John Halas Profile – Page 2

He no longer runs a large studio, although his present offices are quite spacious by any standard. He is now the complete designer, steering projects dear to his heart through the various stages, to the point where he can call on other experts to produce the surplus artwork and attend to the mechanical functions. He has a personal involvement in a three-dimensional computer imaging facility in Budapest, and it was here he completed the computer animation used in Light of the World. The graphics required for his next project will come from the same source. Once again, he is being self-indulgent by paying homage to Moholy-Nagy, a former member of Hitler’s Bauhouse, the famous design college.

Halas & Batchelor studio in Bushy during the war. (Left to right) Liz Horn, Wally Crook, Vera Linnecar, Bob Privett.

When John came to England in 1936, in his spare time he helped the famous artist by framing his paintings and arranging his exhibitions. One year later, in 1937, Moholy-Nagy went to Chicago where he continued to work until his death in 1946. John’s new film will record his life and his paintings and then take the images a stage further by transforming Nagy’s two- dimensional paintings into three-dimensional models – a visionary expansion of the originator’s art. It might be difficult to understand why a 76 year old man with a lifetime of wisdom and experience to guide him would want to spend his time and money on an art film of limited appeal and uncertain break-even possibilities, but the underlying reason is the deep respect he still harbours for his old mentor.

John’s penchant has always been the use of animation for the freeing of the static image, for the projection of kinetic imagery permitting the expansion of a concept. I have always felt he was less successful with broad comedy. Even gentle humour was safer in Harold Whittaker’s capable hands. My admiration for John Halas may be found in the realms of animated design. Make no mistake, I love the work of Disney, Williams, Bluth, Godfrey, Avery and Chuck Jones, too, but Halas has his own forte which may be appreciated in its own right.

His work since the closure of Halas & Batchelor and the Stroud Studio has indicated quite clearly the direction he intends to pursue. Masters of Animation was mounted as a tribute to his many friends and arose out of his close involvement with ASIFA. Ten years its President has given him a fine respect for the brilliance of his contemporaries and provided him with a unique opportunity to collect examples of internationally produced film- art-work. His present premises houses the most impressive collection ever assembled and prompted him to take up the cudgels on behalf of the industry.

Two exhibitions have already been mounted with the title Art & Animation wherein 400 examples taken from his archive have sought to establish the undoubted credentials of animation artists. Indeed, at a time when pop art, tile and fabric designs are hailed as ‘art forms’ the acceptance of animated art-work by both critics and public alike is long overdue.

Fifty years ago, with a young partnership already established, he was poised on the brink of opening a new studio under the now legendary names: Halas – Batchelor. Earlier, his wife Joy Batchelor served her apprenticeship with an Australian named Denis Connolly. The little unit made a few unmemorable shorts and no-one was surprised following the premiere and almost instant demise of their last film when the enterprise folded.

Halas & Batchelor staff party in the Forties when the studio had been evacuated to Bushy. How many faces do you recognise?

In 1940, under the protection of T. Walter Thompson’s advertising agency the two opened the Halas & Batchelor studio and commenced to make advertising shorts. But they had not reckoned on the intervention of the military authorities. For the duration of the war, and a while after, H & B staff concentrated all their efforts to fighting the war on the Home Front, making a succession of propaganda; public information; and instructional films, even managing to squeeze in a couple of feature-length films, Handling Ships and Water For Fire-Fighting. This early prolonged foray into the uses of animated film may have been instrumental in crystallising John Halas’ preference for ‘serious’ animation.

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