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We've Come a Long Way (1951)

Courtesy of BP Video Library

Main image of We've Come a Long Way (1951)
35mm, colour, 10 mins
DirectorsAllan Crick
 Bob Privett
Production CompanyHalas & Batchelor
SponsorBritish Petroleum Company
ProducersJohn Halas
 Allan Crick
ScriptJoy Batchelor
 Bob Privett
 Allan Crick
MusicMatyas Seiber

The development of the oil tanker from sailing ship days to the giants of today.

Show full synopsis

Animation is an ideal medium for compressing time and bringing shape and clarity to otherwise theoretical or abstract concepts. This BP-sponsored film on the development of oil transport ships admirably demonstrates these advantages in a tightly packaged structure, bringing 90 years of changes home in just 10 minutes.

After only a decade of production, Halas and Batchelor Cartoon Films were already experts at this kind of filmmaking. Note that the first two minutes of the film, on the build-up and dangers of oil gas, are handled without any commentary - why re-explain what is already abundantly clear from the beautiful visuals? When the voiceover does start, it is no 'voice-of-God' didacticism, but a conversation of two voices that learn together, as we learn with them.

The knowledge and enthusiasm involved in the making of the film is best explained by the presence of its director, Allan Crick. Crick had served in the Grand Fleet during the First World War and became a Lieutenant Commander at the start of the Second World War, ultimately leading the Naval Instructional Film Section. After working with Halas and Batchelor on the Admiralty-sponsored Handling Ships (1945), he became a junior partner in the company and produced and directed a number of films for BP and other sponsors.

Perhaps the most skilful part of the film is in the economy of the animation. Parts of the film are little more than basic animated diagrams in loops, while other parts simply pan and dissolve across background art. Yet both techniques succeed in pleasing the eye and communicating the message because of the attention to detail. The cartoon 'gas devils' get closest to full animation, giving life and menace to what would be an unseen danger in live-action film.

The challenge of blending all these disparate elements together is met by the eclectic musical score of Matyas Seiber. Seiber's flexibility - he was interested in jazz and folk as well as both popular and classical music - made him an ideal composer for animation, and he was a long-term Halas & Batchelor collaborator, most famously on their feature-length version of George Orwell's Animal Farm (1954).

Jez Stewart

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Tales from the Shipyard'.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Storage solutions (2:40)
Complete film (9:51)
Halas, John (1912-1995) and Batchelor, Joy (1914-1991)
Tales from the Shipyard