Animal Farm by Harold Whitaker

Harold Whitaker was a British animator, best known for his work on the first British animated feature 'Animal Farm' (1954). He made a newspaper comic adaptation of this film. Other than this comic strip Whitaker also made some Disney comics in the late 1940s. He was involved with many classic animated films of the 1970s, including the music video 'Love Is All' (1975)  by Roger Glover and the cult features 'The 12 Tasks Of Astérix' (1976) and 'Heavy Metal' (1981).

Early life and career
Harold Whitaker was born in 1920 in Cottingham, East Yorkshire as son of a math teacher. Whitaker studied at Macclesfield art school, although his father wanted him to become a banker. Thanks to his woodwork teacher, he became an office boy at the art studio James Howarth and Brother in London. In 1940 the young man received a Punch scholarship for humorous art. During World War II he worked for Anson Dyer's animation studio, who made training films for the Ministry of Defence. Between 1941 and 1946 Whitaker was drafted for military service. Upon his return to civilian life after the war, he returned to Dyer's studio, where he became one of their top animators. He also published a full-page colour comic strip in Mickey Mouse Weekly and designed the cover of each issue for about three years.

Animal Farm
Eventually Anson Dyer's animation studio was taken over by John Halas and Joy Batchelor's animation studio. In 1954 Halas & Batchelor directed an animated adaptation of George Orwell's famous satirical novel 'Animal Farm'. This marked the first full-length animated feature made on British soil. 'Animal Farm' also aimed at an adult audience, rather than children. The book revolves around a group of farm animals who revolt and establish their own society. Unfortunately they turn into a dictatorship, mirroring how the ideals of the Russian Revolution resulted into Joseph Stalin's tyranny. The plot of the animated adaptation was generally faithful to the spirit of the book. Only the ending was changed to give viewers more hope that people would/could rise against their oppression. Unbeknownst to most of the animators the project was financed by the C.I.A., as a propaganda vehicle against Stalinism. Whitaker was one of the lead animators, working mostly on the human characters. He learned a lot from animation director John Reed, who had worked for Disney. Other famous names who worked on the film were comic artists Bill MevinReginald Parlett and Brian White.

Apart from the film, Whitaker also drew a comic strip adaptation, which was published in many British regional papers to co-incide with the movie's premier. Yet this wasn't the first comic strip based on the story. Around 1950 the British Foreign Office secretly hired Norman Pett and his writing partner Don Freeman to adapt George Orwell's novel 'Animal Farm' into a comic strip, as part of their anti-communist foreign propaganda program. The 78-episode strip allegedly ran in papers in Burma and Brazil, but no British publications are known. The concept didn't come to light until 1998, when the files were declassified.

Later work
In 1963 Whitaker directed the cartoon 'Automania 2000', which was the first British film to be nominated for an Oscar in the category "Best Animated Short". Later in his career, he was also a unit director for two 1971 episodes of the animated TV series 'The Jackson Five' (1971-1973), produced by Rankin/Bass.  Whitaker additionally animated an adaptation of William Plomer's picture book 'The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper Feast' (1973), originally illustrated by Alan Aldridge, in itself based on a poem by William Roscoe. This animated short was made into a music video to Roger Glover's number one-hit 'Love Is All' (1975), where a guitar-playing frog strums through the forest, gathering animals for the ball. Unbeknowst to many at the time the single was actually sung by Ronnie James Dio.

In 1978 Whitaker worked on two TV specials based on Wilhelm Busch's 'Max und Moritz', with narration by famous German actor Heinz Rühmann. Whitaker also contributed to two animated cult classics, namely René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's 'Les 12 Travaux d'Astérix' ('The Twelve Tasks of Asterix', 1976) and Gerald Potterson's rock fantasy picture 'Heavy Metal' (1981), the latter loosely inspired by Moebius' comic strip 'Arzach'. The same year Whitaker published the instruction book 'Timing for Animation' (1981), reprinted 31 years later with a foreword by the head of Pixar John Lasseter.

Final years and death
Whitaker continued working for Halas & Batchelor for over 30 years. After they were taken over by a different company, Whitaker joined the company Animation People. He passed away in 2013.

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