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Williams, Richard (1933-)

Director, Producer, Animator

Main image of Williams, Richard (1933-)

Richard Williams was born in Toronto on 19 March 1933, but has spent most of his professional life in the United Kingdom. Though best known for his work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit (US, d. Robert Zemeckis, 1988), Williams has a considerable portfolio of work, and his publication, The Animator's Survival Kit, is essential reading for anyone seriously interested in animation. One only need watch the opening 'Maroon Cartoon', Somethin's Cookin', at the opening of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, supposedly made in 1947, to see how Williams has lived through, absorbed and perpetuated the finest traditions in cartoon history.

Williams began his career work with Yellow Submarine (1968) director George Dunning, and then worked in the expanding television commercials industry. His first film, The Little Island (1958), a philosophical treatise playing out the obsessional imperatives of 'beauty', 'truth' and 'goodness' as competing monsters, indicated his interest in the compulsive side of the human spirit. The film's success enabled him to establish his own studio, which attracted many animators keen to embrace Williams' perfectionist approach. Later, he was to engage Disney veterans Art Babbitt, who developed 'Goofy' and worked on the 'Mushroom Dance' in Fantasia (1940), and Milt Kahl, animator of Shere Khan in The Jungle Book (1967), to train young animators at his studio.

In the 1960s Williams continued to balance his commercial work - notably a series of advertisements for Truman Bitter - with personal films like Love Me, Love ME (1962) and A Lecture on Man (1962), but he effectively combined the two in the extraordinary animated titles and bridging sequences for Tony Richardson's The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968). Drawing upon satirical cartoons from Punch, and an older tradition of caricature stretching back to Hogarth, Gillray and Rowlandson, Williams enhanced the tenor of Charles Wood's script, which both celebrates and mocks Victorian achievements and values. Williams' other notable title sequences include What's New, Pussycat? (US, d. Clive Donner, 1965), Casino Royale (d. Val Guest/Joseph McGrath/Ken Hughes/John Huston/Robert Parrish, 1967), and most famously, The Return of the Pink Panther (US, d. Blake Edwards, 1974).

In 1966 Williams illustrated The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasruddin (d. Jonathan Cape, 1966), a collection of Sufi folk-tales about the wise fool, Mulla Nasruddin, and he determined to turn the stories into a feature film. Despite Oscar-winning success with A Christmas Carol (1970), The Thief and the Cobbler, as the Nasruddin film became known, suffered several false starts, including an elaborate test sequence funded by Saudi Prince Mohammed Feisal, which was widely admired but considered too costly. Williams won an Emmy for Best Animated Programme with Ziggy's Gift, made for American television in 1981, and, along with the work he had done for The Thief, this led Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis to commission him to work on their adaptation of Gary K. Wolf's underground classic, Who Censored Roger Rabbit? Williams resolved the issues around the interface between live action and animation, won an Oscar, and further extended his reputation as a consummate artist, but the costs and delays in the project did not win him the anticipated support he needed for The Thief and the Cobbler. Warner Bros. retreated from a potential deal in the light of Disney's forthcoming release of the similarly themed Aladdin (1992), and when the film finally emerged as The Princess and the Cobbler (1994), it was a cut completed by television animator and producer, Fred Calvert, after Williams lost the rights to the film. Miramax purchased and released another bowdlerised and hugely re-cut version of the film, entitled Arabian Knight (1995). Williams' masterpiece remains unseen, but its presence remains legendary, exerting influences upon generations of animators who worked on it.

Canemaker, J, The Animated Raggedy Ann and Andy - An Intimate Look at The Art of Animation (Indianapolis and New York: Bobbs-Merill, 1977)
Grant, J, Encyclopaedia of Walt Disney's Animated Characters (New York: Hyperion, 1993) pp. 318-325
Grant, J, Masters of Animation (London: Batsford, 2001), pp. 197-203
Ohmer, S, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?: The Presence of the Past', in J. Canemaker (ed), Storytelling in Animation (Los Angeles: AFI, 1988), pp. 97-104
Williams, Richard, The Animator's Survival Kit (London and New York: Faber & Faber, 2001)

Paul Wells, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors

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