Richard Edmund Williams (March 19, 1933 — August 16, 2019) was a prominent Canadian-British artist and animator born in Toronto and one of the most respected who ever lived, famous for his exhaustive, silky smooth, seamless animation and vast knowledge of classical animation techniques he had learned from its innovators and later shared with others interested in learning the medium.
Williams got his start as a commercial illustrator in his teens and later made a couple of independent short films, including The Little Island and Love Me, Love Me, Love Me. He later had the pleasure of meeting and training under veterans from The Golden Age of Animation such as Disney's Nine Old Men, as well as Warner Bros. animator Ken Harris and industry drifter Grim Natwick. Already a skilled draftsman, Williams' animation skills flourished under their guidance. Harris and Natwick would later migrate to his London-based studio.
In the early 1960s, Williams worked at George Dunning's animation studio T.V. Cartoons Ltd. in England, animating television commercials. Shortly thereafter, he started his own studio, Richard Williams Studios, which produced several acclaimed commercials, artistic titles and animated credits openings, including What's New Pussycat? and The Return of the Pink Panther, the latter of which is considered the best of its series.
In 1971, Williams directed an acclaimed, Chuck Jones-produced Animated Adaptation of A Christmas Carol, earning him his first Academy Award. A few years later was his feature directorial debut with Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure, a truly bonkers movie created by a staff consisting both of many of Williams' mentors, including Looney Tunes animator Art Babbit, and future name-animators such as Eric Goldberg and Tom Sito.
Williams had his biggest mainstream success in 1988 as the animation director of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, bringing to life amid live actors over ninety beloved cartoon characters from classic Warner Bros., Disney and MGM shorts and earning him both the Visual Effects Oscar and a Special Achievement Award at the 1989 Oscars.
Throughout his professional career, Williams and a core team of artists worked on a legendarily ambitious project, what was to be not only Williams' masterpiece note but a grand artistic display of the potential of classical animation, what Williams described simply as "the greatest animated film ever made": The Thief and the Cobbler. Williams' studio funneled profits of its many projects to fund bits of the feature, which were all heavily re-re-re-animated over the better part of nearly thirty years from the 60s to the late 80s to ensure their perfection. Tragically, through a combination of time and money problems, the film was never completed as Williams had intended. After receiving funding from Warner Bros. after the success of Roger Rabbit but falling short of their enforced deadline (something Williams had had the luxury of ignoring while working on the film independently), he and his studio were fired from production and the film was hastily completed without them. All of the animation completed by Williams' studio was later compiled by Garrett Gilchrist and released onto the internet as The Recobbled Cut in 2015, awing future generations of animators with a glimpse of Williams' ultimate vision.
After the failure of Thief, Williams' studio closed down and he semi-retired for animation production, largely busying himself with teaching through his acclaimed masterclasses at various animation studios and events. In 2008, he became "artist in residence" at Aardman Animations, where he worked on personal projectsnote and became a fixture who shared ideas and gave tips to younger animators and entertained staff and visitors with a bottomless well of stories from his life and career.
Outside of the films he's created, Willaims' greatest claim to fame is his instructional book "The Animator's Survival Kit," a culmination of the countless tips and tricks he had learned from his experiences and studying under many Golden Age animators of note. Since its publication in 2002, it has become widely used as a reliable reference for both animation schools and animators all skill levels. A 16 DVD set version, featuring clips from his live classes, and a more condensed and affordable iPad app version of the book have both since been released.
In 1999, Williams secretly began work on a new masterpiece project, sardonically titled I Hope I Live To Finish This, a planned series of shorts animated entirely by himself to eventually be linked together into a feature. The first part, Prologue, premiered at Annecy in 2015. That same year, he joined Twitter.
Williams continued to write and draw literally up until the day he died, succumbing to kidney cancer at his home in Bristol on the night of August 16, 2019, at the age of 86. He was survived by his fourth wife, Imogen Sutton, who also produced several of his projects, and six children, including his son Alex, who is also an animator, and his daughter Holly Williams-Brock, a painter.
No relation to Robin Williams, by the way, although he did present Richard with his Special Achievement Oscar for ''Roger Rabbit''. Also not to be confused with Richard Williams, the father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams.
Films he has been involved with include:
- The Wardrobe (1958): a lost cartoon he co-directed
- The Little Island (1958)
- The Apple (1959): credited as a producer
- Love Me, Love Me, Love Me (1962)
- A Lecture on Man (1962)
- The Ever-Changing Motor Car (1965): wrote the screenplay
- What's New Pussycat? (1965): contributed the animated sequences
- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966): animated the Creative Closing Credits
- The Sailor and the Devil (1967): partially lost cartoon he produced
- The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968): contributed the animated sequences
- A Christmas Carol (1971)
- Murder on the Orient Express (1974): contributed the montage prologue
- The Return of the Pink Panther (1975): contributed the animated sequences
- The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976): contributed the animated sequences as well as the Creative Closing Credits
- Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure (1977)
- Superman vs. Nick O'Teen (early 1980's)
- Ziggy's Gift (1982)
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
- The Thief and the Cobbler (1993, 1995)
- Circus Drawings (1965-2010): A short film that Williams based on a series of drawings he made, twelve years after he drew them at a circus in 1953.
- I Hope I Live to Finish This (TBA): A planned series of shorts intended to interlink into a feature film, in top-secret production since 1999. Only first part, Prologue, was released during Williams' lifetime in 2015.
Richard Williams and his works provide examples of:
- Art Evolution: Compare The Little Island from 1958 to his final film Prologue from 2015, just wow!
- Artistic Title: Williams did these for several films, including A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968) and Murder on the Orient Express (1974). He also did two for The Pink Panther films, both of which are considered the best. Even his own film, Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure, had these, which he animated himself.
- Creator Killer: Richard's studio went under following the takeover and failure of Thief with Richard going into hiatus from directing to focus on teaching animation up until his return with Circus Drawings in 2010.
- Creator's Oddball: Ziggy's Gift and Love Me, Love Me are both generally straight forward with their narratives, as appose to the more loose plotlines Richard used in his other cartoons.
- Deranged Animation: Some... nah, ALL of his work is pretty surreal in one way or another.
- Died During Production: His last long-term project, titled I Hope I Live To Finish This, was planned as a series of shorts so that, should the trope come into play before its completion, he'd have something to show for it. It turned out to be a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, as only the first part, Prologue, was released before his death in 2019.
- Doing It for the Art: 28 years making a movie. It's really quite humbling.
- Early Installment Weirdness: His earliest films were made before he was able to get firsthand education from veteran animators, so they feature heavy use of Limited Animation, and bear little resemblance to his future work.
- He Also Did:
- God Does Not Own This World: After Thief was taken away from him, Williams spent the next several years refusing to acknowledge the film or what became of it. There was even a story circulating on the web that Richard once broke down in tears after someone mentioned the movie by name at a panel, and afterwards began hiring security to escort anyone who does so out of the room. He's since opened up more about the film and even praised the Recobbled Cut for attempting to restore the movie to his initial vision; although he admitted to not having watched all of it.
- Missing Episode:
- His first cartoon The Wardrobe appears to have been completely lost to time, as there's no information regarding the short other than Yellow Submarine director George Dunning co-directing it.
- The first six minutes of The Sailor and the Devil has been accounted for thanks to an airing on HBO during the late 80s. However the rest of the short remains missing.
- One for the Money; One for the Art: Agreed to do Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure to get funding for his passion project The Thief and the Cobbler.
- Promoted Fanboy: Not only did he have the pleasure of learning all of his animation techniques from the top animators of The Golden Age of Animation, but managed to get several of them to work for him.
- Public Domain Animation: His short films from 1958 to 1967 fall under this.
- Random Events Plot: Due to his emphasis on quality animation, Richard's directing credits tend to have rather loose narratives with sequences that usually have nothing to with the overall film.
- Shown Their Work: In The Animator's Survival Kit, Williams discussed his vast knowledge of animation techniques from the Golden Age.
- The Twelve Principles of Animation: Knew these and a lot more.