Australian Women and Leadership in a Century of Australian Democracy Project Website

Skip to content

Anne Jolliffe

Date Posted: 3 October 2013

Anne Jolliffe, Australia’s first woman animator, cannot remember a time when she wasn’t interested in her craft. Born near Launceston, Tasmania, in 1933, she was given scratch pads and pencils by her father when she was four years old and began drawing pictures in sequence. She was very young when she saw her first animated film, a Donald Duck classic, and about eight years old when she saw Fantasia, a movie she never gets tired of watching. An only child, Jolliffe, found entertainment through drawing, and she was good enough to be published. At the age of 16, Jolliffe, now living in Melbourne, was a regular contributor to the Junior Age. In 1950, her comic strip ‘The Adventures of Doodle Bug’, became a regular feature. This was not her first comic strip, she claims. In 1943 she drew a comic strip for the Argus called ‘Captain Corker’. Says Jolliffe, ‘I’ve been doodling since I could hold a pencil’ (Age, February 3, 1950).

Although her mother wanted her to complete a traditional secondary education, her father allowed her to leave St Michaels College with her intermediate certificate so that she could study art at Swinburne Technical College. In the 1950s, there was no such thing as a film and television school, so Jolliffe completed a Diploma in the Art of the Book, which gave her a good grounding in illustration, printing and other important techniques. After graduating, she worked as an illustrator and then decided to try her luck in London, having been inspired by the work of English animator, Bob Godfrey, whose cartoon, Polygamous Polonius she describes as ‘one of the funniest cartoons ever made’. (Quigley, p. 31). There she was told, ‘not for the first (or last) time in [her] life, that women don’t animate’ (Interview). She was barely permitted a foot through the door when she called at the famous British studio, Halas and Batchelor, although she must have made some sort of impression. After her return to Australia, John Halas sent her a copy of his book How to Make Animated Cartoons. On the strength of what that book taught her, she became the animation department at the CSIRO Film Unit, making scientific and educational films. ‘There I learned how to make drawings move’, she says. ‘They were happy and instructive days’ (Quigley).

A stroke of good luck, her preparedness to fight and the support of a good friend saw her career take off in the commercial world of animation in the late 1950s. TV had just come to Australia and Fanfare Films, an American company, arrived in Melbourne to convince GTV 9 studios to set up an animation department. She turned up for a job, was offered one, but to her disgust, it was in the trace and paint department, not animation. ‘Women don’t animate’, she was told again, despite being the only person employed that day to have any film-making experience. Intervention from a friend, who convinced the studio head to test her (despite none of the men being tested!) saved the day. As a woman in the business – at that stage the only woman in Australia – she needed to ‘work twice as hard as the men, be twice as good and fight’ (Interview).

After five years at this local company, and armed with samples of her own work, she tried her luck again in London, based on the promise of a job that fell through. Down to her last £5, and with the refrain of ‘women don’t animate’ ringing in her ears, a chance meeting in a pub with Pat Matthews, an old friend who needed help meeting a deadline saw her employed, as an animator at Halas and Batchelor. After completing several projects, she moved on when she discovered that she was being paid £5 a week less than her lazier and less skilled male counterparts. Only when it was clear she was leaving was she offered a pay rise, but by then she had secured work elsewhere, at Television Cartoons (TVC).

This move led to the work for which she has, perhaps, become most famous. At TVC Jolliffe worked on two series of the Beatles animated cartoon, a job that was essentially ‘animating their songs surrounded by trite stories’ (Interview). One of two women amongst hundreds of people who working in animation on the feature film Yellow Submarine (Hester Coblentz was the other), Jolliffe animated the character of ‘Boob’ and was involved with the ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ sequence. It was a ‘trailblazing work of animation’ she said, ‘the most important since Fantasia’. London in the 1960s was the greatest place to be for an animator, because of the diversity of experience it provided (Interview). For a short while, Jolliffe was the top paid animator in the city, and life was very good indeed.

There were ‘twelve children born on the yellow submarine’ and Jolliffe’s son was one of them. Studios began to acknowledge that ‘women do animate’ and, interestingly, it was regarded as an industry that was relatively child friendly. Women often brought young infants to work with them and managed work/life balance that way. Jolliffe only experienced discrimination and difficulty at one studio, but once again, luck was her way because losing that job led to her working for Bob Godfrey, who told her ‘I’d like you to come to work for me but only if you bring your baby’(Interview). She worked with him to make the film Great, which won the Academy Award in 1976, and was credited as one of the two animation directors. ‘It was a real triumph, to come from being a woman who ‘can’t animate’ to the animation director of an Oscar winning film’ (Quigley).

In 1979, Jolliffe returned to Melbourne where she worked for Fanfare, before relocating to Sydney, where she set up her own studio, Jollification. She had always been opposed to running her own studio because she thought that the management process got in the way of creativity. But then again, subcontracting to the big studios meant you could never fully focus on your own projects, so she decided to give it a go. And even though ‘she could write a heartbreak hotel story about running her own studio’ she has been very happy with the work that has come out of it (Interview). The Maitland and Morpeth Film Quartet, based on a Nick Enright poem, is a proud achievement.

Other Jollification animations have had a gender focus. As well as working on a series of biographies of unsung Australian women that she would like women animators to collaborate on, she has developed her ‘alter-ego character’, Mrs, Cosmos, in The Tale of the Space Travelling Housewife. Unfortunately, funding for those projects has never been forthcoming. In 2002, she had some limited success and was funded by the Australian Film Commissions to pilot an interactive animation called Whizzbang Hildegard: The Interactive Abbess about the life and times of a mediaeval mystic nun. ‘All my main characters,’ she says, ‘are female – even Bunyip’ who featured in a children’s series she developed when she first set up Jollification (Quigley).

While appreciative of some of the more recent, digitized animation blockbuster projects, they were not her style. Digital technology used to produce animated feature films in the twenty-first century are far removed from the traditional, hand-drawn animation that she spent her life perfecting. But she is not convinced that 2D hand-drawn animation will ever be totally redundant. Computerised animation, she believes, can’t fully convey the drama of animation. ‘It’s like the difference between a pre-recording and a live cross’, she said in a 2002 interview (Interview). And although millions of dollars are spent on hardware and software and many hand-drawers have been made redundant, there is still a place for those who continue with the craft. ‘You still need people who can tell stories, draw sympathetic characters, breathe life into them and make you laugh or cry’ (Quigley).

Anne Jolliffe paved the way for Australian women animators, such as Lucinda Clutterbuck, to follow. Richard Keys, who worked as a camera operator when Jolliffe was animating the Beatles, described her as an icon. Said Jolliffe in response, ‘Thank you … I thought icons were just those things you click on computers’ (Interview). Women do animate, but self-deprecatingly, it seems.

NIKKI HENNINGHAM
University of Melbourne

Anne Jolliffe interviewed by Richard Keys, 2002, National Film and Sound Archive, Title No: 539200
Quigley, Marian (2005), Women Do Animate: Interviews with 10 Australian Animators, Mentone: Insight Publications.