John Halas

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 insatiable quest for progress bring about his ultimate destruction? John died in 1995, the question still unanswered. 

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 All texts, unless otherwise credited are © Vivien Halas, 2020

The Halas and Batchelor Collection Limited, The Old Library, Albion St, Lewes, BN7 2ND, UK
vivien@halasandbatchelor.co.uk