Dunedin businessman and artist, Fred O’Neill, whose hobby of making quirky animated films brought him international recognition, sent his Plasticine hero to Venus thirty years before Nick Park got Wallace and Gromit to the Moon. O’Neill’s films encouraged children not to take up smoking, brought Māori legends to the screen in a novel way, and entertained young viewers in the early years of New Zealand television.
Image credit: Stills Collection, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision. Courtesy of the Fred O'Neill collection.
...the actors exist for the film alone, ready to do one's bidding at any time, no matter what the weather may be. Fred O'Neill in Amateur Cine World, May 1960, Page 1252
Presented by an animated pencil, but no less authoritative for it, From Len Lye to Gollum traces the history of Kiwi animation from birth in 1929, to the triumphs of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The interviews and animated footage cover every base, from early pioneers (Len Lye, Disney import John Ewing) to the possibilities opened by computers (Weta Digital, Ian Taylor’s Animation Research). Along the way Euan Frizzell remembers the dog he found hardest to animate and the famous blue pencil; and Andrew Adamson speculates on how ignorance helped keep Shrek fresh.
This short film is a lively animation by Fred O'Neill starring a cast of craggy characters made from that ubiquitous children's play dough of the 1960s and 70s: plasticine. Figures cavort and morph to the music in varied sight and sound gags. There's no real narrative, and contrary to the title, it is in fact a celebration of the limitless possibilities of the materials. Figures and shapes form, and transform delightfully, constantly moving, fighting, and dancing against hand painted backdrops. Dunedin-based O'Neill did almost everything on the film himself.
Galaxies away from images of tar-addled lungs on cigarette packets, this film offers an unusual public health message about smoking. Set to rhyming couplets, the plasticine hero tries out to see if he has the right stuff to fly a rocket to Venus. There he battles the demon Nicotine, and (prefiguring Avatar’s astro-colonialism) convinces Venusians to destroy their tobacco trees. Shot in 35mm by pioneering animator Fred O’Neill, Space Flight was made for theatrical release. For reasons unknown the Health Department, who commissioned it, didn't want the film to go on general release.