Monday, 1 July 2013

80 Animated Years in Edinburgh

Last Saturday was something of an historic event in the animation world, as the Edinburgh International Film Festival hosted a major retrospective of the career of master director/animator Richard Williams, timed to coincide with his 80th birthday this year.

Organised by the ever-energetic Iain Gardner, the programme pulled together nearly two hours of animated excellence from Dick's fifty-five year film career, work that earned him hundreds of awards, including two BAFTAs, an Emmy, and three Oscars.

Included were his first short film 'The Little Island' (1958), the winner of his first Oscar 'A Christmas Carol' (1971), and other shorts including 'Love Me, Love Me, Love Me' (1962) and 'Circus Drawings' (2011).  Then there were title sequences, among them 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' (1968), 'The Return of the Pink Panther' (1975), and 'The Animator's Survival Kit - Animated' (2008). Also included were the opening scenes from 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' (1988) and the original trailer for 'The Thief and the Cobbler' (1993). Peppered throughout were a handful of the 2500 commercials produced at the Williams studio over the decades, including 'Mini Cheddars', 'Shell Oil' and 'Long Life Cat'.

The screening was rounded off with a quick interview hosted by Iain Gardner, and a short Q&A session with the audience.

Wonderful to see all this work up on the big screen - and all in the correct aspect ratios, with the EIFF technical crew up in the projection booth swiftly segueing from 4:3, to Widescreen, to anamorphic Cinemascope between reels, reflecting the changing shape of screens over the course of Dick's long career.

I was joined in the audience by Dick's long-time associate Roy Naisbitt (who, as regular readers of this blog will know, designed the Underground tunnel sequence for me in The Last Belle) and Dick very graciously acknowledged our contributions to some of the work on screen, and the support of his long-time producer, and wife, Imogen Sutton. In a happy final word, Dick pointed out he is not the retiring type and is busy working on his next film project, producing animation he feels is by far the best he has ever achieved. As the event came to a close, the audience rose spontaneously and delivered a standing ovation.

Neil Boyle, Imogen Sutton, Richard Williams, Roy Naisbitt and event
organiser and host, Iain Gardner.

I had a rather jolly time in the bar afterwards, talking with people from the audience: film fans, animation fans, students and professionals; some familiar with the work, some seeing it for the first time, all seemingly inspired by it.

Later that evening, a surprise birthday cake is presented to Dick at the
post-show dinner (photo courtesy Fraser MacLean).

Congratulations to Iain Gardner for organising and choreographing the event so smoothly (and my personal thanks to all the EIFF staff for being wonderful hosts). But most of all, congratulations to Richard Williams on his eightieth birthday, and for continuing to be such an inspiration for a whole new generation of animators and film-makers.

Happy Birthday!


  1. Hi Neil, it was great to meet you and the others in the bar. I forgot to ask you- Will the Last Belle eventually end up on DVD or something? I still haven't actually seen it!

  2. Yes, it was a fun day, wasn't it! The Last Belle will finish its tour of festivals at the end of this year, after which we hope to get it released online. We're not sure about a DVD release, although if it's possible we'd love to do it. Stay posted to this blog for updates..! Thanks for getting in touch.

  3. It must have been great to see Circus Drawings on a big screen instead of a small computer - what amazing artistry (not to detract from the equally fabulous The Last Belle, of course, which I was actually fortunate to see on a cinema screen).

    Alas, for traditional animation artists a trip to Edinburgh isn't as manageable as it once was. But hats off to Iain for organising the event, with correct aspect ratios too! Isn't it nice to be able to leave all that to the experts.

  4. There's nothing to beat watching stuff up on the big screen, surrounded by an appreciative audience!