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Josh Knowles talks to C4s original animation editor Clare Kitson



Clare Kitson’s career in animation spans four decades of innovation and facilitation. From working on animation programmes for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the 70s, the National Film Theatre in the 80’s, and galvanized British output as commissioning editor for Channel Four animation to the end of the 90’s. Now in the 21st Century she has written two books (and a third on the way); Yuri Norstein and Tale of Tales: An animator’s journey (John Libbey Publishing) in 2005, and British animation: The Channel 4 Factor (Parliament Hill Publishing) out now. Run Riot’s Josh Knowles spoke with her on the week of her book launch event and conjoined program of screenings at Curzon Cinema…


WHAT WAS THE BRITISH ANIMATION LANDSCAPE LIKE WHEN YOU BEGAN WITH C4?

I didn’t start there till ‘89 but C4 began in ’81, and there was no editor for C4 animation at that time. That early period was the best time because government funding and advertising meant there was lot of money around. I came in a year after Michael Grade was made commissioning editor and he was up for tackling difficult subjects. Without C4 British Animation might well have remained in it’s ‘old chaotic ways’.

HOW IS TECH/ INNOVATION CHANGING THE INDUSTRY?

In two ways; computer gaming (heightened reality kinds of stuff) is a big area, also budgets are decreasing but small distribution networks are flourishing (see the internet).

CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE BRITISH IDENTITY IN ANIMATION?

Wayward, eccentric, a little left field. This is partly thanks to art colleges in the seventies, when they accepted animation as an art form. From then on experiments in animation began to be explored in education. When you see a British film at a foreign film festival, it’s still often the student films that stand out.

ANIMATION IS ABOUT STORIES AND THE FILMS YOU’VE COMMISSIONED HAVE DRAWN FROM AND CHRONICLED THE BRITISH SOCIAL LANDSCAPES OF THE 80’S AND 90’S. WHAT ARE THE STORIES OF BRITAIN’S FUTURE?

Are you implying these films/stories reflect their times?

YES I THINK THE C4 STUFF HAS A VERY SOCIALLY AWARE AGENDA.

I love gag films, but I wanted to make things people wanted to watch that could bear up to repeat viewing. I was working with what was presented at the time. C4 had bigger budgets at that time to spend on more developed concepts.

Funding budgets are now tiny, and not enough for the films we used to make. Now people make films, which are technically experimental, with short running times, often involved in cool design application (e.g. for mobile phones)

Animators go where the market is. Technology is cheaper now. Animated feature projects are thriving around the world, especially in Europe (except in the UK of course!).

YOUR VIEWS ON CURRENT MAINSTREAM ANIMATION FEATURES ?

It’s harder to make a good feature than a good short. Animation is a very complicated art form, in both concepts and techniques, even at a basic level. If you want to go feature length you have to really strip down your ideas. It’s hard to do well. I think ‘Waltzing With Bashir’ got it right.

WHAT’S HOT FOR 2009?

Don’t ask me - I’ve just spent two years in the past writing my book! It’s been really interesting, especially interviewing the artists. With the benefit of hindsight some really crucial discussion has come up about techniques, a lot of personal stuff, the nature of the subject matter and how they came by it. It’s interesting to see what came out of all that. Some projects’s nearly never happened at all. A for Autism by Tim Webb was one of those. He would not stop researching. Tim is a paragon of integrity- he wanted to handle his project in an informed way as possible, and it became very complex. Some medical people were supporting him, others were opposed, we were waiting and he wouldn’t sign off the storyboards to make it! It was a very delicate subject matter, and a radical idea at the time, and he wanted to get it right.

WHAT WAS YOU FIRST INSPIRATION POINT IN ANIMATION?

Can’t remember the first, but when I first moved to LA I was asked to do a major respective on US animation. I was really impressed by the Warner cartoons by Chuck Jones. They’re so witty, Bugs Bunny parodies of Wagner for example. I heartily recommend seeing ‘One for The Evening’.

Clare is a genuine trailblazer and an absolute font of animation knowledge. Through her we have been informed and entertained for thirty years. Speaking with her made me realise how many battles she fought to bring the industry to where it is today. Without her British animators would arguably have no context to work in, and our cultural lives less rich. As it is animation continue to innovate and thrive, thanks partly to Clare. And there’s more- look out for her latest project, the upcoming book – The Pages Of Hackney. To paraphrase the immortal animation quote, in the case of Clare Kitson ‘that’s definately not all folks!...’