A few years before Walt Disney debuted Mickey Mouse, Cardiff had its own animated mascot: an adventurous and untamed dog named Jerry.  

Jerry the Troublesome Tyke was created in 1925 by Sid Griffiths, a cinema projectionist at the time.

With his two-dimensional dog and a camera, Sid fused live action with animation. It was a technique used by Disney and Max Fleischer of Inkwell Studios around the same time. Inkwell Studios would later create Betty Boop and Popeye. At that time, their series “Out of the Inkwell,” which bears a striking resemblance to Sid’s creation, may well have been a significant influence on Sid. 

Sid and his friend are the only two known artists to use the technique in Cardiff, and Jerry the Troublesome Tyke is praised as being the first animated series made in Wales. Sid continued to animate and in 1954 worked on the feature animation: Animal Farm.

While Jerry is seen as a relic of Welsh animation history, the series didn’t initially spark a movement on a grand scale. Between the 1920s and 1980s there was something of an animation dry spell in Cardiff and Wales.

“There was animation going on but it wasn’t on a commercial level,” says Gareth Cavanagh, art director of Quantum Soup Studios, a game developer based in North Wales. In 2013 he wrote an overview of the Welsh animation history for the online animation magazine, Skwigly.

The Politics that Paved the Way

Cardiff’s animation renaissance really took off in the 1980s. This aligned with the launch of S4C, the Welsh-language public-broadcast television channel based out of Cardiff. 

“Basically it was S4C and the funding that came with it that opened the floodgates for Welsh animation,” says Gareth.

S4C was borne from a grassroots movement led by Welsh-language activists. The movement to enhance the scope of the Welsh language began in 1962, but the specific aim to have broadcasting channels in Welsh took hold in the 1970s. 

In 1979, the Conservative party took power under Margaret Thatcher. Both Labour and Conservatives campaigned with the promise to instill a Welsh language TV channel. However, it soon became clear that this wasn’t going to happen. The Home Secretary at the time, William Whitelaw, didn’t follow through on the promise, which sparked a cascade of civil disobedience acts including sit-ins at BBC and HTV studios. Most notably, perhaps, is the threat of a hunger strike by Plaid Cymru party leader, Gwynfor Evans in 1980. Gwynfor said if Whitelaw didn’t reverse his decision in six months, the hunger strike would begin. William Whitelaw acquiesced.

The Welsh Animation Renaissance 

S4C began broadcasting on 1 November, 1982 from their studio in Cardiff, and this marked the rise of an animation boom. Places like Chapter Arts Centre were part of that buzz.

“I moved from London to be here because of the animation,” says Joanna Quinn, 2013 Animation Laureate, film director and award-winning animator. She came to Cardiff in 1985. “Where I lived there was nothing like Chapter, a place like an arts centre where you could make your own films,” she says.

Joanna was a significant contributor to the Welsh animation renaissance. Her work, which has a strong classical drawing foundation and fluidity to it, has received Oscar nominations, a Leonardo Da Vinci Award, and has rendered her a world-class animator in the international community.

“It was my love of drawing, I think,” Joanna says. “You have to do so many drawings. It’s at least twelve drawings a second.

"It was more the actual doing of the animation that was the attraction – the participation in it all, the creativity," she says.

Joanna was part of a prolific community of animators in the city. Leading the charge was S4C’s commissioning editor, Chris Grace, who was integral to the development of animated content in Wales. Grace made way for what became well-loved animation series such as SuperTed and Fireman Sam. SuperTed was the first British animation series to be acquired by Disney according to the Animation World Network

“S4C and Channel Four were encouraging lots of independent film,” Joanna says. “S4C went on with Chris Grace at the helm to really champion animation in the world. Wales was seen as one of the centres of animation in the world because so much was being made here, short films mainly. But also because of Chris’s bigger projects where he would work with other countries like Russia particularly to do co-productions. It was a very exciting time,” Joanna says.

Chris, charged with being the founder of the Welsh animation industry, also paved the way for award-winning adaptations of significant cultural works like The Canterbury Tales, Y Mabinogi and a small collection of operas which were co-produced with Russian artists in Moscow. Joanna one BAFTA awards for her work on the Canterbury Tales. This fury of creative invention spanned from the 1980s into the early 2000s.

 

In 2003, Chris stepped down from his post at S4C. In his resignation, he stated: “When I started, you could fit it all into an estate car. For me, much the most rewarding development in Wales has been the growth of the language and the positive climate surrounding it so radically different from the 70s. In animation, Wales has brokered major international co-productions with countries from a previously divided Europe, while establishing its own respected voice that is neither of east nor west.”

For viewers, Chris’s contributions were invaluable.

“There are very few animations you can put a finger on and say I know what made that successful,” Gareth says.

“I think times are very different. I’ve got kids now and we watch a lot of animation. Back then you were really starved. It was a treat to watch animation so when there were ones that had appealing characters like SuperTed, it was an event,” he says.

A New Era 

While Wales’ animation boom fell to economic cuts, the industry never died. Around the time of Chris Grace's retirement in 2003, most studios in the region were facing challenging times. Production companies like Bumper Films (of Fireman Sam), Cartwn Cymru (of Funnybones), and Aarrggh! Productions (of Gogs) closed down.

However there was growth as well. Siriol Productions (behind Wil Cwak Cwak and The Shoe People) became Calon. Beryl Productions, led by Joanna Quinn, continued to create hand-drawn animations for films and commercials, such as the Charmin Bear. Dinamo Produtions was founded in 2004 and went on to create animations for CBeebies. In 2012, Cloth Cat Studios emerged, headed by Jon Rennie. Cloth Cat Studios has gone on to create Ethel and Earnest, and is continuing international collaborations with a Chinese pre-school cartoon series, Luo Bao Bei, while also working on British productions. 

Joanna Quinn’s studio Beryl Productions, based out of Canton, is currently creating a feature film based on the reoccurring character, Beryl. “She’s like this Welsh heroine. Even though I’m English, she’s my Welsh alter-ego,” Joanna says. The Beryl films are “very Welsh and very funny,” says Joanna.

Film Still from Joanna Quinn's Girls Night Out

Beryl Productions and Cloth Cat have been hiring graduates for animation projects in Cardiff, drawing a pool of talent from local education centres.

“For me personally, the best part I think is being able to be in the position where I can nurture other people coming into the industry,” Joanna says.

The fever of activity that was alive in the 1980s and 1990s is growing again. Next year will mark the revival of Cardiff’s Animation Film Festival as well as a year-long celebration of British animation with ANIM-18, based in Chapter Arts Centre. 

Lauren Orme, an award-winning director and animator who curates Cardiff Animation Nights, is managing the animation festival.

“There used to be an animation festival in the 1990s and 2000s,” she says. “People still come into Chapter and say ‘what happened to the old animation festival? Is it going to come back?’ So that’s part of the reason I’m doing this. But also it just feels like Cardiff really needs it.”

The Cardiff Animation Film Festival will launched on 19 April and will run for four days, featuring masterclasses, talks, screenings, a competition programmes for short films. Get involved here.

“Cardiff’s quite an animation hub, albeit a smaller one than Manchester or Dublin,” says Lauren.

 “It’s a capital city. I feel like the animation festival just needs to be here,” she says.

Cardiff Animation Nights (CAN), which Lauren also runs, continues to hold events. CAN has grown so much that their bi-monthly screenings have had to move from 10 Feet Tall to Kongs to accommodate the crowd. At Kongs, they have three screens to show the films.

Right now, animation has unique advantage in the global market, since it can be redubbed to any language, but this also presents a challenge. According to the Financial Times, funding bodies are not as willing to fully back a project because of an underlying assumption that the animators can acquire funding from the various countries where their animations would be broadcast.   

 “There’s quite a range of things [here],” says Joanna. “It’s really good for animation, Cardiff. There’s lots of different techniques going on. I’m really positive for the future.” 

Find out more about ANIM18, a celebration of British animation running during 2018 here.

Creative Cardiff’s animation network is growing. Be a member. Join us now!

There’s plenty more history to be uncovered. Do you know of animation gems that haven’t been mentioned here, or an upcoming event we've missed? Please share in the comments below. 

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