George Dunning showcased a love for classic rock when he directed the 1968 animated jukebox comedy Yellow Submarine. The Beatles‘ music and iconography inspired his now-iconic musical adventure film. The story follows a fictionalised version of the Fab Four as they are recruited to save a music-loving town from some music-hating creatures. Although initial press conferences claimed Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and John Lennon would voice themselves in Dunning’s film, the members eventually appeared in the film’s conclusion instead. Following Yellow Submarine’s success, Dunning continued animating and writing, following the film with Moon Rock.
During a 1980 interview with John Canemaker for Animiafilm, Dunning expressed how he perceived Yellow Submarine to be a time capsule for the colourful and influential decade that is the 1960s. “It is that. That’s the contribution of many people,” the animator shared. “The film would have had a life because of the Beatles’ music.” He also revealed how the film came about following a meeting with Twin magazine graphic designer Heinz Edelmann, stating: “I remember this brown envelope arrived with four drawings in it, one of each Beatle. It was really marvellous cause it had that solved, attended-to quality. You could see it wasn’t Mickey Mouse, and it wasn’t this, it wasn’t that—it was just there!”
Dunning then shared: “Yellow Submarine is very much a phenomenon.”
His following film, Moon Rock, is an 11-minute short film about a spaceman who visits the moon. Dunning welcomes audiences with a quick countdown from ten, followed by a blast off of a live-action rocket. The faceless astronaut then lands on the moon and is immediately met by a gang of psychedelic creatures who inhabit the moon. As he explores the environment, the animation is juxtaposed with real-life footage, such as Olympic sprinters playing between animated shots of the astronaut shooting chocolate out at an insect-like creature.
The nameless spaceman faces many complications when exploring, such as a colossal crate and more imposing alien-like creatures running towards him in a stampede. The visuals are complemented by trippy ambient music created by Ron Geesin, who you may know as the co-composer of the ‘Atom Heart Mother’ suite with Pink Floyd.
Dunning’s short is designed to challenge the perception of time and accentuate an exhilarating experience for the viewer. Its animation is sharp and unattractive yet satisfying in the grand scheme of the short, especially when the bright colours stand out against the white background. The director allegedly constructed Moon Rock around lateral thinking ideas, meaning solving a problem through an indirect yet creative approach with inconspicuous reasoning. Dunning exemplifies this approach through that of the astronaut, who combats against the inhabited threats on the moon with a device that shoots out treats such as jelly and chocolate. The substances are selected from a slot machine visual where bold colours and dark font occupy the screen.
Moon Rock reads as fittingly on brand for the psychedelic hysteria that the 1960s and 1970s immersed itself in. The short is a trip, intended for a niche audience who are down for some whacky animation and bizarre events.
Watch Dunning’s bizarre short film below.