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BFI Launches Animated Britain – Largest Collection of Historic UK Shorts

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Since the early 1900s a disparate array of artists in Britain, from across the UK, have drawn, sculpted, snipped, stamped, posed, clicked and scratched their art into celluloid life. Sitting squarely at the centre of a year-long BFI-wide focus on animation in venue, online and on release, and coinciding with the release of Early Man, Nick Park’s latest animated feature for Aardman and Studiocanal, the BFI today reveals new access to unprecedented collections of archive animation, online and in cinemas. These films cast the evolution of British animation in a new light, frame by painstaking frame, ranging from the earliest experiments to the latest pioneering contemporary features made by UK animation studios today for Aardman, Wes Anderson, Tim Burton and others.

Drawn from both the BFI National Archive and Regional and National Film Archive Partners across the UK, Animated Britain is a new online collection of over 300 films, surveying a stunningly rich century-long history of British animation, made available for free via BFI Player. From the earliest pioneers and the birth of British animation with Latest News’s animated titles in 1904, to some of the best known, award-winning names in commercial and independent animation including works by Halas & Batchelor, Bob Godfrey, George Dunning, Cosgrove Hall and Larkins Studio, this landmark collection highlights the extraordinary creative variety in domestic production across the UK.
From the most distinctive and individual of films to the ongoing exploits of popular characters such as Bonzo the Dog, The Clangers, Charley the Cat and Tufty, to a focus on the key contributions and thematic concerns of female artists such as Alison De Vere, Nancy Hanna, Vera Linnecar and Sheila Graber as well as developments made by television broadcasters and animation schools which have all helped shape the face of British animation today.

Watch Animated Britain Shorts here

Providing a wider framework to trace this new history of British animation on the big screen, Archive Remasters is a complementary three-part cinema programme of 35 newly remastered classic animations drawn from the BFI National Archive’s unique animation collection. Ranging from 1909 to 1993 these curated packages present key works alongside unexpected surprises of little known or rarely seen early examples of British Animation for a genre-hopping, whistle-stop tour of the 20th century. Included is Animated Doll and Toy Town Circus (c1912), a stop-motion experiment believed to have been filmed using the two-colour Kinemacolor film process and a strong contender for title of the world’s earliest surviving colour animation. Currently previewing at BFI Southbank presented by BFI Animation Curator Jez Stewart, (screening on 20 February, 1 March and 4 March) the Archive Remasters packages will be available for UK wide cinema bookings from April.
As well as celebrating industry leaders, innovators and independent spirits, Animated Britain also takes in home hobbyists bitten by the animation bug, with a wealth of films representing amateur talent from across the UK. Best known for her adaptations of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, such as Cat That Walked By Himself (1983), the films of the internationally celebrated animator from South Shields, Sheila Graber, are presented from the North East Film Archive. Inspired by fantasy animation legend Ray Harryhausen, with whom he worked under his supervision, Jon Coley’s creative mix of stop motion and live action includes Dinosaurs and Things (1981) and The Feline Fun (1986) held in the collections of the East Anglian Film Archive. The late talented animator Paul Berry joined the Cosgrove Hall studio in Manchester after studying at Wolverhampton Polytechnic. Later Oscar nominated for his short horror The Sandman (1991), his early humorous stop-motion animated films are held by the North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University, including Short Tribute From Blues To You (1989) his quirky claymation tribute to musical icons such as Jimi Hendrix and Michael Jackson. A prolific member of the Cardiff Amateur Cine Society, Ian Malcolm’s films held by the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales, includes hand drawn titles such as Animal Alphabet (1967) and his Gilliam-esque cut out, ABZ on Sport (1967).

Spanning government-commissioned public information films, wartime propaganda, commercials for popular brands such as Guinness, Horlicks, Cadbury’s, Shell and BP, children’s television series, political satire, adult fantasy, avant garde experiments and artists’ moving image, these dizzyingly diverse online and cinema resources fanfare British animation’s unique and inventive contribution to the art form, serving up a history ripe for rediscovery.
Animated Britain is presented as part of Unlocking Film Heritage with thanks to National Lottery funding and the support of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. International audiences can also explore a selection of these films via a playlist on the BFI’s YouTube channel.

A free exhibition from the BFI National Archive Special Collection, British Animation goes on display at BFI Southbank’s Mezzanine Gallery from 26 January to 8 April, showcasing the artwork and industry behind some of British animation’s most enduring classics including materials from Britain’s first animated feature Animal Farm, the pioneering work of Lotte Reiniger, Yellow Submarine director George Dunning and Captain Pugwash creator John Ryan. In addition the recently relaunched Mediatheque at BFI Southbank has expanded its popular animation collection for viewers to explore in venue.

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