Remembering Richard Williams

It was one year ago today… Friday, August 16, 2019, that Richard Williams died in Bristol, England.  He was 86-years young – still working diligently in an office at Aardman Animations on an animated feature, Lysistrata, based on an Ancient Greek comedy by Aristophanes.  He jokingly suggested that the film title should be, Will I Live to Finish This?.

In the past year, his life and his work has been remembered in tributes at animation and film festivals across the globe.  Some of those tributes have been discussed in prior posts.  It is truly unfortunate that a celebration of life planned by his son, Alex Williams, for late April in London had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Richard Williams was born in Toronto, Canada, on March 19, 1933.  He was a spirited young man and a precocious artist.  He was accepted to the Ontario College of Art in Toronto in the early 1950s.  He left Canada in 1953 to develop himself as a fine artist in Ibiza.  He was in London by 1955, working with Bob Godfrey, and later with George Dunning at TVC.  Meanwhile, he was working on his own solo project – and The Little Island was released in 1958.  It won the 1959 BAFTA award for Animated Film.  Dick established his own studio, Richard Williams Animation, at 13 Soho Square in 1964.  The studio produced remarkable animation for television and theatrical commercials and for film titles.  Dick plowed his money and studio resources into a film that ultimately became, The Thief and the Cobbler – a venture that was over thirty years in the making.  Along the way, he received an Oscar for A Christmas Carol (1971) and two Oscars for Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).

These awards brought him a certain celebrity with the general public, but he had a mythic celebrity amongst animators.  He was a true master of his craft and is celebrated for his artistry, draftsmanship, animation knowledge, and ability to analyze a drawing and provide pinpoint guidance for improvement.  He had incredible energy and enthusiasm.  He set the bar so high that many found it daunting and intimidating, but he was happy to share his knowledge and insight with anybody who was willing to even try to match his own effort.  Later in his career, he taught animation master classes, and his book, Animators’ Survival Kit, is required reading.

Dick was working on his memoir before he died.  His widow, Mo Sutton, is working at completing that memoir.  It will be a marvellous addition to the library of any animation/film historian or fan.

I learned much about Richard Williams in the course of researching the book, Pulling a Rabbit Out of a Hat.  That book was focussed primarily on the making of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  That film was but a small chapter in Dick’s career.  I also grew up in Toronto and, as a Canadian and an animation enthusiast, have had an abiding interest in Richard Williams, his body of work, and his impact on a generation of animators.  Although the current pandemic makes things more difficult, I am enjoying further research into Richard Williams life and career for a project that might eventually complement the anticipated memoir.