Atlas Blossom 17.04.72. © STFC.

Welcome to an eBook about Tony Pritchett and the world of early British computer animation.

58% impressionistic portrait, 42% technical manual / resource for further study, it will shed light on an exciting time at the beginning of a fast-developing industry.

I’ll release a chapter of this project free of charge as often as possible.

If you’re able to contribute any funding for:

  • The scanning of Tony’s 16mm & 35mm film and Umatic work
  • The 16mm film processing/scanning costs of making the eBook

Please do get in touch!

Very best wishes, Kate

Chapter 00

< HOW THE PROJECT BEGAN >

I met Tony Pritchett by chance at an animation screening in 2012.

An animator and filmmaker myself, I was keen to keep in touch and it wasn’t long before I asked if he would mind me making a film about his work.

He was a very modest man and especially enjoyed talking about others’ work. We decided to create a short film which would document the beginnings of the British computer animation industry, from his perspective.

He gave me many a guided tour through the world of early CGI (ie. the amazing archive stored in his flat). It soon became apparent that a single-screen short was perhaps not the best way to document Tony’s eclectic stories and stuff.

We decided to create a mix of animated documentary, archive materials and technical information, organised in such a way as to emulate the experience of exploring an archive.

This ‘non-linear’ approach would also emulate Tony’s career path, but enough about all this for now  – I need to stop writing about writing and actually write/make the eBook, so I’ll sign off now.

Very best wishes!

Kate Sullivan

Chapter 01

< DRIFTER >

1946 – 1962. From Eton to ESN. The education system fails Tony.

Archive: Some technical stuff about model railway signalling systems and amateur electronics. A few details on ‘Pritchett & Gold’ batteries and the post-war British engineering industry.

Chapter 02

< ELLIOT AUTOMATION OR: “WOW. FINALLY SOMETHING I CAN DO!” >

1963. Twenty five year old Tony is working as salesman, selling computers. The shy young man is very bad at his job. The future’s not looking bright – until he visits the computing department…

Archive: Information about Elliot Computing and uses of computer technology c.1956. Tales of bonkers bits of military gadgetry being made in the ‘white heat’ of mid-60’s Elstree and Borehamwood.

Chapter 03

< THE BRITISH BROADCASTING CORPORATION >

1965 – 1967. The BBC are looking for people who can use things called ‘Computers’. Tony is hired as a director and meets “MATHS IN ACTION!” presenter, Dr. Benedict Nixon. Dr. Nixon is a computer scientist at The Institute of Computer Science (ICS) and has access to one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, THE ATLAS.

Archive: Ephemera and scripts relating to the BBC, including ‘Wormsers’, the BBC’s cardboard & butterfly-clip method of creating animated graphics. Various articles on computer animation. Footage of nuns (Tony’s first bit of studio direction)

Chapter 04

< THE FLEXIPEDE. A FILM BY TONY PRITCHETT AND THE LONDON UNIVERSITY ATLAS. >

1967. Tony gains access to THE ATLAS, (thanks to Dr. Nixon, who tells a little white lie about Tony being his research assistant). Inspired by Dr. Nixon, Tony has a go at creating some computer animation. It’s not an easy process. It takes him six months to create a relatively simple-looking two minute cartoon. THE FLEXIPEDE is Britain’s first piece of computer animation and the world’s first computer animated character and story.

Archive: Lots of technical detail and archive material in this section including the master negative (16mm), original Letraset titles, workings out, punchcards, listings and 16mm tests, Tony and Dr. Nixon’s film project/research proposal and budget outline.

Chapter 05

< ICA | ICS >

1968. A 16mm print of THE FLEXIPEDE premiers at the Institute of Contemporary Arts’s future-gazing exhibition ‘CYBERNETIC SERENDIPITY’. The flagship show celebrates the collaboration between the arts and sciences. Meanwhile, the board at the Institute of Computer Science are feeling a bit more negative. They see no immediate future in computer animation and halt Tony’s funding.

Archive: Various materials relating to Cybernetic Serendipity. ICS report on THE FLEXIPEDE, leading to the cancellation of funding.

Chapter 06

< SOFTWARE GENERATION >

1969 – 1979. Freelance contracts allow Tony to continue to explore the increasingly commercial world of computer animation. He meets a few like-minded people along the way and forms SOFTWARE GENERATION Ltd. with a few of them.

Archive: Materials relating to Rutherford Appleton Lab, Professor Bob Hopgood, Stan Hayward, Alan Kitching & Antics, Software Generation, System Simulation, The Open University, Royal College of Art, ARTHUR C CLARKE’S MYSTERIOUS WORLD, Richard Donner’s SUPERMAN, Ridley Scott’s ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER, the ITT 2020 and Tony’s contraption that helps animators work through the night.

Chapter 07

< SIGGRAPH >

1982 – 1983. The execs at Ch4 are panicking, Tony’s computer-animated logo, (designed by Robert Lambie-Nairn) has been coloured in by hand and looks really crap. The channel is due to launch in a few weeks time and there just isn’t the computing power in the UK to render the logo in full colour. Luckily, (having just returned from SIGGRAPH ’82 in LA), Tony has a few US contacts. He jets back to LA and saves the day. The execs love Tony’s work, but Tony doesn’t love the execs and is falling “out of love” with computer animation.

Archive: Various materials relating the making of the Ch4 logo including a 35mm print. Various materials relating to SIGGRAPH ’82 AND ’83. Sales brochures, Beverly Wiltshire LA Hotel ephemera. 35mm ITV bumpers, idents production materials. 35mm commercial reels and various company showreels. Materials relating to Tripple i, their FOONLY computer and Disney’s TRON.

Chapter 08

< THE NIGHT FERRY >

Than Ch4 logo was to be Tony’s, “last real piece of commercial work”. Tony embarks on a new journey.

Rushes from Tony’s 16mm personal project documenting the last voyage of The Night Ferry. “Whacky” and “Esoteric” materials. Materials relating to the digitisation of The Flexipede master negative.

“I hope I haven’t given you mental indigestion” – Tony Pritchett.