The British Animation Awards brought the U.K. animation population out for the night. Andrew Osmond was there and reports with this colorful scrapbook.
On March 9th, the third bi-annual British Animation Awards ceremony was held at the National Film Theatre on London's South Bank. Actually the name, if you read the publicity, was more like 'Baaaaa!' Inspired by the BAA acronym, the event had a definite 'sheep' -- but definitely not sheepish -- feel to it. Shaun, hero of A Close Shave, would have felt quite at home. Not only was there a very funny title sequence from the Moving Picture Company, a BAA sponsor, about some close encounters between sheep and a scarecrow, but each of the seventeen awards depicted a sheep as drawn by artists from Simon Pummell to Steve Bell. Who said only shepherds can tell the difference?
The event began with a short guest speech by Janet Anderson, Minister of Film and Broadcasting, who assured the packed professionals that animation was a valued part of the UK film industry. After that, the floor was left to comedian Jeremy Hardy, whose hugely entertaining presentation never faltered -- even if his topical routine had little to do with animation. He came into his own when a breakdown during the children's awards obliged him to fill in for several minutes (with material, which would definitely rate an '18'). The other technical problem, sadly unsolved, was the appearance of a thin stripe down one side of the projection. However, this did not spoil the enthusiasm for the films on show.
Undoubtedly, the hit of the evening was Robbie the Reindeer: Hooves of Fire, which scored a triple win of Best TV Special, Children's Choice and Best Scenario. It was directed by Richard Goleszowski, known for his Aardman work on the 1987 Barefootin' promo and the Rex the Runt TV series over Christmas '98. (Rex was another Best Scenario finalist.) A lazy-but-nice character trying to get on Santa's sleigh team, Robbie made his UK debut this past Yuletide. The half-hour stop-motion film was produced by Bristol's BBC Animation Unit for BBC Worldwide, in association with the charity Comic Relief. The narrator was the similarly named pop star Robbie Williams. Voice-talents included Jane Horrocks, Harry Enfield, Steve Coogan, Ricky Tomlinson and Jean Alexander. Ardol O'Hanlon from the popular British sitcom Father Ted played Robbie.
One of Robbie's writers was Richard Curtis, co-founder of Comic Relief, creator of Mr. Bean and writer of the films Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, both starring Hugh Grant. Curtis told the listings magazine Radio Times, "[Because of my two young children] I spend my entire life watching Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. It seemed to me as a new dad that animation was a gorgeous form to work in. We wanted big effects; snowstorms and people being frozen and big races at the end, just like Chariots of Fire.
Two titles enjoyed double wins. The Big Knights, directed by Neville Astley and Mark Baker, picked up the awards for Best Adult Series (a new category) and Most Creative Use of New Technologies. A send up of chivalric sagas, the BBC series features Sir Boris, Sir Morris and their noble pets Sir Horace, the dog, and Sir Doris, the hamster. Meanwhile, Tim Hope's six-minute short The Wolfman won Best Film at the Cutting Edge, as well as New Perspectives, one of the three Public Choice awards. A mad-scientist yarn, Wolfman opens like a Universal horror pic but takes on more cosmic dimensions.
One of the most popular single winners, judging by the audience response, was Humdrum, Peter Peake's Aardman film that was also in the running for this year's Oscars. Instead of the studio's better-known claymations, this extols the virtues of shadow-puppets. It snapped up Public Choice Favourite Film, while Joanna Quinn's Wife of Bath's Tale won the Craft award. Wife of Bath is a segment of S4C's Canterbury Tales film, which was Oscar-nominated in 1999. Joanna Quinn is best known for shorts such as Girl's Night Out and Britannia, as well as the children's film Famous Fred.
Elsewhere, children's TV was represented by Cosgrove Hall's The Fox Busters (director Jon Doyle), which won Best Children's Series, and King Rollo's endearing Maisy (director Leo Nielsen), which won Best Pre-School Series. The dark, true story Silence, directed by Orly Yadin and Sylvie Bringas from the memories of Tana Ross, took Best Film Over Seven Minutes. While in the Seven Minutes and Under category, Jonathan Hodgson's The Man With the Beautiful Eyes triumphed. Undergraduate Kunyi Chen of Kingston University took the Mari Kuttna Award for Best Student Film for her two-and-a-half minute Rien.
Danielle Susijn of Picasso Pictures (left) with Alison Graham of Tandem Films. Graham Ralph of Silver Fox Films, with Clare Kitson, former Head of Animation at Channel Four. Tandems Daniel Greaves, freelancer John Marsden and Moving Picture Companys Dominic Buttimore.
On the commercial side, Alan Smith and Adam Foulkes picked up Best Direction in a Commercial for 'Escape,' produced by Nexus Animation for Natwest Bank. Philip Hunt (Ah Pook Is Here) took Best Animation/Craft in a Commercial for the appropriately grandiose 'Megalomaniac,' made for Orange. But the Public Choice Favourite Ad was won by Dave Borthwick of the bolexbrothers, for his characteristically offbeat 'Closed,' about a skeleton-cum-snowman trying to get a drink of Nestea Cool.
The Importance of Public Choice
Of the public categories, pupils from schools chosen through a nationwide competition vote for the Childrens Choice. The three Public Choice awards are voted for by audiences at numerous venues, including Bristol's Watershed Centre and Cardiff's Chapter Cinema, both prominent supporters of animated events. The nominees were also screened at the Exeter Picture House as part of the Animated Exeter Festival in February. Public Choice is supported by Time Out magazine and Channel 4 Television, with thanks to the Moving Picture Company for technical facilities.
Csaba Varga, founder of the Varga Group, with Jan Swalins and Szusza Kirsch on the end. Dominic Buttimore and Jane Bolton of Picasso Pictures.
The winning films have now embarked on a countrywide tour until September, supported by Channel 4, and will also go abroad. This can be extremely important; for example, the BAA 1998 winners were shown at nine venues in Belgium, with good media coverage and offers from Belgian TV to buy three of the films. BAA director Jayne Pilling says, "We are planning to extend the national impact and reach of the award. For example, we've taking Public Choice national and extended the tour of winning films, so a much wider audience will have the chance to enjoy the best of British animation."
Andrew Osmond is a freelance writer specializing in fantasy media and animation.