I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

Peter Foldes: Hunger

by David Selden
Jan. 5, 2017

The German artist Paul Klee famously described the act of drawing as “taking a line for a walk.” For Peter Foldes, who had studied painting at the Slade School Of Art and the Courtald Institute, this definition seems particularly apt. In his wordless 11-minute animation Hunger, the line vibrates and wiggles, looping back on itself in a constant state of mutation. It transforms itself from person to object and back again as it describes the process by which its protagonist ultimately becomes the victim of his own gluttony.

Peter Foldes was born in 1924 and was one of a number of Hungarian émigrés drawn to animation. Following his relocation to Britain in 1946, Foldes became closely associated with the Halas and Batchelor Animation Studios. Founded in 1940, the studio was known as the British Disney, producing hundreds of animations ranging from commercials and public information films to full-length animated features, notably Animal Farm (1954), and later pop promos (including the animated film for Kraftwerk’s Autobahn, as previously featured here on Network Awesome).

Peter Foldes earlier works, including Animated Genesis (1952), On Closer Inspection (1953) and A Short Vision (1956) were produced with the encouragement of John Halas and in collaboration with Foldes’ wife, Joan. His work achieved considerably notoriety after A Short Vision was screened on the Ed Sullivan Show. The film, which had been assembled in the Foldes’ kitchen, graphically depicts the annihilation of the world. A blunt Cold War allegory, the experience of watching it apparently left much of Sullivan’s audience traumatized.

Subsequently Foldes moved to Paris and worked with the Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française (ORTF) having become fascinated with the possibilities of early computer assisted animation, for which his linear style seemed ideally suited. In 1971, at the invitation of the National Film Board of Canada, Foldes began work on Metadata.

In the late 1960’s, Nestor Burtnyk and Marceli Wein, working for the National Research Council of Canada, were beginning to develop a revolutionary key-framing technique which they presented at the SMPTE conference in 1970. Metadata, released in 1971, was the first film commissioned to showcase this technique and was also the first to use a graphics tablet (as developed by the NRCC) for input.

Although Metadata was well received Foldes was dissatisfied with the results and quickly began work on Hunger. The film was to take one and a half years to produce and was completed in 1973 although optical work would continue at NFB until its release in 1974 with Foldes commuting from Paris every three weeks while the technicians worked on software enhancements between his visits. This laborious process was achieved in “an air-conditioned room with what appeared to be about eight whirring refrigerators in it. It turned out to be an SEL 840A computer with a phenomenal 8 kilowords (24k) of core memory!”i

Marceli Wein, interviewed in 1976, described the process of putting the film together, “All in-betweening was by software. The dancer was rotoscoped (traced from actual film) every 12th frame and then software interpolated. They actually filmed a gogo dancer in their building for the occasion.”

The film would go on to be nominated for an academy award as well as receiving a special jury prize at Cannes, a Bafta and a Silver Hugo. Immediately following Metadata Foldes would produce the computer graphics for the celebrated BBC/Time Life series, The Ascent of Man. Sadly Foldes would only complete another two short animated films, Envisage and Rêve (both 1977) before his untimely death that same year.

In a letter to Giannalberto Bendazzi, the author of Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation, Foldes wrote:

“The art of the 20th Century is cinema. The language of the 20th Century is technology. In my films, I made metamorphosis. Visages des femmes was a perpetual metamorphosis, created by handmade drawings. With a computer, I can still make metamorphoses, but with greater control over each line of the drawing, which I can move as I please. And I work faster, because the machine frees the artist from the fatigue of labor. A miniaturist can work for seven years on a single work; nobody says that Rembrandt’s paintings are less beautiful only because he spent less time on them.”


Peter Foldes' Hunger (1974) , Bhob Stewart. Potrzebie

A SHORT VISION: Ed Sullivan’s Atomic Show Stopper . Conelrad Adjacent

Retired NRC Scientists Burtnyk and Wein honoured as Fathers of Computer Animation Technology in Canada . Sphere Volume 4 1996. IEEE Canada

i HCI remixed: essays on works that have influenced the HCI community . Thomas Erickson. MIT 2007

After a long international career exhibiting video installation and photography, David Selden renounced the art world in favor of the far less superficial drag scene and became intimately involved with a number of notorious London fetish clubs. ‘Retiring’ to Berlin in 2007 having run out of pseudonyms, he has written about music for Dorfdisco and about art for Whitehot Magazine as well as contributing numerous catalogue essays and translations for a variety of publications and websites. His misadventures in the world of anti-music can be endured at affeprotokoll.tumblr.com