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 was born in Cottingham, East Yorkshire in 1920 as son of a math teacher. Whitaker studied at Macclesfield art school, while his father wanted him to become a banker. Thanks to Whitaker's woodwork teacher, he became an office boy at the art studio James Howarth and Brother in London. In 1940 he received a Punch scholarship for humorous art. During World War Two he worked for Anson Dyer's animation studio, who made training films for the Ministry of Defence. Between 1941 and 1946 he was drafted for military service.

Upon his return to civil life after the war, Whitaker 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 did the cover of each issue for about three years. Eventually Dyer was taken over by John Halas and Joy Batchelor's animation studio. In 1954 they directed an animated adaptation of George Orwell's famous satirical novel 'Animal Farm'. The picture was notable for being the first feature-length animated film made on British soil. It also aimed at an adult audience, rather than children. The plot was generally faithful to the spirit of the book, except for the ending which was changed to end on a more hopeful note. Unbeknownst to most of the animators the project was financed by the C.I.A., who liked its criticism of Stalinism.

Whitaker was one of the lead animators of the film, working mostly on the human characters. He learned a lot from animaton director John Reed, who had worked for Disney. Another famous name who worked on the film was comics artist Reginald Parlett. Apart from working on the film itself, Whitaker also drew a comic strip adaptation of the film, which was published in many British regional papers to co-incide with the movie's premier.

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'.He also 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 the eponymous 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 he worked on two TV specials animating Wilhelm Busch's 'Max und Moritz' to the tiny screen, 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), which was republished 31 years later with a foreword by the head of Pixar John Lasseter.

He 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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