Wednesday, 14 May 2014

A Moment In Time

Calling all UK animators: on June 1st there will be a SCREENING of 'The Thief and the Cobbler - A Moment In Time', where Richard Williams' workprint of his unfinished feature (now digitally restored) will be shown, followed by an interview with the man himself.

I spent four years working on this film - a mere drop in the ocean compared to the decades that artists like Roy Naisbitt, Errol Le Cain and Ken Harris put in - but I did manage to rack up just over 1000 feet (about 11 minutes) of animation in those years, working with my two superb assistants Bella Bremner and Tanya Fenton. I can't wait to see everyone's work up on the big screen again - it feels like a lifetime ago...

In keeping with the Richard Williams theme, my ongoing Studio Spring Clean has unearthed a copy of The Association of Illustrators Newsletter, dated July/August 1976. I was still in short trousers, doodling in the corner of my junior school textbooks, when this interview with Dick was written. But it very much sums up his continuing approach to the craft of animation. Here are a few extracts (the author/interviewer is uncredited):

Richard Williams: "(At age 21) I couldn't stand Disney's work... and I managed to make an award winning 30 minute cinemascope film (The Little Island) which owed nothing to him. Over the next 10 years I made several non-Disney films but was gradually becoming frustrated at my lack of knowledge... of technique. So instead of fighting it, and saying 'I don't want to be like my daddy' I decided to find out all about Disney's technique. Now his story-telling I've never liked, but what did fascinate me was how he got so good so fast.

...Knowledge doesn't corrupt, it only helps you. I may be arrogant as an artist, but I'm certainly not arrogant as a craftsman... We said: 'Let's get that knowledge before all his animator's die'.

The tricks we learned from these great men, and from studying prints of Disney's films in detail, we paractised on the commercials we were doing at the time.

I agree that you should have your own original approach, get away from talking bunny rabbits, and all the other cliches, but don't throw out all that technique." He gets up and walks across the room in a very wobbly manner, as though with some dreadful nervous disease. "If you want your character to walk like that, OK. You're avant-garde." He walks back, firmly planting his feet on the floor. "It's actually harder to do it (this) way - to give your characters weight. If you know all the tricks... you don't have to sweat blood getting it right. That way you can get more life into what you're doing.

Anyone who ignores Disney is stupid, or else scared that he'll lose his own identity. My guys don't lose theirs; each one directs his own commercial, but if he wants it, there's a load of experience behind him he can call on.

The only advice I can give students who want to come into this business is to draw things in movement. Forget cartoons. It would be a lot easier for us if there were more draughtsmen and fewer cartoonists around. Anyone who can really draw gets a place here. If you're a student, don't skirt round old traditions. Go through them, and when you come out the other side, you've got to be better. Don't burn the library. Otherwise you're like the carpenter who looks at a beautifully made old table and decides to make his own out of orange crates. Very exciting, but liable to fall to pieces."