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Handling Ships
Directed by Alan Crick
John Halas
Produced by John Halas
Written by Alan Crick
John Halas
Music by Ernst Hermann Meyer
Distributed by (British) Admiralty
Halas and Batchelor
(training film, not formally released to theatres)
Release date(s) 1945
Running time 70 minutes
Country  United Kingdom
Language English

Handling Ships is a British stop motion animated film made at the behest of the Admiralty as a training film and released in 1945. Made by Halas and Batchelor, it is considered the first feature length, and the first Technicolor, British animation, although it was never formally released to cinemas.



After independent careers in animation, John Halas (April 16, 1912 – January 20, 1995) and Joy Batchelor (May 12, 1914 – May 16, 1991) began working together in 1938. They founded Halas & Batchelor in 1940[1] to make animations, initially war information and propaganda films.[2]

Approximately 70 of these films were made for the Ministry of Information, the War Office and the Admiralty during the course of the war. Most of them were shorts and were intended to improve morale, or spur on increased sacrifice, contribution, or production effort, such as Dustbin Parade, about recycling, and Filling the Gap, about gardening. There were also a series of anti fascist cartoons intended for viewing in the Middle East starring an Arab boy named Abu,[3] including Abu's Poisoned Well, Abu's Harvest (Khahil Builds a Reservoir), and Abu Builds a Dam[4] who was "enticed and misguided by the forces of Hitler and Mussolini."[5] All this work kept the studio busy, at one point producing one minute of film every three weeks[5] to make films that were simple to make, with economically driven stories.[6]


However, Handling Ships was an exception. Sponsored by the Admiralty it was an instructional film designed to (according to Halas) "stop young people from driving a ship like it was a car."[5] Further, it was a 70 minute film (long enough to qualify as feature length) rather than 10 minutes or so. Finally, unlike the other films made during the period by the studio, it had no hidden agenda or propaganda message. It was a very precise guide to piloting ships, and covered their navigation and maneuvering,[3] as well as aspects of general ship control.[7] The film was made for use during the Admiralty's naval training course in navigation.[3]

The film was shot in 35 mm and Technicolor.[8] Halas and Batchelor primarily used stop motion animation of three dimensional models and schematic diagrams to instruct the viewer on what were quite complicated topics.[3], demonstrating the intricacies and vagaries of ship movement.[5]

The work was never released as a feature film, as Halas and Batchelor felt the work was too specialized and of limited appeal, since the original audience was limited to specific sorts of naval personnel.[5] After all it was for use by, and for, the Admiralty, and in contrast to their propaganda work, was not released to cinema chains. At the time the film was the longest stop motion production to have been made in the UK.[3]


Handling Ships was entered in the 1946 Cannes Film Festival.[9] and was a short film "Official Selection".[10][11]

The work apparently proved the value of stop motion animation for instructional films, and the ability of the studio of Halas and Batchelor at making them, as they were said to have "extended the medium to explain complex ideas with clarity and humour"[12] as additional work followed. In 1948 the Home Office commissioned another feature length training film, Water for Fire Fighting[3][6], and in 1949, the Admiralty commissioned another nautical training film for their submariners, Submarine Control.[3]

Halas and Batchelor were later responsible for Britain's first general release animated feature film, Animal Farm, in 1955.[2][3][5]


  1. ^ "Biographies". Halas&Batchelor Collection. Retrieved 2008-12-20.  
  2. ^ a b "History". Halas&Batchelor Collection. Retrieved 2008-12-20.  
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "Movie Toons - Handling Ships". Retrieved 2008-12-20.  
  4. ^ "Films". Halas&Batchelor Collection. Retrieved 2008-12-20.  
  5. ^ a b c d e f Daniel J. Leab, Peter Davison (2007). Orwell Subverted: The CIA and the Filming of Animal Farm. Penn State Press. p. 50–51. ISBN 0271029781.,M1. Retrieved 2008-12-20.  
  6. ^ a b Jeff Lenburg (2006). Who's who in Animated Cartoons: An International Guide to Film & Television's Award-winning and Legendary Animators. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 24–25. ISBN 0271029781. Retrieved 2008-12-20.  
  7. ^ "Handling Ships - main". British Film Institute site. Retrieved 2008-12-20.  
  8. ^ "Handling Ships - release information". British Film Institute site. Retrieved 2008-12-20.  
  9. ^ "Awards". Halas&Batchelor Collection. Retrieved 2008-12-20.  
  10. ^ "Official Selection - Edition 1946". Festival de Cannes archive. Retrieved 2008-12-20.  
  11. ^ "Halas & Batchelor Awards". University for the Creative Arts Halas&Batchelor Collection. Retrieved 2008-12-20.  
  12. ^ "Introduction". Halas&Batchelor Collection. Retrieved 2008-12-20.  

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