JAM Magazine Main Features

Pink Floyd

Artist Gerald Scarfe Animates The Wall

In 1975, Pink Floyd had worked with cartoonist/illustrator Gerald Scarfe in producing animated films for their "Wish Yoti Were Here" stage show. Though the experiment had been only partially successful, Roger Waters In particular remained a committed admirer of Scarfe's biting, highly distinctive graphic style. Gerald Scarfe takes up the story.

"One day Roger Waters called me,” recalled Scarfe, “and said that he was writing a new piece and would I come and listen to the tapes. I went down to his house and listened. His idea was that we should make a film of it, but that it should be a show first as well as an album."

“Roger explained to me the idea he had of building a wall right across the stage. It seemed like a crazy idea at the time, but a very good theatrical idea on the grand scale. It immediately interested me and I started work there and then on one of the pieces from the album, 'The Trial’."

Such material was to be used for both the concert performance of "The Wall" and as an integral part of the film itself. One of the things that attracted Scarfe to animation was the ease with which the medium could merge one graphic image with another.

"You can change an elephant into a dustbin into a beer bottle, right before your very eyes," he explained. "You don't have to cut away, as you do in live-action film."

For a satirist whose work often explores the duplicity of meaning, the advantages of such a medium are obvious. Scarfe had not been entirely happy with the animation for "Wish You Were Here," mainly because his usual graphic style had proved very difficult to adapt for animation.

"If you have a scratchy pen line moving around,” he discovered, “it sort of strobes or fizzes about on the screen. It doesn't work very well. For "The Wall’, the actual wall itself was to function as a giant projection screen for my animations. I started working in a much freer way, on a broader scale. I realized why Walt Disney had arrived at his style, because it is simple shapes, and those simple shapes are easy to animate."

Some of the animation techniques used for the stage show and later the film were nevertheless far from simple. The "Goodbye Blue Sky" sequence, in which flowers symbolically first make love, and then (as love sours) viciously attack each other, is a case in point. Once the outline of each individual drawing had been traced on to celluloid sheet, coloring was applied in crayon. Not only does the outline change, to suggest movement, but also there is a complex transition of coloring. in which the rendering of each drawing changes to suggest delicate nuances of light and shade. Since the whole sequence lasts a couple of minutes, with twelve drawings, each finished to gallery standard, flashing by every second, the amount of work involved is quite staggering. Altogether, over 10,000 individual hand-colored drawings were used to make up the fifteen minutes of animation shown in The Wall.

As Scarfe and his team of animators in London were working away, frame by frame, Roger Waters and the other members of Pink Floyd were busy in the recording studio on the music for The Wall. By the middle of 1979, the music was substantially complete. There was some debate as to whether it should be a double or a triple album. The record was finally released at the end of November and took exactly one week to reach number one. A controversial single taken from the album, "Another Brick In the Wall, Part Two," achieved similar success. With sales now well into eight figures, The Wall is Pink Floyd's biggest-selling album just behind the iconic Dark Side of the Moon.

In the first week of February 1980, Pink Floyd's road crew took over 100 tons of sound equipment, staging, lights and projection gear into Los Angeles' Sports Arena, ready for the premiere of the week long concert version of "The Wall" on February 7. There was also a Spitfire fighter (which crashed in flames on to the stage during the performance, a furnished hotel room complete with TV set, blimp-sized inflatable figures (designed by Gerald Scarfe) of a woman, a schoolteacher and a pig, the animated sequences, and 420 massive cardboard 'bricks.' During the show, the bricks were gradually assembled on stage into a 160-foot wide, 30-foot high wall which by intermission had completely obscured the group. Roger Waters' concept of alienation, dating back to that unhappy American tour of three years earlier in Toronto, had finally achieved its most tangible and demonstrative form.

As for the movie version, it’s a different concept entirely.

Pink, a rock and roll performer, sits locked in a hotel room somewhere in Los Angeles. Too many shows, too much dope, too much applause – a burned out case. On the TV, an all too familiar war film flickers on the screen. We shuffle time and place, reality and nightmare as we venture into Pink's painful memories and inevitably into his madness.

Our hero is a baby born in the Second World War at the same time as his father is killed in action at the Battle of Anzio. Pink grows up never knowing him. His mother devotes herself entirely to her son, often overcompensating for the loss of the father and suffocating Pink with her love. He attends schools that subjugate children rather than educating them. He is exposed to teachers who chastise and suppress children, seeking to free their own miserable frustration. His response to these alienating experiences is to slowly build a defensive "wall" around his feelings, to shelter him from further hurt. Pink marries his childhood sweetheart because she is conveniently available.

The boy has grown up to become a rock and roll performer. Part of the attraction of being in a band is the power and fame that helps insulate him against his nagging feelings of separation, not only from his wife and friends, but also from himself. This is a life of diminishing returns. Like an addict with drugs, Pink needs bigger and bigger fixes of applause. But it's never enough. The endless separations build the wall still higher between Pink and his wife until the inevitable happens. While away on tour, she falls in love with another man. It’s the final brick in the wall.

Pink locks himself in his room with handful of pills and a groupie. He destroys the furniture and frightens the girl away. Alone now, high on drugs with only the TV for company, the rock star retreats more and more into himself. The ‘wall’ is now complete. Totally withdrawn from the real world, his imagination wanders further into the recesses of his mind. His worst fears are realized and madness soon sets in.

Pink imagines himself as an unfeeling demagogue, for whom all that is left of him is to exercise of power over his unthinking, uncaring audience. His manager, concerned as always about the forthcoming show, breaks into the hotel and a doctor revives Pink enough to him out of the hotel and into limousine. But Pink is long gone. He hallucinates wildly as the real world vanishes and he conjures up an evil spectacular – a Rock and Roll Nuremburg with him as its leader.

The accumulation of the repulsive excess of his world and the world around him is all too much for the core of human feeling and Pink rebels. His internal self-trial follows, as the witnesses of his life, the very people who have contributed to the building of the wall, come forward to testify against him. The judgment is that he must "tear down the wall" before his isolation lead into the moral decay of his nightmare.

There has been a long-standing connection between the visual and the musical in the works of Pink Floyd. They were one of the first groups to experiment with lights, slides, film and other special effects. Their stage shows have been probably the most spectacular ever mounted by a rock group, though Genesis gave them a good run for their money when Peter Gabriel was in the group.