Canadian-British animator Richard Williams is one of the few animators from the 1950s who is still working today. What’s more amazing is that he might be in his prime right now.
Williams was born in Toronto in 1933 and emigrated to London in 1955. In 1958 he produced his first animated film, the wonderfully surreal BAFTA award-winning short The Little Island. Williams credited English animator Bob Godfrey for giving Williams his start in animation.
Williams also had consistent employment designing and animating title sequences in such movies as What’s New, Pussycat? (1965), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1967), Casino Royale (1967), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968) and a couple of Pink Panther films from the seventies.
In addition, he directed the Oscar-winning 1971 TV adaptation of A Christmas Carol, which was given a theatrical release and won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. It also had two Warner Bros. animation legends in key roles: executive producer Chuck Jones and master animator Ken Harris.
Williams reluctantly sat in the director’s chair to replace Abe Levitow when he died before completing Raggedy Ann & Andy: The Musical (1977). Williams clashed with producers over the lack of character development and the over-abundance of musical numbers. The film was rushed to completion and it showed.
Despite this, many talented animators worked on this film, including legends from the past like Grim Natwick, Art Babbitt, Gerry Chiniquy, Emery Hawkins, Willis Pyle, Irven Spence, and Art Vitello. Plus, legends to be, like Eric Goldberg, Tom Sito and Michael Sporn.
After the Emmy-winning TV film Ziggy’s Gift (1982), Williams served as the animation director for Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), for which he may have been best known.
It was after the success of Roger Rabbit that he was able to secure a production deal with Warner Bros. to complete an idea for an animated film he began producing in 1964 called The Thief and the Cobbler. Initially self-funded and intended to be a silent film targeted at adults, the film was a hard sell for distributors.
The production troubles didn’t end when Williams tried to revive it in the nineties. Production ceased when WB’s financial insurance company The Completion Bond Company feared competition from Disney’s similarly-themed Aladdin (1992) and they withheld the film and brought in Animator Fred Calvert to supervise the production in Korea adding musical interludes.
It was released internationally as The Princess and the Cobbler in 1993. Miramax edited it further and added dialogue when it released the film as Arabian Knight in 1995. The reputation of the film’s long and troubled production is more interesting than the finished film, and Richard Williams never discussed the film in length afterwards.
Williams had also written one of the best animation manuals in 2002, The Animator’s Survival Kit, which details some history and some tips on various aspects of the subject of animation. The book is acclaimed and considered definitive.
I did not learn much about Richard Williams throughout my childhood. I discovered him after seeing a film at my local theater titled Prologue, and it instantly made me a fan.
The 2015 British short film Prologue is among the best of Williams’ career. The idea has been in Williams’ mind since the days of Roger Rabbit. It was based on the anti-war play by Aristophanes called Lysisrata (411 BCE) which Williams discovered an illustrated version of as a teenager.
It’s a film he plans to make into a feature film, and according to Williams, it is his best film because its production is motivated only by his creative drive.
I would support a feature-length follow-up! Rarely do we get to see hand-drawn animation of the kind we see in Prologue, which was animated without the use of computers or even cels! The future of animation looks bright when I see people like Richard Williams still making amazing films after working in the business for over 60 years!