Rory Fellowes on Ivor Wood and animating The Hattytown Tales

After school I dropped out and tuned in, as we used to say, and went to India and got very spiritually minded. When I got back I went to London to see an Indian guru, I was basically at a time when I was going to take all this spiritual stuff seriously or I wasn’t. Anyway this guy didn’t show and we were all hanging around and I fell into a conversation with a guy called Mike. He was an animator and I’d done some illustration and comic book work. I said I’d love to be an animator and he said he hated it, continuing “why don’t you apply for my job?”. So I did and after seeing some of my comic book illustrations Ivor said he liked my camera angles and offered me a job.

Rory Fellowes and The Hattytown Tales

Rory Fellowes and The Hattytown Tales

Now introductions don’t get much better than that. This week we’re talking to Rory Fellowes who was the animator on the The Hattytown Tales which Ivor Wood directed from 1970. It was Ivor’s second production at Filmfair after The Herbs and was Rory’s first venture into stop-frame animation.

So I was there from the end of 1970 at the Jacobs Wells Studio and the first thing I worked on [at Filmfair] was Hattytown. In the first two weeks he showed me what to do. We shot a test and he told me what was wrong with it and I shot another test. Ivor then went on holiday and left me to it. On the first day I managed to break the camera‘s pelicule and had to get it repaired. That cost £100, a lot of dosh in 1970…so they all got rather cross with me. Ivor was working on some 5 minute programmes for the BBC at the time so he just directed me. He was great to work with as he thought I was doing a good enough job so didn’t really get in my face.

Rory went onto animate the rest of series 1 and then series 2 and 3 of The Hattytown Tales. As the creator and narrator Keith Chatfield also mentioned in his interview, the shows got better and better as they all improved in their fields. However, new projects were never far off with Ivor developing shows with producer Graham Clutterbuck all the time.

Near the end of my time [at Filmfair] I crossed over with Barry Leith and animated the original test pilot for The Wombles. I made models and props animated for the pilot and then got kicked off the animation team by the BBC. They said my animation was too sophisticated, which was a high compliment and mirrored my later work where I animated creatures for horror films, like Hellraiser 2: Hellbound and Nightbreed. Barry Leith came along at that stage and took over the animation which the BBC preferred. I chose to leave and spoke to Graham Clutterbuck who gave me a little £10 a week retainer, which was nice. As I left I was cutting out backgrounds for Paddington, this was before they even had a bear. Ivor was thinking about doing it as cut-outs then, and it went 3D later on. That was the longest job I held in my life [2 years] as I’m a natural born freelancer, I never want to be anywhere more than a matter of months.

Sancho and Bobby painting from The Hattytown Tales book 'The Royal Portrait'. 1970

Sancho and Bobby painting

From there Rory took a step in another direction, eventually ending up creating more adult content as he goes onto explain.

After I left Ivor I had a mixed period where I worked for Dick Williams, Hanna-Barbara and pop promos. It was through his work that I gained a reputation and ended being asked to be Animation Director on Hellraiser 2: Hellbound which now has huge cult following. Funnily enough while I was working on a series at Pinewood, they published my CV for the team and one of the guys from the Tech Dept. came running down the studio because he had grown up watching Hattytown. He’d never forgotten Hattytown yet everyone forgot Captain Scarlett which we were working on at the time.

His time with Ivor is remembered with great fondness and thankfulness for Ivor’s generosity on giving him a chance. In speaking with Rory I got a real sense that he was proud of the work that he created with The Hattytown Tales and feels that it should, as a whole, get more recognition as a show. In my opinion the reason it may not have done as well as something like The Herbs and The Wombles could be that it was shown on ITV and not the BBC. ITV was a lot newer then and didn’t have the favourable time slots that children’s TV producers sought after with the BBC.

Rory Fellowes on set animating Nightbreed Image taken from www. puppetsandclay.blogspot.co.uk

Rory Fellowes on set animating Nightbreed Image taken from www. puppetsandclay.blogspot.co.uk

Ivor was a very nice man and I remember on my very first day I was taught to make a cup of tea with a tea bag, not to leave it in too long and how much milk to add and so on. I made tea for him and he made tea for me. We only ever listened to talk radio, Radio 4, which is a habit I stuck with and I still agree with. Don’t listen to music whilst you’re trying to animate as your setting two sets of rhythms against each other.

Ivor had a little office, then we had a workshop where he taught me how the puppets were made. He took me shopping once to a little place in Tunrnham Green, which has gone now. We bought brass rods and ball bearings with holes drilled in them and then hammered it together ourselves. Cut the legs and used foam, felt and papier mache which is nowadays all latex. At this time Peter Lord and Dave Sproxton were setting up Aardman and Ivor was a great help to them, showing them how to do quick techniques.

Once again Rory reveals that Ivor was a very humble and generous man always helping people out and giving them a chance. It’s been mentioned in interviews in the past that he was friendly with Peter Lord and Dave Sproxton which is so nice to hear that the industry was close in those early days. Ivor was not integral to Aardmans success at all but wonderful to hear that he passed on some of his own successful techniques. Generosity is a running theme within his character that has been picked up by a lot of the people I’ve spoken to. Ivor was certainly a team player and was open to giving  breaks to a lot of  future successful animators.

All quotes are from Rory Fellowes.

Clangers, Bagpuss & Co Exhibition

We’re taking a quick detour this week and sort of away from Ivor Wood (I know!).It took me a while to make it down to the Museum of Childhood in London, a week before the exhibition closed in fact, but I did make it to the Small Films presents Clangers, Bagpuss & Co. As I’m sure you are too I am a big fan of all things animation and want to learn more about British animation in particular. Often looking at others work from certain time periods can help to inform you what styles, techniques and fashions were present and how these influenced the industry of the day.

Image taken from http://www.simonleachdesign.com/

Clangers, Bagpuss & Co. was a small exhibition showcasing some of the incredible work that Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin did at Small Films. The work on show ranged from the beautifully craftef Bagpuss and Clangers puppets to the exquisite illustrations for Noggin the Nog and Ivor the Engine. For me as a 2D animator it was great to see all the original illustrations for the latter shows. Peter Firmin, who started life as an illustrator, showed superb draftsmanship and creativity and his imagination looked effortless. All carefully inked and water-coloured the depth he created with so few detailed lines was a wonder. Much like viewing Ivor’s work in reality the vivid colours that were used really jump out at you. It seems somewhat a shame that televisions’s then weren’t quite the standard they are today. We seem to lose a whole other level to what these pioneers were trying to communicate.

Much like Ivor Wood, Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin were pioneering in their work and it was a boom time in the 1960s for stop-motion animation and one that these 3 really helped to shape. I firmly believe that if this mixture and variety of stop-motion animation hadn’t been going on in parallel then we wouldn’t have this great body of work to look back on and indeed grow up with. It must have been an inspiring time to be in the industry and with big broadcasters taking notice there was nothing these guys couldn’t achieve.

Ivor the Engine artwork by Peter Firmin of Small Films Image taken from http://thedeadpixels.squarespace.com/articles/clangers-bagpuss-and-co-exhibition

Ivor the Engine artwork by Peter Firmin of Small Films. Image taken from http://thedeadpixels.squarespace.com/articles/clangers-bagpuss-and-co-exhibition

Overall the exhibition,Clangers, Bagpuss & Co was interesting but lacked depth and seemed quite quickly slung together. The information that was on offer next to each artwork seem more directed at the general public rather than a fan of animation and puppets. This obviously made it accessible so I’m not arguing with that. The puppets as fellow Ivor Wood researcher, Joseph Wallace, also mentioned were dimly lit and not at head height which meant a lot of bending down and peering trying to catch all the details. All in all it’s brilliant to have such a exhibition doing the rounds and the creators getting the love and dedication that they so rightly deserve. It’s about time!

Perhaps it’s time Ivor Wood had the same treatment. What you reckon?

*I lost all my photos on my camera so I hope these kind folks don’t mind me sharing some of theirs