Search form

John Halas: An Unpublished 1984 Essay Celebrating the Year of Animation

In this previously unknown essay, the former ASIFA Int’l President implores community action to keep animation alive and relevant.

Though he passed away almost 20 years ago in 1995, animation director, producer and author John Halas’ passion and devotion to the animation community are truly exemplary.  With his wife and studio partner Joy Batchelor, they founded Halas & Batchelor, for years was the largest animation studio in Western Europe, creator of more than 2000 films including commercials, shorts, TV series and features, chief among them the legendary Animal Farm (1954), the first animated feature film in British history.

A former ASIFA Int’l president (conflicting dates have been reported as 1979-1988 as well as 1976-1985), John was part of a seminal group, many mentioned later in this essay, that formed the operational and spiritual foundations for the ASIFA organization and chapters still operating today. 

Last month, while searching through boxes of old papers, Cima and Bob Balser found an unpublished essay written by John in the summer of 1984. Bob, who served alongside John on the ASIFA Int’l Board of Directors from 1978-1994, started the ASIFA chapter in Spain in 1980.  Probably most well known as the Animation Director on Yellow Submarine (1968), Bob also worked with John on Heavy Metal (1981); Bob directed the “Den” segment while John produced the “Grimaldi” segment.

The CIA used Howard Hunt and his Hollywood contacts to obtain film rights to Animal Farm from Sonia Orwell. Here, Mrs. Orwell is seen dining with (left to right) Halas, Batchelor and Bordon Mace, president of the company which produced Animal Farm. © The Halas & Batchelor Collection Limited. Courtesy of the Animation Research Centre Archive.

The essay, which celebrates ASIFA’s then 25th Anniversary as well as the upcoming 1985 Year of Animation, also shares John’s concern for the state of animation as a business and the need to continue pushing in all directions for respect and acceptance of the medium in all forms of entertainment.  His assessments all too prescient and thoughtful in light of the intervening 28 years, John’s words are no less important today than when he first wrote them in 1984.  I’m sure it’s coincidental that this piece was written in 1984, the year made famous by George Orwell, who also wrote the book John’s famous animated feature is based on. So it would seem.

If you’re interested in learning more about John, his life and the work of his studio, posted below is the 12 minute documentary, Remembering John Halas, released by his daughter Vivien last year on April 16th in celebration of what would have been his 100th birthday.  This excellent piece shares great detail and insight into his life and work.  In addition, his and Joy’s entire collection of work can be found here at the Halas & Batchelor Collection site that Vivien has managed since her father’s death.

You should also read Karl Cohen's excellent 2003 article in this magazine about how the CIA secured the rights to and financed the Halas & Batchelor's production of Orwell's Animal Farm.

John Halas’ 1984 essay, posted as written without editing:

A REMARKABLE RECORD: ASIFA 1960 to 1985

For a medium which is hardly one hundred years old, a quarter of a century is a very long time.  After years of planning it was a quarter of a century ago that ASIFA was founded.  This space is far too short to give a full account of all the exciting events which have taken place since then.  However, a short summary is not out of place.

Twenty five years ago the great battle of the cinema sizes raged - Cinerama, Cinemascope and Cinemiracle. It is ironic that the smallest screen of all - the TV screen - won the battle lately in the form of home video entertainment with some 15 million of them in individual homes today [Currently there are over 250 million sets in US alone].

But another revolution passed practically unnoticed; one which was far less dramatic.  It was the incredible expansion of the animated film industry all over the world. The degree of expansion was quite spectacular.

Today there are some 55,000 artists, designers, and technicians engaged in the industry worldwide.  Twenty five years ago there were only 4,000.  Today more than 100 nations have animation activities of some form or another.  In 1960, there were only 25.  Although it is almost impossible to calculate it, the turnover in the industry is even more emphatic.  With the addition of video and computer stop-motion activities which have created new markets for animation, the turnover is around $100,000,000 (one hundred million dollars) and it is growing at the rate of 30% every year.

The explosion in feature length productions is another point of interest.  Up to the 60s only 250 full length features were produced.  Since then the number of features is over a thousand made mainly in Japan and the USSR for children's TV markets.

However, the most significant development is the application of machine assisted motion technology applied to animation, which was very much in its infancy during the 60s. The expansion of television stations, stimulating the demand for quick and instant animation laid the foundation for the gradual use of video and electronic animation which, as everyone knows, not only revolutionized the basic structure of our industry, but opened up new horizons for artistic expression.

Nobody would deny that the success of such broadly based developments was due to the existence of ASIFA, which gave encouragement to the overall recognition of animated media as an art form in cinemas, the advertising industries, education, science, schools and colleges. Continuous active encouragement and support has also been provided  to international film festivals, animation markets, symposiums, workshops, international  contests for children, tuition in colleges and schools, exhibitions, publications and all other forms of activity wherever the popular nature of the art of animation could be emphasized and propagated.

Since ASIFA is a cultural, non-profit making association, its efforts to maintain its momentum and high standards are based on voluntary efforts. This usually meant that only those with time and enthusiasm to support a medium were able and willing to assist which of course, compared with paid officers of other associations is a considerable handicap. As a founder member who has possibly attended more board meetings and ASIFA festivals than anyone, it would be proper for me to pay tribute to such colleagues whose input was notable, memorable and unselfish.

Pierre Barbin, the first director of the 1960 Annecy Film Festival, was an excellent fighter and without his enthusiasm ASIFA would hardly exist.  Norman McLaren was the first president, a good support and one who cooperated to the full extent, bringing prestige to ASIFA: so was its second president, John Hubley, who did his best to establish the Association in the USA with the persuasive help of Bill Littlejohn.  From the East, the gigantic forceful character of Ivan Ivanov-Vano is unforgettable for his fight for animation, with a style which ranged from extreme boldness to poetic rhetoric.  His successor, Feodor Khitruk, brought dignity and intelligence to meetings, and so did the late Boris Stepancev with his sharp wit and 'joie de vivre'. Zelimir Matko from Zagreb was an artist of gentle persuasion able to use the most subtle techniques to get his way.  Bob Verrall from Canada with his wisdom, was always constructive and effective. Paul Grimault of France did a lot of work with dignity and good comradeship.  Gyorgy Matolcsy contributed his services for years with modesty and devotion to the medium.  Max Massimino Garnier of Italy, with over 20 years of service on the Board, brings a Latin elegance to the meetings.  His mathematical mind contains a retrieving system for dates and board resolutions which only the most complex computer could match. One of the many talented new board members of the last decade is Nicole Salomon from Annecy, France who has unselfishly devoted so much of her time and energy to keeping the Association going.

Inni Karine Melbye of Norway has also contributed a notable fete of energy and enthusiasm to bring the Scandinavian countries into ASIFA's fold.  Among those who have contributed so much outside the Board are Giannalberto Bendazzi and Ranko Munitic, with their rich analysis of the medium; Robi Engler of Switzerland who has arranged membership of many Asian and African nations; June Foray and Fini Littlejohn with the "Spirit of the Olympics'' project; Charles Samu who understood and propagated the medium, and of course so many others all over the world.

The principle reason why the board worked better than most other international associations is that it had a clear and firm objective:  spread the gospel of animation.

Some of the problems which call for immediate action for the 1985 YEAR OF ANIMATION are as follows: In spite of the international nature of visual media, it is a sad fact that animation is still an isolated type of activity, not entirely appreciated by the public or the press and the other arts media, for what it is.  We hope that the forthcoming YEAR OF ANIMATION in 1985 will bring about a closer association between animation, the world of art and industry, and achieve a more positive support for animation as a true contemporary art form.

During next year the economic conditions of the animation industry must be substantially improved in order to avoid the permanent threat of financial instability for those colleagues who function in the non-commercial field.

It is incredible that some 50 years ago a theatrical short cartoon could gross $20,000.  Today one is lucky to earn $3,000 in the cinema and television isn't much better.  The price for a minute's screen time in Europe is on average $100, in the USA $300.  One minute of animation could cost $10,000 to produce [note feature films can run upwards of $2 million per minute today]. Consequently, experimental animation is confined to students in colleges who have the time and the financial backing of their colleges.  The animation industry therefore continues to depend on sponsorship of the advertising and manufacturing industries and on television and government support.

The basis of such support must be expanded and the economic conditions improved considerably. How these aims should be achieved will be the subject for our Financial and Marketing Workgroup in the near future.

But the problems facing animation are not confined entirely to economics.  Considering its unique input in the fields of entertainment, commerce, experiments, techniques and science, it is being poorly rewarded in return.  

At the Animation Symposium on Economics at the Arnhem Festival in Holland last October, it was heard from both users and buyers of animation that the medium is largely ignored and only bought when it could be bought on the cheap.  It is never used during peak hours, and is considered as second class material.  We must combat such negative attitudes with all our powers.

It has been maintained that animation is a vital art still to be discovered.  This is true still.  Its inherent potential is still to be realized.  It certainly has a bright future in every field of visual communication. Next year, in 1985, during the 25th anniversary celebrations of ASIFA, there will be an opportunity to retrieve the confidence and interest and to dispel the ignorance which still exists about animation.  Whether you are a festival director, a critic, or a distributor, your co-operation will be appreciated.

John Halas

June 1984

--

Dan Sarto is editor-in-chief and publisher of Animation World Network.

Tags