The Jerry Hibbert Masterclass

The Masterclass was held as part of British Animation Week. Ken Clark reports.

“Why would any animator wish to work in advertising?” Jerry asked, “There is no say in the creation of an idea – there is no film time in which to create a true character performance – the director is answerable to agency personnel with only a fraction of the experience the animator has – the finished work belongs to someone else – and then, to top it all, the film is only seen once or twice and then binned.”

Before answering his own question, Jerry treated his audience to a resume of his career to-date, although in the beginning it seemed as if his career might not take-off. When he applied for a position at Art School in Oxford in the mid-60s, he was asked did he know of other students who might like to accompany him on the course because they had not had enough applicants to enable them to qualify for the necessary Council funding.

Instead, he went to Ealing to embark on a Graphics course where one of his fellow students was Freddy Mercury. On discovering Jerry was a guitarist he invited him to join his group, as he was about to leave college in search of fame. Jerry had tried for two years to get into rock music without success, so he turned him down. Not only that, he strongly advised Mercury not to try it either and to stick to what he did best, which was graphics. He freely admitted: “That was my first major error – career wise!” In the event, Mercury ignored his advice, leaving Jerry to discover an interest in film animation. The subject was not being taught at Ealing, but they allowed him to sit in a corner and get on with it. giving him the opportunity to make his first show-reel which he took with him when he went job-hunting.

7up Plane Commercial. Director Jerry Hibbert. Agency Abbott Mead Vickers.

He arranged three interviews, the first with the BBC Graphics Department; the second with TVC – at the time basking in the afterglow of Yellow Submarine which George Dunning had directed; and the third with a stunt driving outfit at Pinewood – that being another of his interests. The BBC turned him down. TVC liked his work, perhaps because it was unusual in those days for anyone to leave Art School with animation experience; however, they turned him down as well because there were no vacancies. He was about to go out to Pinewood when he received a phone-call from John Coates telling him they had decided to take on trainees. “So, you see, I more or less fell into the profession by luck,” Jerry confided, – and the situation is probably the same today.”

TVC was one of the top studios making commercials, and he received excellent training in the medium. He assisted George on his short film subjects, including Damon the Mower, and Dianne Jackson, who went on to make The Snowman but who sadly died in 1993.

As the ‘70s progressed there was a “sea change” in the world of commercials animation. Advertising agencies were beginning to buy the performances of individual animators within the various studios and indeed asked for them by name. When the animators woke up to this trend a rash of new companies were formed by such as Oscar Grillo and Sergio Simonetti, who are still very successful in tapping into the agencies. Jerry went along with this trend to a lesser extent by going freelance from TVC, taking on trace-and-paint and camera work.
Then he met Pat Gavin who was working for London Weekend TV and they produced work for the South Bank Show which led to more advertising commissions. He enlisted the help of others and a company began to take shape.

To digress for a moment; in the early 80s pop promos became fashionable. Some studios dumped the old traditional animation techniques and turned the emphasis toward graphic effects combined with brisk cutting, they also used computer graphics techniques to achieve increasingly unusual effects. This promptly attracted the attention of advertising agencies who are ever-ready to exploit the leading edge of technology and techniques. In many ways it was these animation studios who changed the public’s perception of animation, challenging the view that it was only a medium for children and children’s products, and turning it into a trendy medium. Pop promos gave younger people the chance to make their mark quickly, differently and more cheaply.

While this was going on, Jerry had been expanding, leaving the pop promos to others. It was at this stage he met Graham Ralph who had been working as an animator/producer for Richard Williams and who was feeling a little fed-up and wanting to spread his wings.

TVC director George Dunning had died in 1978 and while TVC continued to make commercials John Coates was looking for other ways in which to take TVC forward. He decided to break all known rules and make an half-hour short for TV release. The perceived wisdom at the time was that this was madness, it could not be made well because of the budget, and it would not make money for any number of reasons. But Channel 4 had been set-up to receive ideas and they accepted it with alacrity. As everyone knows, The Snowman was a huge success, prompting production companies to think again and to consider making something along similar lines.

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