Kraftwerk month #21 Autobahn animation, 1979

Animated by Roger Mainwood (this post originally appeared on my old MySpace blog, July 2008)


I’m sure many of you will know that I am a major Kraftwerk fan and, whilst hunting out all manner of weird and quirky animation recently, I remembered the late seventies film made for the band’s 1974 hit ‘Autobahn’. If you haven’t seen this gem then see below, unfortunately of atrocious quality – heavily digitised and with washed out colours. It’s in a league of it’s own from a time sadly passed, all Pop Art imagery meeting the late seventies obsession with sci-fi, post Star Wars. It’s a real trip (in more than one sense) for ten minutes plus, and sticks out like a sore thumb in the retrospectively airbrushed history of the German four piece.

[youtube width=”640″ height=”480″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YB0sO8DQg5U&feature=related[/youtube]

Originally commissioned by EMI for a laserdisc release that never appeared because the format didn’t take off as expected, it was then occasionally shown as filler on TV late at night or even during kid’s TV schedules in the eighties. I remember seeing it once or twice and not knowing what to make of it because it was so far removed visually from the image Kraftwerk had at the time. I filed it away in my mind until a few years ago when a random check on YouTube brought it back to my consciousness and a recent showing to my kids elicited squeals of delight at ‘the alien’, the flying lips and ‘Mr Nosey’ (check it, you’ll know what I mean).

I decided to find the animator, Roger Mainwood, primarily to find out if I could obtain a better copy but also to see if he had any of the original artwork to sell. A quick search gave me an email address and, as luck would have it, he had a tiny caché of images stored, a deal was struck and this fine image is now in my possession.

It’s actually two layers although there would have been four in the original image, a head on one, a small figure reflected in his goggles on another, but the background and flashing lights also reflected in the goggles have since been lost. I took the opportunity to ask Roger for more details about the project – his first commissioned film – and his impressions of the song:

Which studio made the film?
RM: Autobahn was made at the Halas and Batchelor studios in the late 1970s. John Halas, the producer, passed away some time ago but his daughter Vivien continues promoting the studio’s work and runs the Halas and Batchelor Collection.

Did you know the song or the band before the commission and did you actually like it once you heard it?
RM: As far as I recall Kraftwerk’s ‘Autobahn’ was an unknown to me when I was presented with the project by John Halas. I think I found it an interesting piece of music but didn’t warm to immediately, although I did think it would be a good piece to animate some images to. I didn’t research Kraftwerk at the time, (we didn’t have Google in those days!). This was probably a good thing as I think I might have then tried to produce something that I thought would find favour with them rather than just going with some ideas of my own. Maybe Kraftwerk would have wanted something more mechanical and controlled than my psychedelic fantasy world that I conjured up. I acknowledge there are many nods to other animated works – The Beatles ‘Yellow Submarine’ for example, and Ian Emes‘ films too, in particular his ‘French Windows’ which was animated to music by Pink Floyd. Neither of those two, I am guessing, would be on Kraftwerk’s favourites list. In case you haven’t seen it French Windows is on You Tube.

How long did it take?
RM: Always a difficult one that because I was fitting it in around other jobs that were coming into the studio. So the answer is on and off over what felt like a two year period.

What process was used to animate it
RM: It was all hand drawn on paper first and then line tested to check the movement, before being handed over to the paint and trace department. Xeroxing drawings onto cel was a technique used at the H&B studio but I thought most of Autobahn was hand inked. Maybe there was a mixture of the two techniques used. It’s a long time ago and I can’t recall exactly what we did. Looking at the monster cars cel, that definitely looks like a pen and ink tracing of a drawing onto the cel. Then the cels are turned over and painted using special animation paint. You had to wait for each colour to dry before applying the next. No wonder it took so long !

Was the film intended to be part of a collection alongside other Kraftwerk films or as just one part of a general EMI label compilation?
RM: My feeling was that it was a laserdisc of just our animated film.

Has it ever been officially available to buy?
RM: Autobahn hasn’t been available on DVD so far but Vivien was talking earlier this year about a possible release involving a French distributor. John Halas did do a deal with Polygram for a video release of Autobahn (together with another Halas and Batchelor film called ‘Dilemma’), and I managed to track down the front cover recently.
There are a few more images over in the Originals section where I posted about this last year. Also there are some pristine images from the film over at this site.

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Kraftwerk month #20 Kover Kollection 3

Here it is, the ‘rare’ one, if something digital could ever truly be such a thing. This mix was hosted at the now defunct Bosbos.net along with four others but the link to this particular mix corrupted and I’d get people emailing me to see why they couldn’t download #3. This is one of my favourites and I really slaved over it around Xmas 2004. I spent way too long online searching for a rip of the sketches from the Little Britain comedy show with the punchline, “Computer Says ‘No”, which I was determined to get into the mix somehow. A lot of electronica and hip hop in this one and some great versions of ‘Autobahn’, although the Fink listed isn’t the same Fink from the Ninja Tune label, but another.This originally appeared 17/01/05 on Solid Steel.

Kraftwerk Kovers Kollection Vol.3 by DJ Food


Alternative artwork: For the third volume of the Kover Kollection I did some designs based on the pocket calculator and then on the theme of the ‘Meet the Beatles’ sleeve, I wasn’t too pleased with the results so I changed them, these have never been seen before.

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Kraftwerk month #18 Kompilations


‘Elektro Kinetik’ (Vertigo/Phonogram 1981) and ‘Exceller8’ (Mercury 1975) front and back covers – both mid seventies compilations drawing from various albums after ‘Autobahn’ and ‘The Model’ became hits. ‘Autobahn’(Philips 1975) was a double album using artwork from the ‘Ralf & Florian’ LP and music from several different releases. The ‘Kraftwerk’ double album (Vertigo 1973) pairs the first and second albums together with a beautiful sleeve.


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Kraftwerk month #16 Computer World poster

Time for a repost: this lovely design was made by Stefanie Posavec, showing the length of cassette tape needed to record Kraftwerk‘s ‘Computer World’. Originally made as a one off for a friend’s club night she’s finally made them for sale.

It’s available as a 915 x 700mm 2-colour litho print (the yellow is fluorescent) on 300gsm, on Challenger Offset paper in a signed edition of 200. You can get it here and 25% of the profits go to the Ganet’s Adventure fund that helps a small primary school in Milawi.

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Kraftwerk month #14 Kover Kollection 2

After the first mix I had tons of material left over and, with some of the obvious covers out the way, it was time to up the ante. The opener of ‘Radio Activity’ played by the First Viennese Vegetable Orchestra (is there a second?) does that pretty well.

Rare live versions of ‘The Model’ by Lloyd Cole and The Balanescu Quartet featuring David Byrne crop up and we start to see the pattern of many versions of the track appearing, it’s by far their most covered song. I think this one is possibly my favourite of all of the mixes as it features some amazing versions of ‘Pocket Calculator’, silly spoken word and the abstract cover art.

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Kraftwerk month #12 Autobhan oddities


I have to say that Kraftwerk’s incessant tinkering and airbrushing of their past isn’t much to my taste (especially the erasing of past members’ contributions) and is one of the reasons why most of the content I’m putting up here this month doesn’t go beyond ‘Tour De France’. I’m not a fan of ‘The Mix’, as I found that they’d ironed all the soul out of their music in reconstructing it for a real computer age. The irony of the men who wanted to sound like machines finally attaining their wish as technology caught up with them is that they lost the one thing that gave their music depth – the humanity.

Similarly the hand drawn, painted and coloured graphics and photography have been replaced by cold, dull cgi versions of their classic sleeves. The reduction of the ‘Radio-Activity’, ‘Trans Europe Express’ and ‘Man Machine’ sleeves to basic typography and logos may bring them into a neat line with the rest of the Catalogue but it does little for me aesthetically. The one example I will concede to however, (and this happened fairly quickly back in the 70’s), is the re-draughting of the ‘Autobahn’ sleeve. Above you can see the original with its dashboard and rear view mirror most definitely placing the sleeve in the early 70’s. The removal of the dashboard on later sleeves definitely makes for a better composition but the adoption of the UK sleeve, that centered on the white on blue motorway logo, gives it the jump from literal illustration to iconic status.


Above are different front and back sleeves for various 7″ singles utilising parts of the ‘Autobahn’ artwork and below are two CD booklet illustrations from the Catalogue remasters. I assume these are newly commissioned pieces in the style of the original cover  but the hyperreal colour does nothing for me.

…and a couple of late entries: Not official in any way but linked visually to the above designs, flyers for a club my friend Graeme Ross was involved in.

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Kraftwerk month #11 Mash Ups & Bootlegs

Girls On Top ‘I Wanna Dance With Numbers’ 7″, Frenchbloke & Son ‘Sexy Model’ 7″, Late Night Radio 12″, ‘Dark Side Of The Autobahn‘ Mordant Music 7″ picture disc.

These are among the best reworkings I own on vinyl because the artwork perfectly mirrors the contents. I can credit the Girls On Top record for igniting my love of mash ups, I picked it up because of the cover and took a listen in Rough Trade over in Ladbroke Grove the week it came out. It was so insane I had to have it and I remember being slightly worried it would clear the floor the first time I played it out. The crowd went mad for it. ‘Sexy Model’ is a genius pairing of Right Said Fred‘s ‘I’m Too Sexy’ with Kraftwerk’s most known hit; “I’m a model, you know what I mean”. It’s also backed by a latin take on ‘Neon Lights’ and comes on transparent vinyl with a free badge. Graeme Ross, aka ‘Son’ in the duo, helped me greatly when I was first compiling the Kover Kollections too.

Late Night Radio is a mind boggling medley in the same vein as the Stars on 45 records but pitting Kraftwerk with Vangelis, has to be heard to be believed. ‘Dark Side of the Autobahn’ is an excellent coupling of ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ with ‘Autobahn’ (as you can probably guess from the title), as well as snatches of Joy Division, Throbbing Gristle, Simon & Garfunkel and Peter Cook. The B side plays the same track backwards and all of these can be heard scattered around the various Kraftwerk Kover Kollection mix series. Below is a strange artifact from Russian that I picked up, a 5″ red flexi disc of ‘Boing Boom Tschak’, these things pop up all the time for bigger name groups but this is the first Kraftwerk one I’ve seen.

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Kraftwerk month #7 Kover Kollection 4


This one veers heavily into hip hop territory at the beginning but then into more rock and, inevitably, techno areas. I was using voice synthesizers to generate ‘lyrics’ over some tracks and it contains one of my favourite mixes: two versions of ‘Autobahn’ running concurrently in the left and right speakers.

Gorefest and The Balanescu Quartet had both done versions that I noticed were very similar in arrangement and tempo and, being that the track is so long, rather than play them separately I panned each one left and right and played them together, I like the fact that they’re just so opposite in terms of style. This one originally debuted on Solid Steel on 04/08/06

(and no, you didn’t miss pts. 2 & 3 yet, I’m just not putting them up in logical order)

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Kraftwerk month #6 Ralf & Florian – the sitcom & UK LP

[youtube width=”626″ height=”420″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-haWSy43Ks[/youtube]
I’ve posted this video before but I never tire of it. Also on the subject of ‘Ralf & Florian’, the UK pressing on Vertigo had a different sleeve to the regular release (see below), much the same as ‘Autobahn’. Both are believed to be the work of designer Barney Bubbles, although this has never been confirmed.

Emil Schult designed a sticker for the German issue of ‘Autobahn’ (right) that used the blue and white road sign and this was adapted and added to for the UK sleeve. Hardformat ran a great piece on it, arguing for Bubbles as the layout designer and there is a discussion on the subject here but the jury is still out. Also, the ‘Ralf & Florian’ UK cover below had embossing around the title and circuit pattern as well as florescent inks on the back cover.

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Kraftwerk month #4 Pocket symphonies

[youtube width=”640″ height=”480″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7MjKeT4Ccw&feature=related[/youtube]

‘Taschenrechner’ (Pocket Calculator) (live) – I love Florian’s aside to camera near the end. One of the instruments they were playing was a Bee Gees Rhythm Machine painted black, another was a Stylophone and they sent a musical calculator out as a promo for the single. [youtube width=”305″ height=”240″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwIOsrVXy8s[/youtube] [youtube width=”305″ height=”240″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExCDWp6RIdQ[/youtube]

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