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From ads to Oscar winners: a century of Australian animation

The Academy Award-winning penguins in Happy Feet sit in a long and distinguished history of Australian animation. AAP/Roadshow

Australia has a rich history of animation production ranging from award-winning animated shorts and animated television series to feature-length animated movies, and a vast number of animated advertisements.

This year we celebrate the hundred years since, in 1915, artist and animator Harry Julius began producing his weekly animated series, Cartoons of the Moment. These were short animations that lampooned the news stories of the day – from politics and international affairs to contemporary fashion trends. They were designed to be shown in cinemas ahead of the main features and were screened all across Australia and throughout New Zealand.

One of Harry Julius’ Cartoons of the Moment (1915).

The Melbourne International Animation Festival(MIAF), currently underway, is this year highlighting a wide range of Australian animations. There are a number of sessions devoted to the celebration of Australian animation, including one in which I spoke about the history of Australian animated advertisements.

Animated advertisements have been integral to the development of Australian animation since its very beginning. Although we are currently celebrating the centenary, there were actually a few smatterings of animation that occurred in Australia several years prior to 1915. This included animated advertisements screened in cinemas.

Although Harry Julius is best known for his Cartoons of the Moment series, most of his animation work took the form of animated advertisements. His studio, Cartoon Filmads, made hundreds of animated advertisements from the late 1910s and throughout the 1920s promoting everything from soap to automobiles.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of these animated advertisements was that many were screened in cinemas throughout much of Asia, and even in England. Some were made specifically for international markets while others were created exclusively for Australian audiences. From these earliest beginnings, advertising proved to be an important component of Australian animation history.

Since then Australia has gained major successes in all areas of animation, producing many award-winning short films, a number of acclaimed television specials and series and, more recently, a respectable number of feature films.

It has scored some notable international successes with a number of Academy Award Oscar wins, including: Bruce Petty’s short film Leisure (1977), Adam Elliott’s Harvie Krumpet (2003), and Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing (2010). George Miller’s feature Happy Feet (2006) won the Oscar for best Animated Feature.

Trailer for Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing (2010).

Some other noteworthy animated feature films have included the brilliant Grendel Grendel Grendel (1981); the popular Dot and the Kangaroo (1977); Australia’s first animated feature, Marco Polo Junior (1972); the more contemporary The Magic Pudding (2000); and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010).

Over the decades, the Australian animation industry has undergone some dry periods during which very few animations were being made. But during even the bleak times animated advertisements were being produced for both cinema (in the early years), and then television following its introduction to Australia in 1956.

Historically, two of the most prolific studios to produce animated advertisements were Eric Porter Productions and Artransa, both located in Sydney. These two studios collectively produced literally thousands of television advertisements – a large number of which were animated.

In Melbourne, Fanfare Films and later Alex Stitt’s Al et Al studios produced a large number of animated adverts. Fanfare Films also created Australia’s first animated television series, Freddo the Frog (1962).

Because advertising is generally directed towards the sale of a product (cars, toothpaste) rather than being the product (a film that people pay to see), it has provided an important outlet for many innovative, creative, and even experimental animation productions.

Even the remarkably eccentric surrealist artist, Dusan Marek, for a number of years ran an animation company called Animads, producing a great number of animated advertisements in his Adelaide studio.

When we come to assess the best of Australian animated advertisements, a couple of productions are prominent. One is Eric Porter’s Aeroplane Jelly ad, with its animated aeroplane singing the famous jingle: “I like Aeroplane Jelly – Aeroplane Jelly for me!”

Eric Porter’s Aeroplane Jelly ad (1942).

Another iconic ad was for Mortein in which the character Louie the Fly reluctantly promoted the insecticide, Mortein.

More recently, there have again been countless hours of animation created in the form of advertisements, made both by large studios and by independent animators. In many respects, advertising has functioned as a backbone for the continued production of animation in Australia.

Without doubt, animated advertising certainly “ads” a lot to the rich history of Australian animation.

The Melbourne International Animation Festival runs until June 28. Details here.

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