The popularity of Walt Disney’s cartoons in the 1930s encouraged many artists in Europe to produce figurative animation for adult audiences. The films in this section helped establish the artform, although none of the artists involved were able to match Disney’s wide distribution and economic success. 

Films showing in this section: 

10.43 Anthony Gross and Hector Hoppin Joie de vivre 1934
10.54 Lotte Reiniger HPO’ (Heavenly Post Office) 1938
10.58 Norman McLaren Love on the Wing 1938
11.03 John Halas The Magic Canvas 1948

Anthony Gross and Hector Hoppin Joie de vivre 1934

6 minutes. Collection: BFI National Film & Television Archive Courtesy Mary West 

Anthony Gross is best known as a printmaker and painter. The animated films he made with Hector Hoppin reflect his distinctive graphic style, but add a sophisticated choreography of the movement of lines in space. The escapist theme of Joie de Vivre developed from an earlier suite of etchings called Sortie d’Usine (Coming Out of the Factory) 1931. 


Anthony Gross was born in 1905. He studied at the Slade School of Art and Central School of Art, London, and the Academie Julian, Paris. He settled in Paris in 1926, exhibiting prints and illustrating books then, inspired by Disney cartoons, began making animated films in the 1930s with Hector Hoppin. His filmmaking was supported by Alexander Korda until the Second World War intervened. A distinguished war artist, he afterwards returned to painting and printmaking, teaching the latter at the Slade till 1971. He died at Le Boulve, France in 1984. 

Lotte Reiniger HPO’ (Heavenly Post Office) 1938

4 minutes. Collection: Consignia (GPO

Lotte Reiniger achieved commercial success in Germany in the 1920s with her technique of animating cut-out silhouettes. Her prodigious output included the first feature-length cartoon The Adventures of Prince Achmed 1926. Escaping the Nazis, she came to England and was commissioned to make advertising films by the Post Office and other sponsors. 


Lotte Reiniger was born in Berlin in 1899. She established a successful studio specialising in silhouette animation in Germany in the 1920s, and made the World’s first feature length cartoon The Adventures of Prince Achmed 1926, on which Walther Ruttmann and Berthold Bartosch were assistants. Invited to Britain by John Grierson in 1944, she continued to make silhouette works for the GPO, the BBC and others, into the 1970s. She died in 1981. 

Norman McLaren Love on the Wing 1938

5 minutes. Collection: Consignia (GPO

Love on the Wing, promoting the 1930s novelty of airmail, is another film sponsored by the Post Office. Here Norman McLaren for the first time uses the technique of drawing figurative images onto the film-strip, frame by frame. Some of his imagery was considered ‘too Freudian’ by the British film censor, and the film was suppressed. 


Norman McLaren was born in Scotland in 1914. He studied at Glasgow School of Art, where he ran the Film Society. His early abstract film experiments and anti-war film Hell UnLtd gained him an invitation from John Grierson to work at the GPO Film Unit, where he perfected his painting-on-film technique. A pacifist, he moved to the USA at the outbreak of War, working with Mary Ellen Bute in New York, before taking up what proved a life time’s residency at the new National Film Board of Canada, again at John Grierson’s invitation. He died in Canada in 1987. 

John Halas The Magic Canvas 1948

10 minutes. BFI National Film & Television Archive Courtesy Halas & Batchelor Collection 

The abstracted figures in John Halas’s short film ballet The Magic Canvas show his admiration for the contemporary sculpture of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. Halas and his wife and partner Joy Batchelor continued to make cartoons addressed to adults. They are best known for Animal Farm 1954, and for their commercially successful cinema and TV advertising. 


John Halas was born in Budapest in 1912. He came to England in 1936, where in 1940 he established the animation studio Halas & Batchelor, with Joy Batchelor 1914 - 1991. His attempts to produce popular but serious animation for adults included the series The Painter and Poet 1951 co-produced by Maud Warre, based on images provided by Michael Ayrton, Henry Moore, John Minton, John Rothenstein and others, and Animal Farm 1954, Britain’s first feature length animation. Halas died in 1995.