Inside Encounters #1- Richard Williams: Master Animator

Photo by Don Fairservice

This year Encounters celebrates the life and work of legendary Bristol-based animator Richard Williams with a trio of very special events to mark his 80th birthday: a screening of cult favourite Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Desert Island Flicks with Williams’ pick of the best in animation, and a retrospective programme of short films and commercials spanning his career.

Born in Toronto the Canadian-British animator emigrated to the UK in the mid 50s, where he became something of a national treasure – winning a totalof three Academy Awards and three BAFTAs for his work on classic films

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) and A Christmas Carol (1971). Though best known for animating the aforementioned Oscar winners – and two of the Pink Panther films – Williams’ impressive body of work is diverse, ranging from commercials to features, to short films and title sequences. Williams has even dabbled in art installation, playfully animating graffiti by Bristol’s own Banksy. Mentored by Disney’s Art Babbitt (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia, Dumbo) and with credits like the title sequences of the original Casino Royale (1967) and What’s New Pussycat? (1965) to his name, Williams’ illustrious and extensive portfolio seems like one long career highlight.

Of course, every memorable artist has at least one memorable setback – and Williams is no exception. The Thief and the Cobbler, a feature length animation inspired by the Arabian Nights, was set to be Williams’ masterpiece. With every intention of creating the world’s greatest animated film, Williams funnelled endless resources into the project, only  to be bought out by his backers before the film was completed. A botched version of the film was completed under the direction of Fred Calvert and re-titled Arabian Knight before being released by Miramax in 1995 – without Williams’ blessing.

Williams is notable for rising from the ashes of a very public betrayal, going on to generously share the secrets and struggles of his career in animation bible The Animator’s Survival Kit, a book that has since been adapted into both a DVD series and an iPad app. The Animator’s Survival Kit has been praised as “a revelation” by Ice Age director Chris Wedge, and as an indispensable  guidebook for animation students of every stripe. Described as “a pioneer” and “the link between the Golden Age of animation by hand and the new computer animation success”, Williams continues to be a defining influence in the world of animation.

To honour its special guest, Encounters is opening the festival this year on Tuesday 17 September with a gala screening of Williams’ pièce de résistance Who Framed Roger Rabbit (directed by Robert Zemeckis), which has been digitally re-mastered. Mixing live-action footage with animated sequences, the film remains one of the first (and finest) examples of
genre smashing. Williams himself will introduce the screening. Taking place on Wednesday 18 September, Desert Island Flicks is a special riff on the BBC Radio 4 show, where Williams will appear in conversation with comic Phill Jupitus to show clips from his essential animated classics and explain what makes them great.

Audiences are also invited to discover Williams’ legendary career through 80 Years of Richard Wiliams, a retrospective of short films and commercials screening on Thursday 19 September. Highlights of this 2-hour programme, presented in partnership with Edinburgh International Film Festival, include clips from The Animator’s Survival Kit, BAFTA winning independent short film The Little Island (1958) and Oscar-winning A Christmas Carol (1971), inspired by the illustrations that accompanied the original publication of Dickens’ classic tale. There’ll be rarities such as short film Love Me, Love Me, Love Me (1962) voiced by the late Kenneth Williams and Circus Drawings (2010), a personal short film that took Williams almost sixty years to complete, alongside the trailer for The Thief and the Cobbler (1993), Williams’ hallowed unfinished masterpiece.

By Simran Hans