Cartoon with the Chaplin touch
Two years’ work went into the development of an entirely new cartoon technique for television that will be seen next Saturday.
Foo Foo, the central character in this new weekly cartoon series for ABC, is the creation of Hungarian-born John Halas who, at 48, is one of Britain’s most prolific cartoon animators.
“The idea of the series arose because I had always wished to create a typically English character like Foo Foo,” he says. “And also because I felt that the best medium would be television rather than the cinema.
“So the idea was put up to Howard Thomas, Managing Director of ABC TV, and, after a lot of investigation and soul-searching into the nature and type of the character we should use, we decided to go ahead.”
Foo Foo, however, was not an overnight creation. First, Halas and his team devoted themselves to devising a new method of cartooning that would suit the requirements of television.
The technique they have created, after much trial and error, is much simpler than that used in the cinema yet retains all the qualities of full animation. One big difference is that it requires only eight stages of production instead of the 20 or 22 needed in the production of cinema cartoons.
“It is also a far more personal way of making cartoons,” says Halas. ‘The animator is doing practically the whole job himself instead of dividing the work between different departments.”
When the first of the new cartoons was completed, it was shown to Howard Thomas and other ABC TV executives. Their reaction was so favourable that a further six were made. One of them “The Cultured Ape,” won first prize at last year’s Venice Film Festival.
I asked Halas how he would describe Foo Foo.
“As a little man with a Chapiinesque exterior and a slightly Chaplinesque interior,” he said. “But as this is 1960 and not 1915 — when a little man could really protest against social injustice — our character is a little more benevolent and tolerant than Chaplin’s and not such a critic of society. You might say that we have retained a little of the Chaplin touch but given him a great deal more playfulness.”
The counterpart to Foo Foo is the villainous Gogo. And then there is the feminine interest, a middle-aged lady called Mimi. Halas explains: “She is a motherly feminine rather than a glamorous feminine. We hope she will be nearer to the British conception of a female—warm and more appealing to the family.” Halas calls the new Saturday afternoon programmes the largest series of British cartoons ever made for a British audience. And he adds: “We have tried to invent what I can call restrained British humour instead of the American type of humour usual in cartoons.”
A collection of Halas and Batchelor cartoons is available on Blu-ray from Network Distribution, via Amazon and other retailers.