Vivien Halas has posted this filmic remembrance of her father John Halas (1912-1995), who would have been 100 years old today. Halas, whose studio, Halas & Batchelor, made the first British animated feature, Animal Farm (1954), was obviously a seminal figure in British animation and also served as the founding president of ASIFA-International.
The documentary features a number of interviews with friends and people who worked with him at his studio and ASIFA. It also includes some fascinating clips from his films, including a 1970 experiment with 2D computer animation and a 1930 film he made in his native Hungary.
I never really met Halas, though I did correspond with him when I served as editor of the ASIFA-Hollywood’s Graffiti magazine and The Inbetweener newsletter in the mid-1980s. As ASIFA-International President and President Emeritus, he would send out a column which we and other ASIFA chapters would publish. I still recall a rather prescient piece talking about the growing affinity between visual effects and animation.
Vivien Halas add that, “This short documentary will be available shortly as a bonus on a new DVD specially made for ASIFA of John’s favourite short films from Halas & Batchelor.”
Adam Abraham’s new book, which has just been published by Wesleyan University Press, is an easy book to recommend to anyone interested in film or animation history. I was one of the anonymous readers Wesleyan engaged to evaluate it. A brief excerpt from my confidential evaluation is used on the back cover as an endorsement; but I would like to say a few more words on why the book is so important. (I did have some reservations, but they did not hesitate me from urging its publications.)
Until now, one of the many glaring gaps in animation, film and TV history has been the lack of an authoritative (or even a superficial) history of UPA, which was the most important American animation studio in the post-World War II period. (I do recall a self-published work issued on ditto whose circulation was obviously limited and lacked the scholarship of Abraham’s book.) The studio’s films, ranging from John Hubley’s Rooty Toot Toot and Ragtime Bear (which introduced Mr. Magoo) to Bobe Cannon’s Gerald McBoing Boing and Ted Parmelee’s The Tell-Tale Heart, were seen in their day as revolutionary and had a profound influence. Their films changed the way animation was designed and set the tone for not only for much of what followed (especially TV programs), but also helped define the field of motion graphics, including the development of the modern title sequence (predating the better known work of Saul Bass).
The studio has been largely neglected, in part, due to the lack of books such as this, as well as the lack of corporate support by the various rights holders (e.g., until recently, the best collection of UPA films on DVD was found as extras on the Hellboy special edition DVDs/Blu-Rays owing to Guillermo del Toro being a UPA fan ). As I noted earlier here, two new DVDs containing the bulk of UPA’s theatrical work are also now available.
Over the years, there has been talk of someone doing a serious study of the studio, a project pushed by the family of UPA-cofounder Steve Bosustow (I recall Charles Solomon once being bandied about as a possible candidate).
My biggest complaint is that the author’s knowledge of animation history pre-UPA seems limited. It’s almost as if he’s channeling the views of Disney animation artists in the 1930s and early 1940s who went on to found UPA, who thought of themselves as the center of the animation universe. This leads to a somewhat parochial view of the film and animation world at the time of UPA’s birth. In his research, Abraham’s also misses some important articles, including Michael Frierson’s "The Carry Over Dissolve in UPA Animation"in the 2001 issue of Animation Journal. But these are not game changers and this is certainly a book I can easily recommend.