|Richard Williams, Eric Goldberg and a Rabbit|
Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) had been called in his time “ The Holy Old Man Crazy about Drawing.” You could also describe Richard Williams as “ The Holy Old Man Crazy About Animation”. His passion for the medium was evident last night at the Motion Picture Academy of Arts & Sciences Marc Davis lecture he gave, which he entitled This Amazing Medium.
|Tom Sito and Leonard Maltin|
Dick Williams was one of the central figures responsible for saving animation when it was in danger of dying out. In the 1970s, when Disney Animation was down to 120 old artists who played golf half the day, and most animation was relegated to the Saturday morning ghetto. Art Babbitt then lamented “Animation is fifty years behind where it should be.” Dick Williams created an oasis of quality on Soho Square in London.
|From right: Richard Williams, Dick Purdum, Art Babbitt, Grim Natwick, Ken Harris and another at 13 Soho Square|
It’s kind of inaccurate to describe Dick Williams as “old”, because despite his 80 calendar years, on stage his enthusiasm brings out the wide-eyed boy that took a Greyhound Bus to LA in the 1950s to meet his idols, the great Disney animators. Dick held the audience enthralled for almost three hours as he spun tales of his encounters with famous animators like Ken Harris and Milt Kahl, and filmmakers like Sidney Lumet and Blake Edwards.
|Charlotte Mildenberger and Miriam McDonnell|
Witty, self effacing and concise, Dick ran clips of past animation that inspired him, like Tytla’s Night on Bald Mountain and Kahl’s Shere Kahn, as well as clips from his own career like Christmas Carol (1972) and Who Framed Roger Rabbitt (1988). A highlight was the first LA screenings of his newest work like Circus Sketches (2010). I didn’t get too much time to speak with Dick, as he was mobbed from the moment he arrived. Last I saw him after the show, he was engulfed by enthusiastic fans.
|The Academy on Friday night. In the centre is Claire Williams|
Love of animation begins with a fire in the belly. It’s hard to describe. It’s just something you want to do. To bring characters to life. What historian Barbara Tuchman once described as “ a moment on Olympus”. No one exemplifies more what the passion to animate is like than Richard Williams. The exhibit of Richard Williams artwork will be up for a month at the Academy Gallery, and there is talk of a restored print of Christmas Carol to be screened this December.
Bravo Dick. This was a tribute long overdue.
Tom Sito is an animator, Professor of Animation at USC and historian. His books include Drawing the Line, and Moving Innovation, a History of Computer Animation, which you can also read about at FLIP.
You can also see some highlights from the lecture at the Academy official website.