Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Another Interview

From the latest BAFTA members magazine.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Interview with Dick Williams

Fellow animator Andrew Gordon and I just did an interview with Dick. Here is a link to the Spline Cast: (LINK).
During the interview Dick shared anecdotes, some of his views on animation and talked about his new DVD set (LINK).

I enjoyed the talk with him very much. Before the interview he was kind enough to pose for a photo with me.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Thief DVD poll

Andreas mentioned in his last post that we will take a break from posting for a few months. If any of our former Thief co-workers would like to do a guest post let me know. Just send email to thiefcobbler at yahoo dot com. I don't check that email account too often, so maybe leave a quick reminder in the comment section as well.

Many of you have been digging already into the archive. This is an opportunity to catch up on older posts. Some of the most interesting posts were posted months ago, so why not start at the beginning and read them all? Also check the TIPS FOR NEW READERS in the side bar.

Now, my apologies to the 23 people who already voted in the DVD poll. I want to simplify the poll, so please vote again in the new poll box on the right. Here is the long version:
A lot of us wish for an official DVD release with all the Williams footage of the THIEF. It would be good to know how many people would buy such a DVD. Please vote for one of these 2 options:

1. Yes, I would buy such a DVD, but only if the film gets properly finished.
2. Yes, a high quality version of the workprint, with storyboards. Plus documentaries etc.

I will vote for No. 2, because that could happen immediately. There is more than 1 hour of finished Williams animation footage, not counting the storyboards. Finishing the film would be a whole different story and who knows when that might happen. Would it be possible to re-assemble a crew that would be able to finish it on the same quality level? Would it make sense to spend the money necessary to get that whole machine rolling again? We have discussed this before, but please comment if you have strong opinions one way or another.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Thief DVD petition

I just saw and signed this online petition (LINK) for an official Thief DVD (via ASIFA page).
The main thing is that by signing you are saying that this would be a DVD that you would be interested in buying. It's asking for the film to be finished. Personally I would be happy to get something along the lines of what petition signer 84 or 85 wrote: "... Release a Special Collector’s Edition DVD of the Workprint version; fully uncut and unedited; in widescreen; with digitally restored and remastered picture and audio; extra features like a special introduction to the DVD by Richard Williams himself; audio commentary by Richard Williams; early artwork, drawings and pencil tests; all the BBC documentaries about the film; an all-new documentary about the film’s troubled history, Richard’s other film’s, “ The Little Island” “Love Me Love Me Love Me” etc courtesy of him; and other extras to make the DVD worthy of the name, “Special Collector’s Edition”.

Update: I added our own poll on the right.
If there would be an official DVD using only Williams footage, would you buy it?
1. Yes
2. Yes, but only if the film is properly finished.
3. Yes, a high quality version of the workprint, with storyboards. Plus documentaries etc.
4. No. The way it's released right now is good enough for me.
5. No, I'm not interested.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Random Thoughts

Before we take a break from posting, I thought I'd post some random ramblings and images.
I have now been in the animation industry for 18 years and i can honestly say that none of this may have ever happened without Dick Williams and 'the Thief'. When Dick took us four Germans on, we had very limited experience. Holger and Dietmar had studied animation in college and Michael and I were entirely self taught. It takes people like Dick Williams to see the potential and most of all, be willing to take a chance. We all worked very, very hard on the movie and I think, our work ethic today is firmly rooted in what we learned in those first 2 years.
My very first assignment were inbetweens for Neil Boyle, a scene where the Thief walks on stilts while arrows whiz all around him. Was I lucky to work with someone so patient and knowledgeable right at the start. He sent me back several times to redo what I thought were perfectly fine inbetweens, my eye not trained yet to see the slight imperfections, changes in angles and volumes, but after redoing the drawings a few times and thinking all the time that I'd be fired by the end of the week, I got it. Thanks, Neil.
This industry really lives on through artists who are willing to share what they know and mentor. I have worked with good and ,well, not so great mentors over the years.The best, I found, were the ones to freely point out one's mistakes without putting you down, to inspire you to try your own ideas. Dick Williams is certainly someone who always put the work in front of ego, and I think thats what inspired the fierce loyalty we all felt on the picture.Eric Goldberg is another example of the ideal mentor, freakishly talented enough to warrant star behaviour, yet never displaying any, instead freely sharing his paraphrase Dolli Levy...knowledge is, pardon the expression, like manure. its no good unless its shared and allows young things to grow. While no young thing anymore myself, I will always be deeply grateful to Dick Williams for giving us the initial chance to enter this crazy business.

A crowd scene featuring a guest appearance by Barbra Streisand. I think, Gary Dunn did a few characters too. When we showed the scene to Dick, we glowed with pride when he said: Well done! There was no w@nking around on this.

One of Dick's pet peeves. He thought, we shouldn't listen to music while working. We did, anyway. We couldn't all bring in a trumpet to play out loud.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Interview links

I was finally able to listen to the Dick Williams Ottawa Radio interview:
(Thanks David Nethery!)

Tom Sito about Eric Goldberg (LINK)
Dick Williams (2002) (LINK)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Thief climbs up Witch Mountain, Part 5

This is the concluding post for the climbing scenes in sequence 10.3. I will pick it up sometime soon with the remaining scenes of the sequence, which I also worked on, where the Thief is flying.

This scene was not based on anything Ken had done and it didn't have a scene number. It had a name: Hunter. 9-04 feet. I worked on it from June 13 to 16, 1991.
Dick did 2 or 3 drawings, which meant that this scene was pretty much done. Recently I listened to part 1 of Eric Goldberg's interview on Animation Podcast (LINK). He did a very good impression of Ken Harris, with Ken being all modest about his animation and saying that Dick did all the drawing work. Dick had the highest regard for Ken's abilities. It was a pretty unique working relationship with Dick as Ken's boss and student at the same time. He did poses for him before Ken started his scenes and refined the animation after Ken was done.

seq. 10.3/ sc.9x, by Dick/Ken

seq. 10.3/ sc.10x, by Dick/Ken, redo coat by Holger
These scenes had been finished in color and had been on film for years. It's an hommage to Bill Tytla's work with the Devil from Fantasia, even using the same music. I always loved this part of the film and was thrilled that I could be involved a little when I was assigned to add wind animation to the coat, as an overlay to the original cels. It's also interesting how much Dick sometimes disregarded continuity, more thinking about what was right for the scene. If it would work and nobody noticed it was good. Do I care that the palm trees from the previous scenes disappeared, or that the angles of the rock changed? No, I don't. I like the hightened drama that Dick created by these choices.
I remember some Ken linetests that Dick decided not to use, where the Thief is elaborately sticking the palm leaves into his coat sleaves. I think all that had been part of sc. 5x.

I also got to do this longshot, which hooks up directly to the next scene 11x, where the Thief is flapping his wings, trying to fly, but I save that and the following scenes for another post. I think we need to post else for a while. All the recent images use the same set of colors and maybe you had to look closely to realize that this was a new post.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Michael Sporn writes about the MoMA event. (LINK)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thief climbs up Witch Mountain, Part 4

In my notes I found that Roger Waters was at the studio on one day while I was working on these scenes. I remember peeking over the desks when he was talking to Dick. I think they were discussing him doing some music for the film, but that never happened. Paul McCartney and George Martin were also visiting at another time, talking about writing the music, but that also fell through.

seq.10.3/sc.2x, 26-02 feet, I worked on it May 13 - 31, 1991Here is a rough sketch Dick did for this scene while he was explaining to me what he wanted. Most of this scene was based on Ken's work, but Dick asked me to add some business with the Thief feeling dizzy after getting up and almost falling off. Dick wanted to know the German translation for the word "dizzy". I wrote it down for him in the top right corner: "schwindelig".I also did the BG layout drawing, referencing an Errol BG for 10.3/5x (see below), the hand just at a slightly different angle. I think Margaret Grieve animated the palm leaves moving in the wind. On this scene and on the scenes that followed Hilary Denny, who assisted me on this sequence animated the flies. I was really happy about this as it allowed me to start on another scene instead of going back in to work on flies. Up to that point I had not only animated flies for my own scenes, but also for a lot of Dick's scenes. I think Hilary adopted my color coded method (see Sept. 5 post). Dick and Neil used another approach when they animated flies. They did them all at once in graphite and they didn't worry too much about following through on the individual flies as long as the overall shape was moving properly. We all used the tip of the heart shape to help with the direction they were flying in.

seq.10.3/sc.3x, 4-05 feet, I worked on this June 1 and 3, 1991These were pretty much just 3 keys with lots of inbetweens. Apparently I did the layout, too. I probably just xeroxed the Ruby Idol from another scene.

I'm not sure about the scene number for this one. I think I did a drawing of the Thief for a held cel.
In connection with this sequence I have from an earlier post:
"Roy later told me about times when Ken Harris was about to arrive for his seasonal stay in London and having been busy on commercials Dick sometimes had not prepared any work for him. In a hurry they would whip out BG and character layouts for the Thief character. Dick would just say "Let's make him climb up the mountain..." and that would keep Ken busy for a while." (see also this LINK)

seq.10.3/sc5x Redo 23-10 feet
This scene was considered a redo which meant that the footage could not be counted towards our weekly studio quota as it had been counted already. This reminds me of our production coordinator Ian Cook and how he would come by every week and ask "What is your footage?". This might only mean to my former colleagues, but the way he said this every week was funny. Ian has a very dry sense of humor. Dick had done this scene years earlier working over Ken's roughs and it had been painted and filmed, but now Dick wanted wind moving through the coat. So I took his drawings and animated the coat as overlays that were carefully matched to the existing cels.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hans Bacher returns...

Without him we wouldn't have worked on the Thief. I missed his blogs in recent months and just discovered he is using WordPress now:


Thief climbs up Witch Mountain, Part 3

This is a drawing Dick did for scene 4x:This drawing is from scene 5x:

TB means trace back. His feet in this case did not move, for a while at least. I couldn't put them on a held cel because his leg had to move, so for the linetest I roughly traced them for each drawing from drawing 143, probably in green. TB 143 told the tracer to trace back the foot for each cel to drawing 143, but he had to do it with much more care. Later in the scene there were indications drawn in red pencil: Match BG. Parts of the Thief were going behind the rock in shape of a thumb. Here the tracer had to first trace himself a master match line from the final background and then trace a self ink line in the color of the coat on each cel, "matching" it to the BG. The color red was always reserved for this, so that T&P would know right away what to do.
There were a lot of rules like this. Over the years Dick had streamlined the processes used in his studio to ensure good product.
This drawing appears to be an inbetween by the way. Keys had the drawing number circled and usually a chart on them. Looking at this drawing reminds me of Dick once said about the Thief style. Animation drawings and linetests often look best in the rough stage and sometimes lose a bit of appeal at every stage until they reach final color, while the Thief scenes tended to look best once they were painted. Maybe some of that's due to the 2 dimensional style. The Thief's coat also reads much better as a shape once it's painted. Dick often would shade in the coat on the animation drawings to aid a better read of shape as opposed to lines.

In an earlier post there is an image comparison illustrating the evolution from rough to final. The example is a bit extreme because in many scenes Ken's version was closer to what ended up on screen, but it shows the general trend of scenes improving in final. Click LINK

Friday, September 12, 2008

Richard Williams in Conversation with John Canemaker

MoMA, New York
Monday, September 22, 2008, 7:00 p.m

Click this LINK


Our blog is on Alltop.
Click this LINK

Friday, September 5, 2008

Thief climbs up Witch Mountain, Part 2

For the BG layouts for these scenes I had to look more and more at my own hands as I didn't have direct Errol reference for the required hand shapes. I just tried to draw the knuckles and finger shapes in Errol's style. As mentioned in the last post all these scenes just came with minimal indications of a general rock outline, just enough for a rough linetest.
Scene 5x never made it into the released version, but it's in the Recobbled Cut. Scene 7x was cropped for the released version and in his Recobbled Cut Garrett Gilchrist composited added image information on the sides, from a copy of the work print I guess.

seq.10.1/sc.5x, 10-08 feet, finished on April 14, 1991
seq.10.1/sc.6x, 10-11 feet, finished on April 24, 1991
seq.10.1/sc.7x, 13-01 feet, finished on May 1, 1991
The approach for reworking Ken's Thief was similar to what I described in the last post for sc. 4x. The kicking action for the Thief in sc. 7x was fun to do, a bit different than Ken had it. I did the feet on ones as partial drawings because there was a lot of favoring in the spacing, overlap on the feet and arcs to consider. Hilary Denny who was assisting on these scenes would finish the inbetweens of the head, torso, upper arms and hands according to the charts. When things were moving I would work on 2s, in slow parts on 4s, trying not to leave more than 3 inbetweens between my drawings. Once all the drawings were done I would go back in and animate the drapery straight ahead on twos and give it back to her to finish. Once everything was on ones and approved by Dick I would animate the flies straight ahead on ones, like a flipbook. I used a pegbar with high pegs and could put 16 drawings on there. I color coded the flies and worked in groups of 5, doing maybe 4 passes to get up to 20 or so. I delivered my scenes clean up on ones. The drawings were hand traced onto cel. They could have rough lines from color erase pencil underneath, usually rubbed down a bit as long as there was a clear black pencil line that could be traced. The tracing would reflect each drawing exactly. The tracers worked unbelievable accurate. So on one hand you have more freedom in your work flow. It was OK to have the inbetweened part of the drawings slightly lighter, possibly just pencil and other parts darker with color underneath were I roughed out the feet and the drapery in maybe more than one pass, leaving rubbed down traces of the other attempts. Clean up for digital painting is much more unforgiving in this. On the other hand our drawings were the final statement for the animation. Any wobble, inconsistencies in volume or being slightly off model would show up on screen. The animator had that responsibility and that was not a bad thing...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Thief climbs up Witch Mountain, Part 1

I'm always very happy when some of my former Thief colleagues write here on the blog about their work on the film. I can't think of anything else to write about at the moment, so I thought I might as well write a bit about some scenes that I worked on. I recently found some notes I took at the time to keep tabs of the work I was doing. The scene number for this scene was seq10.1/sc.4x, the scene length 10 feet and 14 frames and I started working on it on March 20, 1991. The scene starts close on the Thief and then pulls back to reveal the Ruby Idol in the distance. I worked over Ken's original animation. Dick wanted the proportions much different, less cartoony, smaller head etc. It still is very much like Ken's animation and I feel I mainly contributed effects, animating his coat and sleaves flapping in the wind, the rope and the flies. I think I did the first bits of gravel that he kicks of and Lynette Charters animated the rest. These scenes usually also required some retiming and respacing. The first 2 days I spent drawing the BG layout. Before I started there was only a simple outline to indicate where the mountain was. Dick gave me some of Errol's BGs as reference for how he wanted the hands drawn. The drawing for the Ruby Idol he did himself. I think he did that for all the other scenes with the Ruby Idol as well. It's a caricature of actor Sydney Greenstreet.
I always enjoyed it when I was asked to draw my own layouts, a privilege really. Dick liked us to be involved in as many aspects of our scenes as possible, encouraging us to make them our own and feel responsible for them. For most scenes he liked to do several key clean-ups to keep the style consistent and the drawings on model. It also gave each scene his personal flavor, in the way that a Milt Kahl scene for example is recognizable by his drawing style. Dicks drawing choices were pretty unique and he always came up with the nicest shapes. Maybe this resulted sometimes in a reduced sense of ownership for us and the drawing of our own layouts was intended to make up a little for this. I didn't draw any of the bushes by the way. I think that was all Inga Davelouse who painted the BGs for this sequence.
When I started this scene I had been averaging 8 feet a week for a few months, which usually put me pretty high on the "footage chart". This was a board that Ian Cook the production coordinator kept up to date. It showed how much footage was counted every week for each animator. Counted meant footage that was reported as done in the weekly report to Warner Brothers. In the case of this scene for example half of the scene was counted already on the first day (Friday) I started animating it. These decisions were usually made by Dick in the (click:) ROUTE SHEET MEETING.
In addition to fulfilling his directorial duties Dick also was the studio's most productive animator. Mostly it was him or Neil at the top of the footage chart. At route sheet meetings Dick often made a big deal out of announcing the "footage king" for the week. On the few occasions when I had that honor I felt a mixture of pleasure and embarrassment. Embarrassment because I felt that the scenes I worked on were so much easier to do than many of the ones that other animators worked on and it felt a bit manipulative and not really fair. However I worked hard to maintain my footage average, between 60 and 77 hours per week.
Reading what I just wrote I would have to add that what motivated me even more to work hard was the desire to get as many good scenes with the Thief as possible before work on the film would be completed.

More to come...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The other cover and...

I'm posting this as an addition to Dietmar's last 2 posts. This is the other cover for the brochure. I still love this for the title of the film.This is the cover for VHS copies of the documentary that has been mentioned often in earlier posts. They were sent out to promote the studio and the Thief.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The other glorious brochure - part 2

Finally weekend again and I just can feel it! The aficionados of "The Thief and the Cobbler" want pictures and not words.

So here is the other half of last weeks blog - pages 10-18. Little note of interest: As Holger posted in his comment to last weeks blog, there is also a coversheet with the title "The Thief and the Cobbler". And as you see here just below, that title was not so skillfully taped over with the words "Once" inside the brochure.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The other glorious Brochure - Part 1

This high-gloss brochure must have been printed around 1984, at least that is what the copyright says and given that it sports a 1988 release date, this seems somewhat right.
Dick had a few leftover brochures in Royal Colledge Street 138 and recognising a true fan of his work, it wasn't hard to persuade him to let me have one.
Front and back are covered by an extra clear sheet of cel and between those are 18 pages in luxurious A 3 color print with photos, credits and stills.

The first 9 pages are presented this week, with the last 9 pages to follow in 7 days. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 31, 2008


I just came across these 7o's Williams Studio notes on Michael Hirsh's website:
Click here.

Dig far enough for the 2 pdf files!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Tony Palermo

If you have seen the Recobbled Cut and looked at the slow motion scene of the Dying Messenger on the horse you might have also seen this scene:Like Tash's slow motion scene this one is also part of King Nod's dream. If I remember it properly this was the first scene that Tony Palermo animated on the Thief. I think previously he assisted Brent Odell on scenes with technical effects, like the scene of the falling tower in the War Machine sequence where the camera rotates sideways.I was impressed by Tony's work here, the timing and spacing of the swords and the organic feel of the blood. It's quite different from what he had done previously and I was glad that Dick gave him a shot to animate his own scene.Here is a photo of Tony Palermo with his desk neighbour Emanuela Cozzi.I didn't remember what else Tony animated on the film, but I consulted with Dietmar who remembers these 2 scenes:

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dying Messenger, Part 2

Here is part 2 of the interview with Tash. This is the 2nd Dying Messenger scene. It's animated in slow motion to suggest that it's part of King Nod's dream.Holger:
I remember seeing this second scene of yours at the linetester, at normal speed initially. It might have been one of the times where Dick liked a test so much that he called everybody over to check it out. I remember Dick telling you to just throw tons of inbetweens in there to create the slow-motion. Did that work out or did you have to adjust things a bit?

I had to adjust things and I knew that would be the case when I started out. There are always a lot of small, wonderful things that happen that the eye misses in normal speed. Animation on twos naturally glosses over a lot for fluidity; if you want to incorporate some of them, you ought to switch to ones. When you go deeper into fractions of seconds, you find more. Think about all the slow motion live action scenes you have seen. At the time I had in mind some slow motion horse racing scenes from a film with a boy and a horse; I believe it was The Black Stallion.
When the scene reached its ideal slo-mo look, Mr. Williams wanted one more set of inbetweens packed in- to make the whole thing on ones. Slow though it was, Mr. Williams still wanted animation on ones. The hairline inbetweens were indeed carried out. (This scene) was actually assisted by someone else (not Sharon), a girl who came just before I left; I believe she was from Berlin.

On all the scenes I like the overlap on the flag pole and arrows. I remember seeing on some of the drawings faint traces of rubbed down straight versions. Did you animate them rigid on a first pass pose-to-pose, perhaps and then the bending for overlap in a second pass straight-ahead, referencing the rigid version?

I don't remember the details now but I probably would have sketched in the flag in its actual size and shape, taking into account the perspective and all. This would be a precaution against the flag progressively growing, a common trap in flag waves and similar secondary action cloth animation when it is done straight ahead. As for the arrows, they were especially difficult to keep track of because they overlapped a lot in perspective. I kept track of them by giving each a different color.

Did you inherit the BG pan for this 3rd Messenger scene from Babbitt's earlier version?

Inherit I did, but my version was done from scratch.

Did you animate the horse on the spot on the same pegs or did you work locked to the BG, switching pegs every few drawings?

Now this is a scene that doesn't satisfy me that much in its final version: I made the original animation in place and it looked fine. I figured since it is a gallop, the hoof contacts would be so short that it wouldn't be difficult to create a matching pan. What I failed to calculate was perspective- or rather, the absence of it. I have the horse galloping right up to the camera and then away again, seen almost from the back. It would have worked if there was no texture on the ground, or at least something moving in perspective. But the background had to look flat, with these rectangular tiles or whatever they are on the ground. Ironically, this flat oriental style that looks so exotic to Western eyes has always left me, a native of the near orient, cold! I started experimenting by making sketches with patterns of squares in varying sizes, and panning at varying speeds, trying to come up with the ideal combination that would keep the hoof on the spot it landed and not slip. The closer that animal comes, the faster the whole background has to move you see. Then Roy Naisbitt came to me and told me Mr. Williams didn't favor animation "in place" since it meant having the pan locked in, he preferred it done "with the pan" so that he would have the freedom to adjust the pan speed himself. Mr. Naisbitt took my animation and re-pegged it over a compromised background and the result of this re-pegging you can see on screen; the effort to keep the hooves steady has resulted in some jitter and some loss of fluidity.

Let's talk about the scenes in the Throne Room. Did you work on the reflections at all (maybe just on some key poses?) or did you leave that completely to Sharon, perhaps?Tash:
Well, after the (first) scene was done, I was told the whole scene was to be played on a polished floor, and the reflections would have to be put in. I remember suggesting putting a carpet under the horse and rider to hide the hoof and foot contacts; then it would have been a simple matter to flip the drawings and the illusion would be fine. However, Mr. Williams did not want to go for that solution. It was to be polished floor all the way through!
This meant drawing the underside of the horse and all, or else the foot and hoof contacts wouldn't work- not to mention the full body contact when the horse collapses! This was one place in this no-perspective film where we couldn't evade the demands of the law of perspective! I started working on it- it was just before I left- and I believe Sharon was to take over and continue, but when I saw the finished version of the scene, surprise surprise... the carpet! So I figured maybe they did just flip the drawings after all!

I really like these closer scenes with dialogue. Together with the first 2 scenes these are my favourites. It would be nice if you could tell me about your work on them.
These scenes were my only real lip-synch scenes on the film; pity, because I enjoy lip-synch. I get a kick out of seeing my drawings actually talk! The messenger only grunts and moans in the other scenes, here I actually got to animate him saying something. Again, as in the other scenes, the challenge was to make a very slow-paced scene interesting. If you listen to the track alone, it's depressing. Again the solution was to enrich the slow pace with a string of small details, hopefully interesting in themselves. I do regret putting in a stagger though, I did that because Mr. Williams did it in a lot of his scenes, and I thought I would take a page from his book, this being his movie after all! But in general I am satisfied with the scene, his weight when he falls forward and catches himself with his arm, the overlapping bits of his headgear. the discs on his costume that help give him volume, his suffering puppy-dog expression- these were all fun stuff to work with and if not actually fun to watch (he is dying after all!) I hope at least interesting to the viewer!
I much appreciate you taking the time for this Tash. Thank you!

You're welcome! Did Sahin also contribute to your blog? His story is most interesting! He had a difficult time having his own genius (I am using the word in all seriousness) accepted and appreciated by Mr. Williams, but he eventually held out longer than I.

Tahsin ("Tash")

I also asked Mark Williams about the Dying Messenger scenes. Here is some of what he wrote: "I don't remember too much. It was a while ago. I'm surprised that you have so many details in the blog already. I'm also surprised that other animators remember their shots so well. I think Dean Roberts and Gary Dunn did a lot of the background characters. Tim Watts some of the King and Zig Zag but what exactly I don't know.