animation, British Animated Productions and Signal Films and the defection of Anson Dyer’s animators, the field was narrowing. It is not surprising therefore, that an American sponsor should turn his attention to the strongest remaining studio. Louis de Rochemont and his associates approached Halas & Batchelor with a somewhat surprising proposition. George Orwell’s book ‘Animal Farm’ had been published in 1945 and they believed it could work in cartoon film form. The project was an immense undertaking for H & B and their partner Allan Crick. In order to honour their other commitments and do justice to the new contract the studio began to expand, and a start was made on the pre-production planning which was to take them 16 weeks.

John Halas and Joy Batchelor look at stills from ANIMAL FARM at the start of the films production.

Now, when story-boarding a conventional feature cartoon the various episodes are so arranged to balance the highs and lows, comedy and high drama. To hold audience attention for a period of from one to one-and-three-quarter hours requires skilful construction. Hitherto, Disney had provided light relief from the wicked Queen in SNOW WHITE with the animals and the 7 dwarfs, Jimmy Cricket leavened the horrific moments in PINOCCHIO; likewise: Thumper in BAMBI and Timothy Mouse in DUMBO. Cinema audiences had come to expect a conventional Disney-type approach to the dramatisation of a feature-length cartoon film. ANIMAL FARM was about to break with tradition.

Character drawings for Benjamin in Animal Farm.

The satirical nature of the story demanded a sustained dramatic quality of presentation and style of ‘acting’. Halas & Batchelor were adamant that their film was to be a ‘serious’ cartoon devoid of Disney archetypal cuteness and sentimentality. John Halas’ Tension Chart contained a mood indication column: expectant, progressive repression, revolt, suppression, anger and excitement, distrust and suspicion. Each mood counter-pointed with aptly chosen dominant colour themes. Philip Stapp came in to draw 350 strip cartoon drawings for a ‘Picture Book’ of the Film, his illustrations becoming a source of reference for the Storyboard Dept. Hundreds of storyboard sketches were prepared for the film’s eighteen separate sequences, filling the walls of two rooms.

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