Cartoons and Animation
The Europeans were doing animation almost since day one. There were many major factions including the Russians, Germans, French, English and Zagreb.
Zagreb is probably the capital for “hip animation” in the world, even out doing Canada in some instances. The Zagreb animation unit and the Zagreb school of art was a major influence in the world, however the impact on the United States was not really felt until the work of Stephen Bustow and UPA in the 1950’s.
Originally Zagreb was the capital of Croatia (Hrvatska), but during the Russian take-over after World War Two and before fall of the Berlin wall, it was integrated with Bosnia and Serbia into the country called Yugoslavia, which has been the site of many civil wars and much violence since the fall of the U.S.S.R.
I met with and interviewed Zagreb art school graduate Marija Miletic, who immigrated to Canada where she did Canadian animation work as well as doing “out-sourcing” work as both animator and director for American studios such as Hanna-Barbera. Joe Barbera, in fact, told “Maria” (that “j” probably throws you off so I’ll eliminated it from now on, even though it’s the way her name is spelled by Europeans) that he could give her a “lot more work” if she moved down South to the United States, which she eventually did, in the San Fernando Valley.
She did a lot of work as a unit director for Hanna-Barbera before they sold the unit to Taft Entertainment. Then she worked for Lou Schimer at Filmation Studios in Reseda, California, doing Saturday morning super heroes. She also worked for Marty Kroft Productions and when last I talked with her she was producing a show for Marvel Productions.
Zagreb animations were very stylized. Cars, for example, had big, round bodies with large windows, exemplified in the U.S. by the Mr. Magoo series produced by UPA, which probably used some Zagreb animators or was very influenced by these European artists.
People had big heads and little bodies. Like I said they were very stylized.
Elsewhere in Europe animators like George Pal were leaving occupied Germany and Communist Russia for England, Canada and the United States. Pal originally located himself in England and began producing theatrical commercials (yes, they showed commercials at the movies in the 1930’s through 1940’s) for Phillips Radio. They were trying to get people to buy a Phillips Radio set and Pal did this with wooded puppet animation, but not the kind with strings. His puppets were stringless, with many different heads and arms that could be twisted by animator assistants into different positions.
When Pal finally moved to the United States he continued this work at Paramount Studios doing the famous “Puppetoons” including a few based on stories by Dr. Seuss (“To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street”). Pal went on to produce live action movies including “Destination Moon,” “The Time Machine” and “Tom Thumb.” Most of his movies included “model” animation effects done by his associates who eventually formed the company “Effects Unlimited” which did a lot of work for television including the original “Outer Limits.”
In Germany, of course, we already talked about Lotte Reiniger with her silhouette animations -- she eventually moved to England and worked at the Primrose Artists Colony doing films for the BBC and the Canadian Film Board. One of her assistants once described her to me as a woman who smoked cigarettes, drank red wine and did animation by the seat of her pants, brushing off ashes that fell to the table as she worked. She ignored “precision” marks made by her assistants and just “did it” and it looked fantastic when screened!
Some Russian and French animations made it over to the United States. I recall seeing some of these, dubbed into English, on children shows produced by Frazier Smith and others at WGN in Chicago, such as several films by Paul Gramault that were produced in France and “Firebird” which was produced in Russia, as attested to by the definitely “Russian” fur hats worn in the show.
In England during World War Two Len Lye was making very experimental avant garde animations like “Trade Tattoo” and “Swinging the Lambeth Walk.” He did some work for the English Postal Service and for the War Department. His animations consisted of squiggles and lines hand drawn onto blank filmstock, with a music track added to accompany the visuals. All of these were done in the 1940’s and are very cutting edge and still show as examples to today’s group of college art and animation students around the world in the most prestigious of colleges!
Elsewhere in England was the husband and wife team of John Halas and Joy Bachelor, who are known as the “Disney’s” of England, producing various TV series and the feature film based on the George (“1984”) Orwell novel “Animal Farm” which is the saga of animals who rebel in civil war against humans who treat them horribly only to be treated horribly by other animals who sport the motto: “All animals are created equal, but some animals are more equal than others!”