Today marks what would have been the 107th birthday of one Joy Batchelor. If you don’t know who she is, we’re mostly in this together. Before writing this, I knew like three bullet points of info about her. Said bullet points being:
- She co-directed Animal Farm (1954) with her husband John Halas
- Animal Farm was England’s first feature length animated film
- This made her the second woman to direct an animated feature film, after Lottie Reiniger
- Together, the couple had a studio: Halas & Batchelor
- She was British
Boom. That was it. So let’s learn more together.
Batchelor was born May 12, 1914 in Watford, England. Already an accomplished illustrator and animator by 1937, she answered an ad for an animator from Hungarian artist John Halas. They worked on a 10-minute film, Music Man (1938), made in Budapest, but when their funding was withdrawn due to Germany marching into Austria (WWII would start a few years later), they returned to London. In 1940, they married and also started their own production company, Halas and Batchelor Cartoon Films, which was the largest animation studio in Great Britain for a time. The company was formed as a means to receive payments for the commercial work they were doing for companies such as Kelloggs and Lux soap.
An animator, writer, director, producer, and designer, Batchelor worked on hundreds of scripts, commercials, propaganda and/or educational pieces, and films, all while co-running a studio. Often referred to as an “unseen” force at the studio, her illustration style was evident in many of the shorts the studio produced, as noted in the short film posted above. The studio’s most famous work was of course the 1954 adaptation of George Orwell’s allegorical Animal Farm, which the pair directed together. (Here’s a behind-the-scenes article about the film.) Batchelor also directed the feature film Ruddigore (1964) (note, lots of places are saying it was made in 1967l but the official studio site has it listed as 1964), the first animated operetta. She worked into the 1970s before retiring and continued teaching at the London International Film School. She passed away in 1991. Halas would pass away in 1995.
This of course is a very simplified version of her life. The studio’s official site is a lovely monument to these pioneers, and worth a visit, but the story on their is just as simple as the one I’ve detailed above. But it’s great to see their filmography broken down.
Something else I hadn’t realized was that many of you reading (myself included) might have had a piece of this studio in your own collection all along, as John Halas is one of the co-authors of the animator staple:
He was here all along! 🤯
Down the Research Rabbit Hole
After the videos I’ve included some further reading and material that I am still getting through.
But first, here is a 12-minute documentary from daughter Vivien Halas about John Halas. This 2015 mini-doc is an updated version of Remembering John Halas from 2012.
Here are some shorts:
Be sure to check out all of the videos on Vivien’s YouTube channel:
I particularly love the character design and general style of this one:
A few more shorts:
- The British Entertainment History Project 75-minute audio interview with Joy Batchelor herself.
- This more in-depth write-up of her life from Great Women Animators.
- A short write-up that includes some deceptively simple, gorgeous black and white illustrations of hers.
- A biography from the BFI.
- This academic essay (if you have access to such things): “Animators and Animals: John Halas, Joy Batchelor, and George Orwell’s Animal Farm“
- An interesting video about the CIA’s involvement in the making of Animal Farm.
- Video of a panel discussion celebrating Batchelor and the book about her her daughter assisted with