Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Late Great Animator Richard Williams

Richard Williams, the animator who directed an Academy Award winning animated version of A Christmas Carol and served as animation director on Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), died on August 16 2019 at the age of 86. The cause was cancer.

Richard Williams was born in Toronto, Ontario on March 19 1933. His mother, Kathleen "Kay" Bell, was an illustrator who had turned down a job with Disney. His father, Leslie Lane, was a painter who left the family when Richard Williams was still a baby. As a child he became fascinated by the animated films of Walt Disney.  When he was 15 he went to California to visit Walt Disney studio. As a publicity stunt the studio let him visit for two days before Disney art director Dick Kelsey told him to "learn how to draw." Due to his stepfather's connections in advertising, he was already making a living as a commercial artist when he was only 16. Richard Williams attended the Ontario College of Art.

For a time Mr. Williams lost interest in animation. After attending the Ontario College of Art he made a living as an illustrator and spent two years painting on the Spanish island of Ibiza. He once more became interested in animation in his early twenties. Disillusioned by the sentimentality of Disney's works, he moved to London. His first short, "The Little Island (1958)" was heavily influenced by the simpler style of UPA. It won the BAFTA award for Best Animated Film. The same year he made the short "The Wardrobe." Afterwards he began working for TV Cartoons (later renamed TVC London).

Richard Williams left TV Cartoons to begin his own company, Richard Williams Animated Films, Ltd. Through the company he would make his next short, "Love Me, Love Me, Love Me (1962)." He would also work extensively in creating title sequences for feature films. It was in 1964 that Richard Williams began work on The Thief and the Cobbler. The film took years, so that after twenty years of work Mr. Williams had only completed twenty minutes. In 1988 he secured a production deal with Warner Bros. Unfortunately Richard Williams lost control of the production and it would be completed without him. A version would be released as The Princess and the Cobbler in 1993. Another version would be released under the title Arabian Nights in 1995. A workprint would be screened in 2013, but ultimately The Thief and the Cobbler as Richard Williams envisioned it would remain unfinished.

He directed the TV special A Christmas Carol, which first aired on television in 1971. The special would later be released theatrically and won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Given it first aired on television this caused considerable controversy in the industry and ultimately resulted in a change in the rules that disqualified animated works originally aired on television. Richard Williams would go onto direct the feature film Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure (1977) and the TV special Ziggy's Gift. He served as an animation director for Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, for which he won a Special Achievement Academy Award. He would later make the short "Prologue (2015)."

As mentioned earlier, Richard Williams also created title sequences for movies. Among the movies were What's New Pussycat? (1965), The Liquidator (1965), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), The Spy with a Cold Nose (1966), Casino Royale (1967), Sebastian (1968), Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1968), 30 Is a Dangerous Age, Cynthia (1968), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), Prudence and the Pill (1968), Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? (1969), Every Home Should Have One (1970), The Return of the Pink Panther (1975), and The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976).

Richard Williams also taught master classes in animation and wrote the book The Animator’s Survival Kit.

Richard Williams was certainly a ground breaking animator, brining to animation a richness as never had been seen before. His 1971 TV special A Christmas Carol utilised pans and zooms and a visual style inspired by Victorian engravers. Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure blended animation and live action, and utilised a wide variety of animation styles. The uncompleted Thief and the Cobbler featured some of Richard Williams's most amazing animation, far surpassing the complexity of the average Disney feature. Not only could Richard Williams create dazzling animation, but he was versatile in a number of styles. "The Little Island" utilised a style close to that of UPA. A Christmas Carol had the look of illustrations from Victorian books. Quite naturally, for Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Mr. Williams drew upon the styles of the American Golden Age of Animation. In the end, Richard Williams set the bar higher for every animator in his wake.

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