Promotional image for the Retro Animation Lounge

This week, we’re celebrating a centenary of Australian animation with two special events looking back on the industry, frame by frame. Here, Malcolm Turner, co-director of the Melbourne International Animation Festival and 2014 Library Creative Fellow, reveals five things you may not know about Australian animation.

#1 – First things first
The very first animated film made in Australia was a collection of short films (mostly anti-German propaganda) called Cartoons Of The Moment made by Harry Julius, a famous artist and theatrical caricaturist. These films were spliced into longer newsreels called The Australian Gazette which were screened before feature films in cinemas across the nation and – to a lesser extent – around Asia.

#2 – First feature films
The company that made and distributed The Australian Gazette was called Australasian Films Pty Ltd. They went on to create some of Australia’s first feature films. In 1927 they shot For The Term Of His Natural Life. One scene required the burning of a large sailing ship – a fire that was fuelled by stacking the hulk with thousands of ‘unwanted’ reels of The Australian Gazette.

Photograph of Marcus Clarke sitting on a chair

For the Term of His Natural Life was based on the novel by Marcus Clarke (pictured). Photograph: 1866, State Library Victoria.

#3 – The pioneer
Eric Porter is universally regarded as the first major pioneer of Australian animation. He was a fan of the Disney style and established a studio in Sydney that lasted for almost 50 years. During his career, Porter created some of Australia’s most iconic early animated characters including Bertie The Aeroplane and Louie The Fly.

Image of Bertie The Aeroplane

Bertie The Aeroplane, Eric Porter Studios.

He was also the creator of Australia’s first animated feature film, Marco Polo Vs The Red Dragon, which was released in 1972 and recently restored by the National Film & Sound Archive to coincide with the centenary of Australia animation.

#4 – Slip Slop Slap
The first ever 3D stereoscopic animated feature was made in Australia. Titled Abracadabra, it was directed by Alexander Stitt, produced by Phillip Adams and released in 1983. This was actually their second animated feature film; together the pair had also created the beautifully designed Grendel Grendel Grendel two years earlier.

Still of Grendel Grendel Grendel animation

Grendel Grendel Grendel, Alex Stitt (Animator), Phillip Adams (Producer).

Stitt and Adams are probably more widely known in animation circles as the duo behind advertising campaigns such as Slip Slop Slap and Life: Be It.

Still of two birds from Slip Slop Slap animation

Still from Slip Slop Slap, Alex Stitt (Director), Phillip Adams (Producer).

Still from Slip Slop Slap

Still from Slip Slop Slap, Alex Stitt (Director), Phillip Adams (Producer).

#5 – And the Oscar goes to …
Australia’s first Oscar for a short animated film was actually awarded to Bruce Petty’s Leisure in 1976. Petty is probably best known as a newspaper cartoonist, whose cartoons have adorned newspapers across Australia and the USA since the late 1950s. Although the director of Leisure, the convention is that the Oscar for a film belongs to the producer and Petty has only ever held the gold statue a few times in his life.

Find out another 95 animation insights at our Thursday night panel discussion, 100 things you didn’t know about Australian animation, with Malcolm Turner and special guests Phillip Adams, presenter of ABC RN Late Night Live, author and film maker; and Deborah Szapiro, award-winning producer, curator and academic. Thursday 29 October, 6–7.30pm.

Animation enthusiasts and families can also drop by our Retro Animation Lounge this weekend (29 October – 1 November), and enjoy highlights from the last century of Australian animation on the big screen. Find out more.

This article has 6 comments

  1. One of the world’s first full-length motion picture film, produced in Australia in 1908, was “For the term of his natural life”, long before the1927 version

  2. You forgot some major points. The cartoon series Felix the Cat was created in Australia by an Australian. There are much more indications that many world famous cartoons and animators are in fact Australian. Such as Fritz Freling and Joseph Barbera of Hanna Barbera.

    • Freeling and Barbera were born in America.

      • Interesting read. My elderly neighbor Ken said he worked for Hanna Barbara in Australia. He was a cameraman, and would slide the painted cells on a rid, and take the shots. He said his wife worked painting the cartoon cells.

  3. It would be nice to see a link or at least a nod to Craig Monahan’s survey film made in 1989, ANIMATED.

  4. Hanna set up a studio in Sydney, I think in 1969 – a friend of mine worked there for a decade or more. The animations for all the classics such as Scooby Doo and Wait till your father gets home were done in Sydney by Australians.

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