Monday, January 14, 2008

David Byers-Brown, Part 1

I started in animation as a runner for Richard Williams Studio in 13 Soho Square in 1984, I was 24 and a Batchelor of Fine Art from Oxford University. I could tell my peer group of fine art graduates thought I was insane to take such an ignominious position in a company that made television commercials. I felt that the skills of the fine artists I had met were very inferior to those I could see in commercial art, along the lines of what I thought it was about-ability to draw convincing figures from the imagination. I had tried illustrating for the BBC and other clients and was very frustrated that I could not do better drawings without reference. Illustration seemed dead for figurative skills as it had become so photo-mechanical. I wasn't good enough to be a commercial comic strip artist, so the only avenue I could see that would give me lots of practice and a group of people focused the same way towards imaginative figure drawing was drawn animation. I was a pretty good portrait artist, and somewhat like Dick, I had supported myself in Spain drawing portraits on the streets but my cartoon skills were negligible. It took me six months to get a job in a London animation studio, and I had given up when I finally got a response from the Williams Studio, offering me the runner's job for £70 a week.
I was aware of Richard Williams and the Thief from various directions. In 1974, when I was 14, a vulgarian Oscar winning animator called Bob Godfrey had a BBC series called "The Do-It Yourself Animation Show." Dick Williams was a guest on an episode. he brought and flipped a sequence of drawings of a brigand laughing from what was to become the Thief. Godfrey's work and taste were funny, vulgar and low effort. The British culture seems to in some way to mistrust highly developed artistic skills as warped and unnecessary and consequently has newspaper cartoonists who hone the lack of effort involved in their drawings-Bob fit right into this culture. He mostly showed crude drawing and minimal animation for examples, and made it clear that he felt that Dick was insane to work so hard at drawing and animation on air. The show was live, I think, videotape being prohibitively expensive back then, and at one point, Bob was blacking in the edges of the abortionate cut-outs he used for a popular but artistically challenged TV cartoon serial called "Rhubarb and Custard". He turned to Dick on the sofa: "Would you recommend blacking in the edges Dick?" Dick replied;"I wouldn't recommend it to my worst enemy." There was something uncanny about this comment, you couldn't quite believe he could have said it so directly.
I was overawed by the drawings Dick showed that episode. They showed volumetric fingers going over the brigand's face as he stifled a giggle. They were much better drawings than I could do, he was doing hundreds of them, and they really worked in motion. It set a high point in artistic skill that I never forgot and implied a hinterland of work on that sequence which didn't exist. In 1990, when I went to work on the Thief and the Cobbler, he pulled the rubber bands off a cardboard clad sheaf of drawings and there they were, the same drawings-all of the brigands that had ever existed up to that point, bar a few designs. It was like a magic trick-he'd probably worked up the drawings specifically to take to that show. The underlying animation was clearly copied off from a dupe of the wicked queen's henchmen in Disney's Sleeping Beauty. Someone told me this, I checked and it's true.

1 comment:

Andreas said...

Hi David,
nice to see you posting. i remember a scene you did of zigZag, the one-eye pullback. the drawings were teeny tiny and you had left a few surprises in the his head turning into something else.This went all the way to color and Dick only noticed it when the scene was shot.I was the lucky fella who got to change those heads back to ZigZag and I'm amazed I could sharpen the pencil enough to draw at that size. since the camera started close and pulled back, these tiny heads had to be very precise and not wobble.speaking of sharp pencils, i still have a few 'tattoos' from them. i had the bad habit of trying to catch falling pencils with my thighs...ouch