Richard Williams Presents ‘This Amazing Medium’ at The Academy
Watch four video clips of Richard's lecture, where he talks about the making of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, A Christmas Carol, The Jungle Book and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, all on AWNtv.
After 14 years of wrangling, Randy Haberkamp finally got his man. Presented as part of the Marc Davis Celebration of Animation, the legendary Richard Williams took to the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre stage last Friday evening, entertaining and inspiring a packed audience in a two hour Masterclass that demonstrated once again not only his depth of insight and talent, but his unique position as an historic bridge to a bygone era of animation mastery. The evening also kicked off a two month interactive exhibition in the Academy’s Grand Lobby Gallery of Williams’ career in animation, complete with his new iPad app and artwork broken up into 12 separate learning / display pods.
Over the course of two hours, Williams, as spry and energetic at 80 as most Red Bull soaked animators a quarter his age, shared both the seminal moments that inspire him to this day as well as the key projects from his career where he was able, at least for a short spell, to put that inspiration to proper use.
Much has been written about Williams’ career, his triumphs, including three Academy Awards, most notably for his work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, as well as his ultimately beloved but doomed animated masterpiece, the epic The Thief and the Cobbler. The man who at one point walked away from the industry he was so instrumental in shaping, has devoted almost 20 years now to channeling, distilling, consolidating and presenting the fundamental knowledge gleaned from his own 57 year career as well as from some of our industry’s most famous animators. Initially packaged in 1995 and presented in a series of 5-day Masterclasses, then followed up in 2002 by his must-have Animator’s Survival Guide book, in 2009 with a companion DVD set, and in 2013 now integrated into an interactive iPad app, William’s unique understanding of the animation process was forged over a lifetime spent learning and re-learning the fundamentals of what it means to animate.
On stage, Williams was always the humble master, constantly referring to himself as a “fraud” in comparison to icons such as Milt Kahl, Art Babbitt, Ken Harris and Grim Natwick, all of whom at various times he concurrently employed and studied under, a process he more than once described as “drinking their blood.” His quasi-autobiographical lecture was broken into two parts – Part One: How It Affected Me and Part Two: What I’ve Done With It. In Part One, using a succession of clips, Williams described how and why specific scenes from films like King-Size Canary, One Froggy Evening and The Jungle Book made such an indelible impact on the very nature of his understanding and practice of animation.
For example, he talked in reverential tones about Milt Kahl’s work animating Shere Khan in The Jungle Book. According to Williams, after seeing the film, “I came out of the screening a blithering wreck…I went back to my studio in a state of shock.” Williams eventually invited Kahl to London. Williams described their first meeting, as Kahl walked into the Soho studio lobby. “I didn’t know what to do. I ran up to him and I started shining his shoes...He said, “You don’t have to keep doing that” and I said, “Yes I do.” There was a big painting up on the wall, a bunch of men’s heads. He said, “Who did that?” I said, “Oh, that’s one of my paintings.” He said, “Well, you can stop shining because you draw better than me.” I said, “Oh, no, no, no.” And then he said, “Well, on the other hand, keep shining. Because you can’t animate worth shit.”
The second part of his presentation was devoted to showing some of his favorite work, including clips from The Charge of the Light Brigade, A Christmas Carol, The Return of the Pink Panther, Who Frame Roger Rabbit, The Thief and the Cobbler, his 2010 short Circus Drawings and 25 seconds of his current project, Will I Live to Finish This?, which he claims is his best work ever.
Earlier that Friday, I had a chance to talk to Richard about his career, the Academy exhibition and the extraordinary impact he has had on what is now a huge international animation education business.
Dan Sarto: Congrats on the exhibit and the special evening. I’m looking forward to your presentation.
Richard Williams: Thanks. The Academy has done a beautiful job with the exhibition.
DS: Tell me how this came about.
RW: For 14 years, Randy Habercamp has been asking me to do a lecture. For one reason or another it never came together. I had an exhibition in Annecy and the word got out and they suggested doing one here. Now, it’s interactive because we’ve just produced an iPad app. They setup the exhibition with 12 zones, one for each chapter of the app – flexibility, walks, dialogue, etc. It’s all interactive. It’s all animated. It combines The Animator’s Survival Guide book and DVDs we did previously. They decided to make an exhibition of it, which is marvelous.
DS: You were far ahead of the curve when it came to training and learning from the masters. You took it upon yourself to hire some of the most talented animators who’d ever held a pencil, just to learn from them. In the early days of your career, how did people learn about animation?
RW: Well, there was only the Preston Blair book and a horrid book by Halas [John] about logarithms and things. There was very little. It was a desert. I was just lucky. I happened to realize I didn’t know enough. I guess I was the only one who thought to hire guys like Ken Harris and Art Babbitt and keep them going for 14 years. An awful lot of it was just for my own benefit because I wanted to know this stuff. Foolishly, I invited my competition in London and suddenly, everyone started getting a lot better.