From Sir John Hegarty to Jelly’s Chris Page, advertising’s animation aficionados share how the director, best known for Who Framed Roger Rabbit, inspired and moved them
Richard Williams died last week aged 86, leaving a legacy of animation greatness that will endure for generations. The animation director won three Oscars for Who Framed Roger Rabbit and A Christmas Carol, as well as the many BAFTA, Emmy and other international accolades he accumulated over a career that shaped the animation landscape we know today.
Considering his feature film work alone, which also included two Pink Panther films and The Charge of the Light Brigade, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that Richard lit a spark of inspiration within many in the advertising world. But he gave the industry many other reasons to be thankful too.
Richard also built a formidable career animating commercials. Born in Canada, he moved to the UK in the ‘50s where he animated commercials for various brands, from Johnson’s baby products to Tic-Tac breath mints, breakfast cereals to Listerine mouthwash. His work and that of his studio are testament to the slogan written on his T-shirt in an iconic photo that reads “Animation is Concentration” - each of his films is precisely, meticulously crafted.
As if that wasn’t enough to inspire several generations of animators already, he also had a passion for sharing the mastery of his craft with new generations. This resulted in The Animator’s Survival Kit - a Bible of the discipline available in both print and digital versions.
We caught up with a few of Richard Williams’ industry devotees to find out how he shaped them.
Sir John Hegarty
Founder of BBH and chairman of Little Black Book
Richard Williams, the animator who died last week, was one of the great unsung heroes of British advertising. Along with Ridley Scott he did much to catapult our creativity onto a global stage. He did it with a pencil rather than a camera.
He established his animation company at 13 Soho Square. This green-fronted Georgian house on the north side of the square became a Mecca for animators and creative people who wanted to work in this medium. A trip to 13 was the start of a magical experience.
Animation has always been a unique form of creativity in moulding an idea. Its pacing, look, style, the framing of its action, slowing down a response, redrawing an expression, a
look, the way a character moves and responds. Animation is personal, individual and unique.
And at all of this Richard was a master. He loved animation and he spread that love to everyone who worked for him and with him.
I was lucky enough to work with him and a number of his hugely talented animators on many projects. Our work on a little character called Johnson Jnr. garnered all kinds of awards including a yellow pencil from D&AD. In fact his company won so many yellow pencils they almost outnumbered the animators’ pencils. He once joked to me that if D&AD’s pencils had contained lead, he’d have saved a fortune.
Of course he did more than just animate TV commercials, his work in movies was equally famous, from Roger Rabbit to the Charge of the Light Brigade. Richard and his company were sought after and idolised.
But over and above all this, he was kind, generous, warm and witty. To be a friend of his was an honour.
So thank you Richard for everything you did to help us art directors and writers realise our ideas. We will forever be in your debt.
Owner at Jelly
Richard Williams died last week aged 86. Apparently, he was still working at 6pm on the day he died. If any single fact could reinforce his devotion to his craft then surely, it’s that one. This is a man who had been working as an animator, director and craftsman for over 60 years, and still felt that he had work to do. That’s amazing. This insatiable curiosity and desire is what should drive all great creative people. Working till death isn’t a life sentence - if you’re doing something that you truly love.
Most of the tributes to Richard this week are focused (quite rightly) on his tremendous film work: Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the Pink Panther movies and A Christmas Carol. But if you’re my age (old) and grew up watching way too much TV in the early ‘80s like most of us did, then his work and characters were part of the fabric of your nightly viewing. Tony the Tiger, the Cresta bear, the Johnson’s baby, the Listerine dragon, all these characters were as big a part of our TV evening as any of the actual programmes. And it wasn’t just the simple characters. The direction and techniques on show were breath-taking. I remember an ad for Shell oil. It was just a locked off shot of an oil platform at sea enduring all kinds of North Sea weather. Probably, a purely practical decision from the client to decide to animate the film, but Richard made it into a piece of animated art that made it far more effective than any live-action treatment would have done. Go find it on YouTube, it’s an amazing piece of work.
Of course, sitting on a sofa in south London in the early ‘80s eating crisps, there was no way I was to know where I’d end up career-wise, but looking back at all those amazing animated commercials and remembering each and every one of them with absolute clarity, perhaps it’s no surprise. I should thank Richard Williams for that, as should everyone else involved in commercial animation in the UK.
Animation director at Moving Picture Company (MPC)
I was first introduced to the work of Richard Williams by a former tutor of mine (Andrew Painter) who was fortunate enough to work with him on the spectacular Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Andrew encouraged me at the time to buy The Animator's Survival Kit and now I do not know a single student that does not reference Richard's book when first starting out. His book taught me the classic animation theory, and his wisdom showed me how to apply it.
The first time I finished reading his book, I re-watched and enjoyed Roger Rabbit in a completely new frame of mind. I started to see his principles and methodology and his own personality everywhere. It gave me so much encouragement and energy to learn more.
My animation career was just beginning and Richard Williams taught me that learning was not something you did in your youth, but that it would be a life-long mission to never stop learning. He taught me to strive to be better than I thought I could be. For Richard Williams it spanned over an inspiring 74 years in animation!
His passion and vision for our art form will forever be an inspiration and influence, paving a road for the future generations of animators.
Founder and creative director at Golden Wolf
I was six years old when Who Framed Roger Rabbit came out. I didn’t know much about animation at the time, but the way Richard brought those characters to life achieved something I hadn’t seen in animation before (being six and all). They were every bit as “real” as their live action co-stars.
There are few people in the world that you could say had a bigger impact on animation as an art form than Richard Williams. His book, the Animator’s Survival Kit was one of the first purchases we made when setting up Golden Wolf and to this day it’s by far the most worn and loved book in the studio.
Co-founder and ECD at Nexus
Richard Williams has championed the craft of animation in both his films and his educational work. By no exaggeration he’s an inspiration to a generation of animators.