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SIIARA: An Archive for the Animated Medium

Located in the south of England, this new archive, SIIARA, strives to preserve and make available animation information, art work and final films. John Southall explains.

An original pastel drawing from Halas & Batchelor's First Steps. Image courtesy of SIIARA.

Animation is a medium that has had a long history in Britain. The earliest known stop-motion animation to be made in Britain was in 1898. Since then animated films of one sort or another have been produced by a great variety of companies and individuals. However it is not until recently that animation has also developed as an acceptable option within the Higher Education sector. There has been an appreciable increase in the number of courses where animation techniques can be acquired or where the medium can be studied. It is these two facts that lie behind the development of the Southampton Institute International Animation Research Archive (SIIARA). Southampton Institute is the largest college of higher education in the United Kingdom. Based in Hampshire, in the south of England, it has over 15,000 students distributed amongst a variety of Faculties. SIIARA is just one of the research initiatives cultivated within the Design Faculty of the Institute. The archive holds thousands of examples of animation art and film within its collections. SIIARA has a dual role to play. It seeks to participate in the academic study of animation and in the ongoing battle to conserve and preserve a vanishing animation heritage. For most production companies today, as so often in the past, simply do not have the time or space to store and catalogue the different elements used in the production of their work. In other words the final destination of a great deal of work is the rubbish dump. Whilst many recognize the waste involved in throwing away such work often there is little alternative for companies focusing on current production. The development of SIIARA offers an alternative to the situation. Since it appeared two years ago, a variety of artwork and film has been donated to the archive by a number of major British production companies. Current SIIARA collections include a variety of animation techniques, as well as productions from today and the past. Films ranging from the `40s to the `90s are represented.

Original cels from Bob Godfrey's Dream Doll. Image courtesy of SIIARA.

Key Collections Within SIIARA

To date about half a dozen donations have been made to SIIARA and these now make up its different collections. Some of them are quite small, comprising just 20 or 30 prints, or one or two boxes of newspaper clippings, letters and drawings. Even so they will all in time help give some insight into animation production.

Two major donations have helped lay the foundation of SIIARA. One donation is from Bob Godfrey Films. This includes over a thousand film prints and 150 boxes of cels and other production elements. This collection represents the studio's major cinema and television work since the 1960s, such as The Plain Man's Guide to Advertising (1962), Polygamous Polonius (1960), and Dream Doll (1979). More recent work such as Know Your Europeans: The United Kingdom (1993) are included, as well Godfrey's popular television series Roobarb (1974) and Henry's Cat (1983).

Snip from Halas & Batchelor's Snip and Snap.Image courtesy of SIIARA.

But by far the most significant donation to SIIARA--significant in terms of its size, range and importance to animation studies--is the collection acquired from the heirs of John Halas and Joy Batchelor. Halas and Batchelor was the leading animation studio in Britain for over 40 years. Their feature film Animal Farm (1954) was just one of many projects produced over the years. Other projects include Snip and Snap (1960), Butterfly Ball (1974), Autobahn (1979), First Steps (1981) and segments of Heavy Metal (1981). The company was always at the forefront of the creative use of animation. At its peak the studio was the largest in Western Europe.

This collection not only represents the output of a seminal animation studio. It is also the most varied in our archive. There is material relating to information on planned and uncompleted films, as well as finished productions. In essence it includes: 3,000 cans of film, production correspondence, scripts, technical articles, photographs, treatments, storyboards, scrapbooks, magazines, books, cels and other artwork.

An original cel from Halas & Batchelor's Butterfly Ball.Image courtesy of SIIARA.

There is a wide range of material from British animators in the archive as well as a few smaller collections representing international work. For example, there is a collection drawings, sketches and correspondence from Lotte Reiniger, as well as examples of artwork by Bruno Bozzetto, Osamu Tezuka, Marcel Jankovics, Renzo Kinoshita and Paul Driessen. Even so we are always happy to hear of possible donations from Britain and abroad. The collection will keep growing reflecting new acquisitions, as well as the production of new work. However, one may question whether it is enough merely to accumulate collections of material. A common problem of many archives is how to provide effective access to their holdings; to make use of it in a way that brings it before an audience in an informative and thought-provoking manner.

The main strategy adopted so far for SIIARA has been through the use of exhibitions, articles and conferences. This allows selected original material to be made accessible under archival conditions to a large number of people. The archive is currently negotiating with other institutions its role in collaborative exhibitions. For example reproduction and original artwork is being loaned to Britain's National Museum of Photography, Film and Television. This will be included in its permanent animation exhibition which is due to open soon. Despite such collaborations SIIARA is also investing heavily in its own exhibitions and special events, such as a recent conference on the animated medium.

Halas and Batchelor's Animal Farm.Image courtesy of SIIARA.

Drawing on the Past

Earlier this year Southampton Institute hosted the first SIIARA conference on animation. This event was called "Drawing on the Past" and one of its aims was to bring together people from different disciplines and with different interests to discuss animation. The three day event included lectures by animation scholars and a daily program of film presentations. (Details of the event can still be found in the archive section of our web site.)

Whilst organizing the conference I was also able to use some of the material within the archive to curate a simultaneous exhibition. This was devoted to one film in particular--Halas and Batchelor's feature of 1954, Animal Farm. The exhibition ran for most of March and April 1998, and was well-received attracting quite a large audience. In addition a number of private and public cinema screenings were organized. Once again this proved to be popular and tickets quickly sold out. More exhibitions are planned for the future as they are an ideal way of presenting our material to the general public.

Original cels from Halas & Batchelor's Autobahn. Image courtesy of SIIARA.

Restoration of an Animated Classic

The continued involvement of SIIARA in highlighting the achievement of Animal Farm has, I think, been a necessary one. This is because of the film's importance as the first British animated feature. Recently this involvement has gone even further than exhibiting artwork and reminding the public of the film. No new inter-negative of the film had been created since its first release in the 1950s and it was beginning to show its age. A great deal of the feature's impact was lost due to poor color reproduction and contrast. This gave the film an unintended dark and dreary look. Over the last 18 months SIIARA has been instrumental in amending this state of affairs. Co-funding from ourselves, Halas and Batchelor, and the film's current UK distributors, Blue Dolphin Films, have allowed a full restoration to take place. Later this year the restored inter-negative will be used to produce fresh prints for a re-release of the film. For various historical and technical reasons this will be the best print ever seen.

The Future of SIIARA

In its short existence SIIARA has made progress in saving a small part of animation history. As it develops it will strive to complement the important work being done by other archives in Britain and abroad. Our future plans are varied and include more exhibitions, publication of the proceedings of `Drawing on the Past,' on-line access to our main catalogue, and the production of CD-Roms. In addition we are always interested in hearing from individuals or companies with a wish to collaborate on projects. This may range from someone registering for a post-graduate degree to a company sponsoring the activity of SIIARA. At the very least SIIARA wishes to develop as a contact point for those with an interest in animation; a meeting place for the development of ideas and the dissemination of information about the animated medium.

John Southall and friend, Roobarb the dog. Photo © SIIARA.

Making Contact

Initial contact should be made in writing either by post or e-mail to:

John Southall Research Fellow in Animation SIIARA Curator Design Faculty, Southampton Institute East Park Terrace, Southampton SO14 0YN, U.K.

Fax: (44) 01703 232510 E-mail:

John Southall is Research Fellow in Animation at Southampton Institute and is responsible for the running and development of SIIARA. He has researched and published on contemporary animation production in Britain. Currently he is researching animated film in the Second World War.