Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dianne Jackson

Well, Christmas is fast approaching, and with that comes the annual tradition of pulling out those classic holiday films; It's A Wonderful Life (1946), George C. Scott's A Christmas Carol (1984), and the beloved animated film, The Snowman (1982).

Oh, what cozy memories I have as a little girl being curled up on the couch totally immersed in the magic of that story. The motorcycle ride was adventurously thrilling...

The flight through the sky so beautifully chilling...

The visit with Santa quite warmly fulfilling...

And the end of the story is sadly tear-spilling. *Sniffle* I suppose all good things must come to an end...

The movie is based off the English author/illustrator Raymond Briggs' children's book, The Snowman, published in 1978.

The movie, like the book, is wordless, except for a beautiful quote voiced over by the author at the beginning of the film:

I remember that winter because
it brought the heaviest snows
I’ve ever seen. Snow had fallen
steadily all night long. And in
the morning, I awoke in a room
filled with light and silence.
The whole world seemed to be held
in a dreamlike stillness. It was
a magical day. And it was on
that day I made The Snowman.
- Raymond Briggs

The book was adapted into a 26 minute short film for the just starting British Channel 4 station, and it has been shown on that channel every Christmas since then. Hey, that's the same channel that commissioned the Brothers Quay idents; they seem to be big on patronizing the arts and looking for independent, non-traditional styles of animation, good for them!

The Snowman is an enchanting tale about a boy named James, who one snowy day builds a snowman, and at twelve o'clock that night the Snowman comes to life! James shows him all over the house, and in return the Snowman takes him on a magical flight to the North Pole to visit Santa. The flight sequence has the most hauntingly beautiful melody, written especially for the film called, "Walking in the Air", by Howard Blake, and sung by a young choirboy named, Peter Auty. Please enjoy it below:

*Sigh* It brings a tear to my eye.

The film was directed by animator Dianne Jackson, who did a wonderful job keeping the style of animation similar to the original illustrations drawn by Raymond Briggs. It was all hand animated in colored pencil on frosted cel vinyl, which is a truly monumental undertaking by today's digital standards! Just look at how flawlessly the change in perspective and camera angles were executed, and all without the aid of a computer.

Below is a sample cel from the film (1/24th of a second!).

Page From the Original Book

I never would have imagined colored pencil could be such an effective medium for animating---what with the sketchy lines creating continuity problems---but in reality the way the crosshatches dance about the page creates a liveliness and movement that is just lovely. Every frame is a work of art, and at times it has a very painterly, impressionist feel to it.

The film was nominated for an Academy Award for the Best Animated Short of 1982, and arguably I believe it should have won.

As a director and animator, Dianne Jackson enjoyed a distinguished career, until her premature death from cancer in 1992. Born in England in 1941, she attended Twickenham Art School, and then in 1967 she joined TV Cartoons (TVC) where she met John Coates who would become Producer to many beloved animations, and Canadian animator George Dunning who would be a vital mentor to Dianne. One of her earliest credits is as one of several animators for the colorfully psychadealic, 1968 musical homage to classic Beatles' songs, The Yellow Submarine.

After directing little more than a few commercials, John Coates picked Jackson to direct The Snowman, and to stunning success. She even added and personally animated a dance sequence set in the North Pole that wasn't in the original book, but which maintained the character and integrity of the original story whilst elaborating it effectively.

Next, Jackson animated a fantasy dream sequence for the character Hilda in When the Wind Blows (1986), based off another Raymond Briggs book. It's about a nuclear attack on the UK by the Soviet Union from the viewpoint of a retired couple, Jim and Hilda Bloggs. There's even a song in it sung by David Bowie. :)

Jackson's next directorial project was a film based off of John Burningham's book, Grandpa (1989), about a girl who enjoys playing imaginative games with her grandfather, pretending to be a princess, flying fighter planes, chasing whales, and even swinging through jungle trees.

In like fashion to The Snowman, it maintains the same illustrative style as the book, has the same signature camera pans, and it ends with a similarly mournful death of the grandfather who brought such delight and joy to the little girl's life---just as the Snowman did to James. You may enjoy Part 1/3 below:

Jackson is credited as Writer and Story Board Artist for the animated short Father Christmas (1991), based on two books written by none other than, Raymond Briggs of course, titled: Father Christmas and Father Christmas Goes on Holiday, published in 1973 and 1975 respectively. It is an enjoyable film about what Santa does "the other 364 days of the year" as he vacations in France, Scotland, and Las Vegas, and then returns home to answer his mail. He even meets up with the boy from The Snowman and dances with him and the other magical snowmen.

Just be warned, this film is much saltier than your average kid's flick (i.e. we see Santa gamble, drink, dance with show girls, "swear" (can "bloomin'" count as swearing?), undress many times, be rather crotchety and grumpy, and skeptical of foreigners (I thought he spoke every language in the world?), and we even see him take a poo in the toilet), but hey, it's all hilarious. I guess Raymond Briggs imagined Santa as a real (English) person (I always imagined him a Scandinavian) instead of the glossy, always-jolly Santa we imagine him to be. His job would be incredibly stressful. Anyway, I think I prefer the dreaminess of The Snowman to this one. :)

Finally, Jackson wrote and Directed 5 of 6 titles from the Beatrix Potter animated series, The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends. If you've ever read the original books you may remember that it's a magical series inhabited by disobedient bunnies, rambunctious kittens, and practical hedgehogs.

As in all Jackson films, the animation is charmingly crafted to match the original books, and is paired with a few live-action sequences, these ones filmed in the English Lake District at the author's beloved Hill Top Farm.

Please enjoy two excerpts from the episodes, The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny, and The Tale of Pigling Bland:

Alas, Dianne Jackson passed away before she could see all the films released, but she would be proud to know they were completed with the same integrity and quality she always brought to them. I'm sure she was content knowing that her body of work helped elevate many beloved stories to a level that would endear them to countless generations of children forever. And what better labor of love is there than that? Rest in peace, Dianne.


1 comment:

  1. ... thanks for the wonderful scene "Walking in the air". - Actually, when I first saw the film 2 days ago, I wept (quite like Alison Moyet's "I go weak... in the presence of beauty"). - Too sad the movie clip "Granpa" has been deleted, it seems to be quite hard to get an impression of this 2nd movie of Dianne Jackson... - Albrecht Schnabel Munich