Animation in Australia
Over the last two decades or so the profile of animation and the quantity of animated works produced has soared worldwide. Australian animation is internationally recognised, Leisure (1976), Harvie Krumpet (2003) and Happy Feet (2006) have all won Oscars.
Animation is a broad category that includes works made in a variety of methods and styles. Leisure employs cell style animation, Harvie Krumpet is made using the method of stop-motion claymation and Happy Feet features computer generated 3D animation.
Animation in the Silent Era 1910s-1920s
Pat Sullivan, Felix the Cat Cartoon Strips. Courtesy of the State Library of NSW: pxd946.
Newspaper cartoonist Harry Julius is recognised as Australia's first animator (see Developing Animation 2: Australia). He produced the Cartoons of the Moment series which commented on topical events and newsreels of the time (watch a clip from Cartoons of the Moment - The War Zoo 1915).
One of the most popular animated characters from the silent era was Felix the Cat. Felix cartoons were made in the United States, but were produced by the Australian Pat Sullivan. Felix and his surreal antics were wildly popular during the 1920s (watch the Felix cartoon All Balled Up ). However with the introduction of sound to the cinema, the silent Felix's popularity fell and was overtaken by more vocal characters such as Disney's Mickey Mouse (follow the links to watch Mickey Mouse's first sound cartoon Steamboat Willie ).
Animation in the Sound Era 1940s-1950s
Eric Porter Productions, Aeroplane Fruit Jellies Advertisement Bertie the Aeroplane,1942. Courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive.
In the sound era, animation production was dominated by Warner Bros and Disney studios. The expense and labour intensiveness of making animation meant that many more animations were imported into Australia than produced locally (see Developing Animation 2: Australia). However there were some notable animators that persevered despite the difficulty.
Eric Porter, an AFI award winner (PDF 30KB), produced many animated works during this period. His production company made a number of animated shorts not-unlike those of Warner Bros such as the theatrical cartoon Bimbo's Auto in 1954. He is also responsible for iconic Aeroplane Jelly Advertisements, including the 1942 Bertie the Aeroplane.
Television animation 1950s-1970s
Air Programs International, King Arthur and the Square Knights of the Round Table, 1972. Courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive.
In the late 1950's television was introduced in Australia. It wasn't long before TV became the principal medium of animation. The new genre of 'Saturday Morning Cartoons' was dominated by the US production company Hanna Barbera. Australian animators contributed to various Hanna Barbera cartoons as the company had a production company in Sydney (see Developing Animation 2: Australia ).
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has long been a supporter of children's programming. This has included broadcasting and assisting to produce various animated programs. ABC's Kindergarten Playtime (1959) was Australia's first children's education program and one of the first programs to feature animation. Continuing their pioneering role, the ABC screened the Australian stop motion animation, Wambidgee , in 1962. The black and white series followed the adventures of an Aboriginal boy and his tribe.
Air Programs International was an Australian animation studio that had world-wide success with their animated series King Arthur and the Square Knights of the Round Table (1972). It was syndicated in the U.S. by Twentieth Century Fox and sold to 14 countries.
Feature length animation 1970s-1980s
Yoram Gross, Dot and the Kangaroo, 1977. Courtesy of the National Film and Sound Archive.
Walt Disney produced the first feature length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. In 1972 Eric Porter produced and directed Australia's first feature-length animated film: Marco Polo Junior Versus the Red Dragon . However, it wasn't until forty years after the release of Snow White that an Australian feature-length animated film was recognised on the world stage.
Yoram Gross produced the iconic Dot and the Kangaroo in 1977. The film used live action backgrounds of the Australian bush, with cell-style characters animated over the top. The film was hugely successful internationally and spawned a number of follow-up films such as Dot and the Koala (1985) and Dot and the Whale (1986).
Television animation 1980s-1990s
Anthony Lawrence, Plasmo, 1997. Courtesy of December Films.
Locally produced television animation was rare in Australia in the 1980s. Production continued to be dominated by the U.S. company Hanna Barbera. A notable exception to this is Kaboodle (1988-1989) a children's series that featured clips of both live action and animation and was screened by the ABC.
In 1991 Roo films produced The Dinky Di's , a children's animated action series. The Dinky Di's rescued rare and endangered animals and birds from 'the planet's number one eco-enemy - Mephisto'. This was a prelude to the Blinky Bill productions.
In the 1980s and early 1990s Yoram Gross Film Studios (see above) continued to release animated feature films culminating with the film Blinky Bill in 1992. The studio based its first animated television series on the Blinky Bill film. The series was successful both in Australia and internationally. More than 50 half hour episodes were produced. (Watch clips from a Blinky Bill episode).
Yoram Gross Film Studios has maintained its production of television series, which include titles such as Tabaluga (1997, 2001) and Flipper & Lopaka (1999, 2001). Many of the studio's animations share the environmental themes of Dot and the Kangaroo and maintain a cell style (rather than computer generated) appearance. (Watch clips from Tabaluga and Flipper & Lopaka ).
The ABC screened a number of Yoram Gross animations as well as other animated series including The Dreaming (1995) a series of 78 short animations of Aboriginal dreamtime stories, the stop motion animation Plasmo (1997) about a shape shifting alien, and Li'l Elvis and the Truckstoppers (1997) about a young reincarnation of Elvis in the outback.
Animation in the Digital Era
Digital technology has had a huge influence on how animation is produced and how it looks. The technology has made animation production less labour and resource intensive. It's unsurprising then, that many Australian animators have adopted the method.
Blue Rocket Productions, Hoota and Snoz, 2000. Courtesy of ABC Kids.
Hoota and Snoz (2000) is arguably Australia's first totally computer generated (CG) animated series. The episodes are shorts (rather than half hour episodes) and feature two characters that constantly compete, with the yellow character, Snoz, coming out best. The Tasmanian based company, Blue Rocket, produced Hoota and Snoz and in partnership with the ABC their series Dog and Cat News (2002) was broadcast on television and is available online.
The first half hour length CG series produced in Australia was The Shapies in 2003. The series follows the adventures of The Shapies, a rock band whose members each resemble a different geometric shape. The episodes feature musical numbers performed by the fictional band.
George Miller, Happy Feet, 2006. Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures.
Live action films have long used computer generated animation for special effects. However, Pixar's Toy Story , released in 1995, was the first fully computer generated feature length film. Another later Pixar film, Finding Nemo (2003), featured Australian voices and locations such as Sydney Harbour and the Great Barrier Reef. However it was not until Happy Feet (2006) that an Australian (co)produced feature-length digital animation attracted international acclaim.
Happy Feet is a technical achievement. It is highly detailed visually, some shots contain thousands of independently animated penguins. The film used motion capture technology to record the movements of dancers and directly translated them into the movements of the animated penguins.
Other Australian digital features include The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello (2005) a short digital feature made in a unique style of silhouette animation developed by Anthony Lucas, the film's director.
Do-it-yourself digital animation
The Zimmer Twins, 2007. Courtesy of Lost the Plot and ABC Kids.
The advance of digital technology has led to an explosion of animation production. There many easily accessible programs available and the internet provides an ideal means of sharing the animation works. Flash is a popular and easily accessible program that can be used to create animation. (Watch flash Australian animations by Peter Nicholson of The Australian newspaper and flash animations by the Australia/New Zealand web production company Nectarine.
There are even easier ways to create your own animations. For example Lost the Plot in association with ABC's Rollercoaster encourages children to make their own animation online at the Zimmer Twins website.
Future of animation in Australia
Australia can expect many new locally developed animated works on television, computer and cinema screens. $9.99 (2008) is a feature length stop motion animation 'which offers slightly less than $10 worth about the meaning of life'. Harvie Krumpet director Adam Elliot has a feature length claymation entitled Mary & Max (2009). There are new television shows screening like Zeke's Pad and Pixel Pinkie . Also, countless new animated works will be available to watch online.
Animation industry representation
A group under the banner of the Australian Directors' Guild is calling for formal representation of animators within Screen Australia. One of the primary aims of the group is to see an animation project officer appointed by Screen Australia. Other aims include redefining the role of the producer in animation, increasing the number of screens and other viewing platforms for Australian animation and increasing recognition of the role of animation in all film genres. (Source: Inside film #113, September 2008)
Listen, look and play
- Watch clips from Australian animations at Australian Screen
- Watch clips from The Shapies
- Watch the animated satirical documentary Leisure (Bruce Petty 1976)
- Watch clips and play games at Happy Feet's official site
- Watch clips and play games at Blue Rocket
- Make your own animation with the Zimmer Twins
- Watch short animations by Victorian animators at Strange Attractors
History of animation
- Notes on animation - Centre for Animation & Interactive Media
- History of animation timeline
- Hopping back in time (1960s Freddo Frog Cartoon) - The Age
- Who created Felix the Cat? - Rewind, ABC TV
- Teachers' notes on animation clips - Australian Screen
- ABC for Kids website: ABC Children's TV and Rollercoaster feature clips from and games related to many animated programs
- Rollermache: ABC's guide for children wanting to create animation
Industry information and associations
- Inquiry into the future opportunities for Australia's film, animation, special effects and electronic games industries - Parliament of Australia
- West Australian Animation Association
- Australian Interactive Media Association
- Animation World Magazine
Select Australian animators and production companies
- Essays and Interviews with Animators - Australian Centre for the Moving Image
- Adam Elliot
- Ambience Entertainment
- Animal Logic
- Animators at Arts Connect
- Anthony Lawrence
- Blue Rocket
- Bruce Petty
- Flying Bark Productions (formerly Yoram Gross Films)
- Harry Julius
- Liquid Animation
- Pat Sullivan
- Sarah Watt
- The People's Republic of Animation
Education / courses in animation
- Academy of Interactive Entertainment
- Australian Film Television and Radio School
- Centre for Animation & Interactive Media, RMIT
- Deakin University
- Griffith University
- Qantm College
- University of Technology Sydney
- Victorian College of the Arts
Last updated: 24th November 2008
Creators: Shevaun O'Neill