Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Importance of Richard Williams

It is easy to forget that there are real artists who take enormous risks to create quality animation.  That is mainly because in good animation feels real, it envelops you in the world of the characters and you forget that someone created this.  Over the next few days I will be chronicling some important figures in animation who have contributed enormously to the art form.

Richard Williams is part of the same generation of animators as Ralph Bakshi and Don Bluth.  He started near the end of the Golden Age of Animation and was one of the few artistic voices during the Television Era of Animation.  Williams, like Bakshi and Bluth, was a figurehead that people were looking toward and while his career is marred by artistic struggles, Williams showed an unwavering commitment to quality and his dreams.

The Little Island (1958)
Williams' big debut was as the writer, director and producer independent half hour short.  The short does not use words and is a philosophical argument.  The Little Island can be a tough sit as it is much slower paced than mainstream cartoons.  However its deliberate nature, thoughtfulness and lofty goals are incredibly admirable.  It is a great showcase for Williams' talents as an artist and his independent nature.  The short was rewarded with a BAFTA award.

Title Designer and Animator (1965-1976)
Williams made a few more shorts but he found consistent work in an area that offered quite a bit of work to talented animators in the sixties and seventies: title animations.  He either designed or animated the title sequences for live-action films such as What's New Pussycat?, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Casino Royale, Return of the Pink Panther and The Pink Panther Strikes Again.  A title sequence may not seem like the greatest artistic endeavor, but a lot of movies of the time put a lot of effort into their openings.

A Christmas Carol (1971)
A good amount of Williams' artistic clout came from a television special that earned an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film after a theatrical release.  This Chuck Jones adaptation of Dickens' ghost story really holds up.  It takes a standard approach to A Christmas Carol, no real cartoony gimmicks.  It is hauntingly designed and condenses the story really well into a half hour.  The short also views the apparitions from Scrooge's perspective and shows some real growth from his character.

Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure (1977)
In the 1970s mainstream studios made some attempts at feature animation.  This was on of the few American non-Disney animated films created before the animation renaissance.  The movie was hurt by studio interference who insisted on it being a musical.  Williams also went over time and budget on the feature.  It is an uneven movie, but it does feature creativity and competent animation.  After this Williams directed an Emmy winning Christmas special, Ziggy's Gift (1982), based on the Ziggy comic strip.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Williams was chosen as the animation director of this classic, game-changing film.  The team of Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis and Richard Williams is an incredibly impressive artistic line-up.  The animation in Roger Rabbit worked with the live-action so seamlessly and really has yet to be topped in terms of clearly animated characters inhabiting a real world.  Williams' efforts earned him a special Oscar and enough prestige to attempt to complete his dream project.

Williams also voiced classic Tex Avery character, Droopy in the film and the follow-up short Tummy Trouble (1989)

Thief and the Cobbler (1993)
It is impossible to go into the detail that this movie deserves.  The story behind its production is incredible and heart breaking.  Williams began working on this in 1965 and worked on it independently until he Warner Bros. helped financed the project in 1988.  After failing to complete it in time the production was seized and finished cheaply without Williams.  Miramax acquired the movie and reworked it into a lazy Aladdin knock-off, titled The Arabian Knight. Williams had disowned the film for many years after that and refused to talk about it (although Roy E. Disney was interested in helping to finish it before his death).  On YouTube there is a re-edit titled The Uncobbled Cut, that utilizes unfinished pencil tests to show a film that is closer to Williams' vision.  Williams showed a director's cut of the movie in 2013.

Williams intended this movie to change animation and had it been released in the sixties it likely would have.  This is creatively designed and painstakingly animated.  The storytelling is unlike any other animated movie and has an incredibly visual focus.  Williams should be commended for his efforts and lofty goals.  Even if his perfectionist tendencies 

The Animator's Survival Kit (2002)
Although his intended magnum opus did not turn out Williams continued to influence animation with this book that has become somewhat of a new standard in learning animation.  The book holds the subtitle: A Manual of Methods, Principles and Formulas for Computer, Stop-motion, Games and Classic Animators.  The book was even updated in 2009 to include internet animation.  Chris Wedge, the director of Ice Age, called the book a revelation.  Throughout his entire career Williams has been training animators, he now has written a guide for animation students.

Circus Drawings (2010)
At 77 years old Richard Williams created a short based on his experiences of living near a Spanish circus in the fifties.  The short has screened at festivals and received acclaim.

Williams represents the type of voice that is difficult to find in animation.  He was never in it to make money or follow what others have done.  He took chances and was constantly perfecting his skills as an artist.  Williams may not be widely known to the general public, but he did influence an industry at a time when there were few others taking chances.  Richard Williams holds a high level of artistic integrity and an unwavering commitment to his passions.

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