Here we present biographies of John Halas, Joy Batchelor, and their daughter Vivien Halas who manages the archive today. From small beginnings, Halas and Batchelor grew into one of the largest animation studios in Europe, producing all sorts of animated films, from commercials and television series, to art movies, experimental films and educational series.
John Halas 16 April 1912 – 20 January 1995
John Halas was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1912, the seventh son of a Jewish mother and Catholic father. He studied painting in Budapest, where he was greatly influenced by the Bauhaus movement and its leading light, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. It was there that he learned to animate, working with George Pal, a renowned puppet-film maker, who later became a Hollywood producer. He formed his own film studio in 1932 with Gyula Macskássy, who later founded the Pannonia film studio in Hungary. Work proved to be so scarce that John answered an advertisement for a design job in Paris - only to find the post actually involved selling salami! Just as George Orwell had done - in Down and Out in Paris and London - John struggled to survive, so when in 1936 he was asked to set up an animation studio in London he leapt at the opportunity. Whilst advertising for animators to work on a film called Music Man, about Franz List's childhood, he met and employed Joy Batchelor - and a fifty-year partnership began.
Throughout his long career John experimented with new film techniques, from 3D stereoscopic animation to computer animation, producing award winning films such as The Owl and the Pussycat (1952), Autobahn (1979) and Dilemma (1981). He also employed computer animation in his Great Masters series (1985), about the lives and work of great artists such as Da Vinci, Botticelli and Lautrec.
John was a founder member and the President of the International Animated Film Association (ASIFA) from 1960 to 1985, then Honorary President. This led him to put together a series for the BBC, the Masters of Animation; in 1987 that brought together work from the best animators around the world. He was the author of numerous invaluable books on animation and design, but perhaps his greatest talent was to make things happen - to assemble the right people, motivate them, and get projects off the ground.
John's experience of religious differences within his own family and a deep personal knowledge of the effects of intolerance - many of his family perished in the Holocaust - brought a profoundly humanitarian element to his more personal work, often through satire and humour. Celebrated films such as Magic Canvas (1948), Automania 2000 (1963), The Question (1967) and Dilemma (1981) all posed the question that bothered him over the years: will man’s inevitable progress bring about his ultimate destruction? John died in 1995, the question still unanswered.
Joy Batchelor 12 May 1914 – 16 May 1991
Joy Batchelor was born in Watford, England, in 1914. By the time she answered John Halas’s advertisement for an animator in 1938, she was already an experienced illustrator/animator - a rare thing for a woman in the mid- Thirties. John immediately recognised her talent and their collaboration began with a series of films that were made in Budapest. However as it turned out, the funding ran out, the couple were forced to return to London. The year was 1939, and the world was on the brink of war.
Back in England, with no employment Joy took their graphic work around the advertising agencies, publishers and magazines. Eventually the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson asked them to make animated film ads, for Kellogg’s Train Trouble and Lux soap Carnival in the Clothes Cupboard. In order to be paid they had to become a company so in 1940 they established Halas & Batchelor Cartoon Films, and were married in the same year.
From the outset Joy was more that just an animator, she took on writing, directing and designing the films as well as producing them. Her sense of humour counterbalanced John’s ambition and drive and they were united in their belief that animation should be recognised as an art form and that through it they could make a difference.
Joy wrote and co-wrote literally hundreds of scripts, commercials, propaganda, educational and entertainment films including the first Charley films made for the COI in 1946 to introduce social security, Animal Farm (1954), George Orwell’s classic allegorical fable, The World of Little Ig (1956) a story of a prehistoric boy that pre-dated Hanna-Barbera’s Flintstones and For Better for Worse (1959) a sponsored film for Philips about the potential benefits and evil of television.
Joy was the often unseen driving force behind most of the work even in the later years when she no longer came into the studio John relied heavily on her critical overview. Her feature film, Ruddigore (1964), was the first animated operetta, perfectly capturing the tongue in cheek quality of its creators, Gilbert and Sullivan. By the mid 1970s she retired through ill health, but continued to teach at the London International Film School, where she remained a governor until her death in 1991.
Vivien Halas has enjoyed a successful career as a graphic designer, working for a number of top design groups and agencies in London and Paris, as well as founding two design companies of her own. At her father’s request she returned from Paris to London in 1995, to take over the running Halas and Batchelor and organise its film archive.
She is co-author of Halas & Batchelor, an animated history (2006) and has contributed to numerous animation and design publications worldwide.