Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Anderson, David (1952-)

Director, Writer, Animator

Main image of Anderson, David (1952-)

Among the work of recent British animators, David Anderson's stands out for its persistent surreal fantasy and the multiplicity of techniques used to cast a spell. Stop-motion model animation blends with orthodox cel animation; live-action footage comes unadorned, or garnished with pixillation, xerography, colourful felt-tip smears, and imagery from the paintings of Ernst and Magritte. His background reflects this diversity. Born in London in 1952, David Alexander Anderson studied at the Bath Academy of Art from 1970 to 1973, spent time in Scotland on puppet theatre projects, and also worked as a freelance photographer. In 1977 he enrolled at the National Film School, training as a cameraman and director; his student work climaxed in the fourteen-minute Dream Land Express, completed in 1982.

The most benign of Anderson's films, Dream Land Express takes its inspiration from a children's book of 1927 by the illustrator H. R. Millar. In the original, three boys share dream adventures aboard a fantasy train before waking safely in bed. Typically, in Anderson's version there is no return to safety: at the end, still dreaming, the boy hero faces the glinting firmament alone, frozen in existential wonder. Later work strengthened Anderson's command of his complex technical resources. Dreamless Sleep (1986), made for the Channel 4 series Sweet Disaster, spent ten wordless minutes subtly conveying a couple's fear in the face of an incoming nuclear blast. In the same year he worked alongside Aardman Animations and the Brothers Quay animating the seminal music video Sledgehammer (Stephen Johnson, 1986), winner of nine MTV awards.

Anderson secured his own bread-and-butter assignments when he joined the Redwing Film Company, producing successful commercials for the Royal Bank of Scotland, Mastercard, and Eurostar, among other clients. The company also backed his personal projects Deadsy (1989) and Door (1990), two extraordinary and commanding films produced in conjunction with the author Russell Hoban, presented on television and video under the umbrella title Deadtime Stories for Big Folk. Hoban's soundtrack commentaries, written in the corrupted urban language of his futuristic novel Riddley Walker, inspired the boldest use yet of Anderson's dream imagery and mixed-media methods. Deadsy, five minutes long, fuses the lure of violence, power, and sexual desire in the spectacle of the Grim Reaper acquiring additional weaponry after undergoing a sex change. The film's surface mood is jocular, but its implications are alarmingly black. The six-minute Door, by turns comic and scary, documents activities in a floating globe filled with doors, keys, and a bickering couple whose actions appear to lead to what Hoban's narrator calls "the end of snivvelyzashuns".

Along with Deadsy, the cryptic apocalyptic warning of Door won numerous awards. His next film In the Time of Angels (1994), a gentler fable about a woman able to undo her fate by reversing time, met with less exposure. Anderson's eminence as a stop-motion animator and latter-day Surrealist later led to a visiting professorship at Harvard University, but in the decade since In the Time of Angels it has not eased the business of turning projects into completed films.

Deadtime Stories for Big Folk (TV doc, d. David Jeffcoat, 1990, included on the Connoisseur/BFI video David Anderson: Works on Film)

Geoff Brown, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors

More information


From the BFI's filmographic database

Related media

Selected credits

Related collections

Related people and organisations