Museums & Heritage

Creating the Illusion at MOSI brings animation to life

Phoebe Hurst
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Creating the Illusion: Animation in the North West, MOSI, Museum of Science and Industry

Children’s TV classics such as Chorlton and the Wheelies go centre stage at MOSI – and tell the TV story of the North West.

The North West has long been something of an animation hotspot. When it comes to breathing life into drawings, making puppets talk and developing computer-generated images, we’ve always been ahead of the curve. Much of this is down to Cosgrove Hall Films, the Chorlton-based studio responsible for childhood TV stalwarts Danger Mouse and Chorlton and the Wheelies. The studio was once the largest animation company in Europe and although it closed in 2009, its influence prevails among animators today. “I think it is fair to say that what we started in the 70s has established the North of England as the centre of the country’s animation history,” says co-founder Brian Cosgrove. “The people we trained have set up their own businesses and have Hollywood directors coming over to hire their skills.”

Chorlton the Happiness Dragon, Toad and Danger Mouse all make an appearance

Creating the Illusion: Animation in the North West celebrates exactly this work, as well as exploring how animation has developed from Edwardian Magic Lantern projectors to modern-day CGI. The exhibition showcases animation cels, models and photographs from the studio’s archives and gives visitors the chance to create their own moving images. Familiar faces from Cosgrove Hall Films’ most popular series also make appearances: the original Chorlton the Happiness Dragon puppet is displayed alongside Toad from the studio’s 1984 adaptation of The Wind in the Willows and a model of Toby from Toby’s Travelling Circus.

The exhibition also features items from Cosgrove Hall Films alumni. Barry Purves, who developed the Toad character (he once asked actor David Jason to have dinner with him in character so as to better understand how to animate the pond-dwelling speed demon) lends a puppet from his Tchaikovsky biopic, while Paul Berry, the animator behind the Oscar-nominated The Sandman is remembered with a display of writings and photographs. With items from puppet makers, Mackinnon and Saunders, ITV and MOSI’s own collections, as well as such never-before-seen pieces, Creating the Illusion is a fascinating glimpse into the much-loved world of animation.

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