Anyone who grew up in the UK in the 70's or 80's will be familiar with the work of the animation company Cosgrove Hall, whether you realise it or not! From Chorlton and the Wheelies, Jamie and his Magic Torch, Danger Mouse, Wind in the Willows or Count Duckula the list goes on and on. They produced some of the funniest 2D and technically brilliant stop motion animation of their time.
I remember being transfixed by the Pied Piper of Hamlin feature animation, all done with beautifully crafted stop motion puppets, and the Wind in the Willows was just sublime. I've always wanted to meet them both so was just over the moon to see that they were both to be part of the Saturday Schedule for the Flip Festival in Wolverhampton.
It didn't disappoint Brian Cosgrove and Mark Hall sat for 2 hours and reminisced about their days as the top animation studio in the UK, talking candidly about how they set up their first studio in Brian Cosgrove's garden in something called 'The Magic Shed' where they produced Chorlton and the Wheelies - a result of a dream Brian had, coupled with the fact that heads on wheels were easy and quick to animate! They then discussed Danger Mouse, the importance of a good voice being the essence of the character, their favourite productions (Brian's being Danger Mouse and Mark's being The Pied Piper, which he directed and produced) and the animation process in general. The morning was filled with fascinating stories; from when they collaborated with Chuck Jones to Disney arriving at the studio to discuss with them how they were able to produce cartoons at such a cheap price (the UK's animation budget being poles apart from that in the US).
After 25 years of animation production Cosgrove Hall's studio was closed down by ITV in 2009. Nevertheless once an animator always an animator and it was wonderful to hear both men talk so passionately about a subject they clearly never really retired from, so it came as no surprise when they announced that they were actually going to ressurect Cosgrove Hall the animation company and begin producing again! Two projects are already in production ('The Hero Gliffix' and 'Pip') and hopefully more to follow. It was wonderful to see both Brian and Mark talk so openly about their work and be so positive about the future. They were both so nice and approachable and I feel fortunate to have been in the audience.
Just got back from the Flip Festival in Wolverhampton - great line up this year and it started with the brilliant and amazingly talented Bill Plympton. I have loved Bill's work and style for many years so when I was looking through the schedule last month I couldn't actually believe he was going to be there, I thought I'd read it wrong and it was just the showing of the new documentary on him....but no, he was going to be there and giving a masterclass in the afternoon followed by an evening of short films and a Q&A. What a brilliant opportunity!
It didn't disappoint, I have to say Bill is one of the most pleasant, down to earth and generous (with time and advice) people you could wish to meet. In his Masterclass he talked openly about his career, the highs and the lows, how he funds his many projects and the almost exhaustive process that he goes through to create his unique animations. Working independently he funds all of his own projects and animates everything himself with a small team of people who assist in production, colouring etc. He still works traditionally in pencil (although mentioned that the Cintiq may well tempt him one day) and his work has that pureness about it that would be lost with too much digital input. If you are not familiar with his work I urge you to have a look at his website www.plymptoons.com and his blog Scribble Junkies and if that's not enough then he has a brilliant new book out 'Independently Animated: Bill Plympton The life and art of the king of Indie Animation' - I had my copy with me in the hope I might get the chance to get it signed....as soon as Bill saw I had it he took it off me and proceeded to draw my caricature inside...I couldn't believe it!! I was hoping for a signature but now I had my very own Bill Plympton caricature! Thank you Bill....look forward to seeing all of your future work.
Just finished reading Benjamin Mee's 'We Bought a Zoo' in which he talks about how he and his family purchased Dartmoor Zoo and turned what was a run down park on the verge of closure into a success. Its a really well written book (Mee was a journalist before becoming a Zoo owner/director) and its been a pleasure to read. Quite sad at times as he talks about coming to terms with the grief of his wife's death, but also quite inspiring when you think of the challenges he and his family took on suddenly taking care of the welfare of 40 odd wild animals, several staff and the responsibility that comes with a Zoo (electricity bills average £6,000 a month). I had seen a little of 'Ben's Zoo' the documentary series which was shown on BBC 2, but reading the book painted a far more vivid and entertaining viewpoint. I'd recommend it.
The book has now been made into a film due to be released in the US this Dec. Benjamin Mee is played by Matt Damon (I'm sure he's very flattered.... Ben not Matt) and the Zoo has moved to California rather than Dartmoor....still it saved them having to do daft British accents. Seems like they have added the mandatory mushy romance, Mee falls for one of the female keepers, but looks like it has potential....