John Halas: An Unpublished 1984 Essay Celebrating the Year of Animation
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Last month, while searching through boxes of old papers, Cima and Bob Balser found an unpublished essay written by John in the summer of 1984.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 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.