Why animation....when you can purchase a camcorder cheaply and make a film in a day ? Why mess around with labour-intensive disciplines like animation?
Film maker and animator famous all over the world, Bob Godfrey is Senior Fellow at the Royal College of Art in London. An undisputed master, he set up his own company in 1965, producing both independent films and commercials. He is renowned for his "tonic humour" cartoons, and for his erotic subjects. "I see my life as an ambition to make audiences laugh.." he was to say once. And no doubt, he made his point.
Amongst his films: "The Do-It-Yourself Cartoon Kit" (1963), "Henry 9 till 5" (1970), "Karmasutra Rides Again" ( 1971), "Great" (Oscar winner 1975), "Dream Doll" ( 1979), "A Journalist Tale" ( 1985), "La Belle France" ( 1989), "Happy Birthday to Switzerland" ( 1991).
I'll try and make some original observations and explain that funny title to my talk.
Animation. The hours are ungodly, the money is diabolical and it is a miracle that anybody does it all.
Somebody once said that producing animation is like making love to an elephant: it is difficult, dangerous and you have to wait four years for a result.
So why do we do it? Why animation? That's a question we should ask ourselves before embarking on any ambitious project. "Now why are we doing this in animation?"
Animation is labour intensive and time consuming and expensive. We live in an age where modern technology is rapidly replacing old craft skills. It is an age that demands instant this and instant that, instant sex and instant coffee. How often have I watched normally thick skinned, insensitive producers, all strong men go ashen faced when they hear the work "animation" mentioned at production meetings. They think: "This is going to cost us money, take up too much time, and worse than that, we do not understand how it is done, and we are intimidated by things we do not understand. So let us use glove puppets!"
So we do have a problem with this craft that we indulge in.
Thanks to computer graphics, animation is making inroads into mainstream feature production, whilst, heaven forbid, a lot of animation is starting to look like live action.
I have always maintained that animation should concern itself with the impossible -- in other words, magic. Not for nothing are some of the best film-makers, magicians.
I would have said that if a man walks down the street and raises his hat to a woman, that's live action. If he raises his head to a woman, that's animation.
That is why animation lends itself so well to surrealism. There are no limits in animation. You have all the noises in the world, all the colours of the world, and all the space of the universe. In the words of the famous lager commercial, animation reaches those parts other disciplines cannot reach. How then to teach this magic medium?
This symposium is long overdue. We must take a long hard look, not just at the way we educate out potential animators, but the industry they will be going into. They will be going into an industry where live action is turning into animation, and animation is turning into live action. So all the old demarcation lines are coming down. The "isms" are turning into "wasms".
I'll deal now with education. What sort of education should we be giving our students? One of the arguments that has been raging in Britain ever since I've been in education is: "Should we be giving vocational training or should we be giving conceptual training?"
Those in favour of conceptual training have argued that bright young creative animators would somehow change the attitudes of out-dated producers. This of course, hasn't happened.
The celebrated art of Walt Disney looks exactly the same today as it did forty years ago. Producers, in the main, are looking for cannon fodder. Their thinking is done for them by distributors, TV networks and advertising agencies. Apart for the short, sometimes, brilliant films we see in festivals, the industry is negative and derivative.
What has changed attitudes in my country is the recession. The flourishing industry of ten years ago is in trouble. The bad and the brilliant are going to the wall, and only the "middle ground" seems to be holding up.
Conceptual training yes, but only after an intensive period of vocational training.
A good animator is never out of work for very long. Students should be taught, to use a dreadful phrase: "the tricks of the trade." You have to know the rules before you can break them.
If we ignore the craft structure, we do so at our peril. So, I think on a three-year course, we should devote the first year, at least, to teaching the craft of animation and then probably in the last year, we should be doing the degree film or the diploma film.
The Royal College of Art offers a two-year course. The students tend to come in full of beans for the first year and they're all eager beaver. In the second year they tend to bog down. Then in the third year it's: "Oh my God, I've only got six weeks......"
So the second year is the one that we at the Royal College of Art have done away with. The result is that it is a very intensive course.
There are only nineteen students. They operate in quite a small area with video scanners. They don't get anywhere near the Oxberry camera until their second year. The rest of the time they're working on video cameras. Here, I am speaking of the drawing animators.
The model animators are working on film almost from the word go. We have a problem with the model animators because in London, of course, space is at a premium. We don't have a lot of space and the model animators take up a lot of space. When suddenly we have a whole craze for model animation, because somebody like Nick Parks will come along doing wonderful model work then everybody wants to do model work.
Back to the business of conceptual ideas...
At Farnham where I've also taught, I've seen students wracking their brains for two years trying to have an idea and its obvious that they're never going to have one.
So people like that should be put onto other kinds of activity that we need -- like editing or writing and camera work.
Why aren't we training more of these people ? We do not want a world full of Indian chiefs. We want braves as well. We do need good technicians. In London there's a very severe shortage of editors and, of course there's another severe shortage of writers.
Animation is an activity that tends to bog down, therefore you've constantly got to be activating students. At Farnham we used to indulge in a group activity. One student would be made a producer, other would be made a director. Then the animation work would be handed out. They all worked on the storyboard... on the same project. That seemed to work quite well.
I also like to impose deadlines because that gives a sense of urgency.
Another way we tried to stimulate the students was to make them proficient in radio. In that way, they become familiar with the clever use of dialogue. Without visual images, they learned to communicate with words.
Then they would switch from that to silent movies where they don't have the use of audio. They had to express themselves through mime.
I think it is a good idea to have a kind of weekly newsreel which is illustrated by animation students. It means they have only got a week in which to convey certain information. That gives them a tremendous sense of urgency to get things done quickly....probably quite crudely, but it does help this communication business.
Animation is, in a way, an introverted art because we sit with our backs to the audience, crouching over a hot light box and activate our dreams. In doing so, this is sometimes to the exclusion for the audience....I once knew a student at the Royal College of Art who was so shy he hid his film can in the lavatory system. We want to discourage this sort of activity, it should not be encouraged.
We have to consider the audience we're addressing. We ignore the audience at our peril. Like it or not, animation is a part of popular culture and students should as themselves: "Which audience am I addressing?" and then go for it.
Talking about that sense of urgency....... I once spent twelve very exciting days in Volda in Norway with Guther Strom. We did a very intensive course called "Twelve Very Crazy Animation Days in Volda."
They certainly were crazy, but at the end of the twelve days we did actually have about twelve films finished, and quite good they were too.
It did seem to spark off something in Volda, and Gunther was able to get his course underway as a result.
At the end of twelve days, the classroom smelt like a U-boat that had been under the Atlantic for about twelve days without too much air ... There were bodies strewn everywhere in sleeping bags.
It was really a tremendous effort. The students really did go for it because they knew that they only had those twelve days, and they got it done and then they had to go back to the Frozen North. One of my vices, or maybe its a virtue -- in animation it's a virtue -- is that I'm a very impatient person. I am really too impatient for animation, so I tend to hustle it along. Maybe that's a vice....maybe it's a virtue. I don't know.
Every course should have a good technician. At the Royal College of Art we've got an excellent technician. I think this is most necessary because a lot of the students coming in don't know how to use the equipment. They're not to be trusted with the equipment. We are working with very sensitive and delicate equipment, and therefore you should have a good technician. I consider a good technician is made of gold.
I encourage students to study. When I started in animation back in the middle ages.... in 1949... I worked for a German who was great disciplinarian. He used to say: "Go to the ballet. Watch the ballet."
I watched the ballet but I could not get on with it. Instead, I went to the Music Hall.
However, I would say study music, study drama, study opera, the circus. All these things, they're all contributing factors to the craft that we are in.
Animation is, in the main, taught in art schools and animated art is not always what we are looking for.
All these other activities are somehow in animation. We're dealing in drama, we're dealing in music, we're dealing in sound.
The trouble with animation is that there are absolutely no limitations whatsoever. When you are confronted with something that has no limitations, you tend to become inhibited.
It's the only craft which has, as far as I know, merely the limitation of finance, money and your own personal limitation. A lot of students find this rather intimidating.
They sit and look at that blank sheet of paper. They know they've got all the sounds in the world.... they know they've got all the colours in the world.... and they know they can go to the moon and beyond. It's terrifying. On the computer it's even more terrifying what we can do. So, that in itself is quite intimidating. We should look at these other crafts that have limitations and see how they get over their limitations. We should study all these things.
We must strive to have an industry worthy of the students that we are turning out.
Today we face an alarming but not totally depressing situation. There is always an animated film being made somewhere in the world.
The television set in almost every other home has an insatiable appetite. Unfortunately this is usually satisfied by a diet of inexpensive rubbish. Standards are being lowered at an alarming rate. The late great Winsor McKay one said to the heads of a famous New York studio: "animation should be an art form, you boys have ruined it in the Fifties."
Back in the fifties, in the early days of Annecy, we almost had a kind of unofficial manifesto that animation was going to be an adult medium. We were going to take it out of the kindergarten. We were going to take it out of the nursery. It was going to become sophisticated, it was going to become an art form. Unfortunately, commercial TV put paid to that.
For the last forty years we've been working for publicity and working for advertising agencies. For the last forty years we have been well paid, working for "bubble gum."
Forty years ago every studio and nearly every animation company had an distinctive house style. Apart from Disney, who has one today? You don't see that anymore. We've been forced to go negative and now I think its time to go positive.
It is time for a change. Animation is at the cross-roads. If we are going to produce any alternative to the relentless onward march of American popular culture we have to think, talk and communicate as we are doing here in Urbino.
Animation is a comparatively young art form but it is the last artistic hurdle that mankind has to go over this century. Let's go over it in style.