Skwigly Online Animation Magazine Advanced Search

The Art of Smallfilms – Book Review

// Reviews

As “art of” animation books have become something of an industry it is difficult to know what you will get from each one. Of course you are practically guaranteed a first hand perspective of the production process that cannot be delivered by filmed extras on DVDs or any other method. Having the books on hand as reference or as inspirational material is always a pleasure to have no matter what the film. Didn’t like Brave? Well, the book had plenty of gorgeous production artwork in it – thought Rio was lacklustre? Theres plenty of fantastic design work in the art of tome that celebrates the work of those artists behind the scenes.


The art of book under review here isn’t the work of an enormous californian studio staffed by hundreds of people but the work of two men working from a shed on a handful of timeless television productions. The Art of Smallfilms covers the work of Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin and takes the reader on an exploratory trip through the archive of puppets, pictures and production material used in the creation of such children’s classics as Ivor the Engine, Bagpuss and The Clangers. I will freely admit to not being the biggest fan of Bagpuss and The Clangers, the Smallfilms ship had sailed by the time I was born and the likes of Thomas the Tank Engine and Postman Pat had taken over the affection of my generation, although I will admit to being transfixed by The Clangers and their stories, perhaps it was the self contained, stop motion stories or the hypnotic whistling, either way they do form rather relaxing memories. Seeing the archive presenting in this book I am easily transferred back to being under The Clangers hypnotic spell.

The book is a work of art itself. Beautifully bound and laid out as a journey through the Smallfilms catalogue the gorgeous images of armatures and paper puppets are peppered with nuggets of interesting information (Bagpuss was supposed to be orange but they ordered the wrong fabric – who knew?) about the films themselves and the commissioning system of the day that place todays system into cold perspective. As Postgate and Firmin, through archived and current interviews describe the commissioning process and the trust that they had with the BBC those in animation can yearn for the pre focus group and merchandise days where the creator was trusted to create television without any kind of interference or hindrance from the commissioners trying to second guess an audience. As much is said by Stewart Lee, the comedian and writer who provides a lucid introduction as an artist who understands the plight of todays stifled creatives.

There has been a great deal of respect dedicated not only to the items displayed and the humble journey they have taken through the years. Knowing that the items in the book sat in a shed for years, or that the pages upon pages of beautiful hand painted paper puppet parts from Ivor were kept in a cardboard box lined with Clangers wallpaper frames this as an endeavour to display a love for the creations as well as the simple way in which they were created.

The editors Jonny Trunk and Richard Embray have created a book that is as informative as it is beautiful, the images within compliment the informative and accessible writing that takes us for a tour around the shed of one of children’s televisions most innovative duos. This book isn’t just a read, but an experience that leaves you under an almost hypnotic satisfaction that The Clangers would be proud of.


Items mentioned in this article:

The Art of Smallfilms

The Art of Smallfilms


Buy Now on Amazon

Interesting interview with @Roos_Mattaar about working with armature in animation, with links to some of her beauti…
Twitter buttons
SEC Animation
Interview with stop-motion artist Roos Mattaar
Twitter buttons
Anna Mattaar
Story runs in the family! Have a look at this handy overview of pretty much every amazing stop motion thing my sist…
Twitter buttons

Advanced Search & Filter


Find articles by a specific writer