Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Jane Wright, Part 1

I have been emailing with Jane Wright. I updated a few of the recent posts with some of the information she gave me. 4/2, 4/4, 4/14
I also pasted parts of her emails into this guest post:

Many amusing stories have been told of Dick's outbursts and I do smile when I hear them, but really, I only ever witnessed the more gracious side to his personality as a director. Working downstairs no doubt helped. After my very first scene (Thief splashing into moat) had been shown in rushes I passed Dick on the stairs later that morning. He was deep in conversation with two or three other VIPs - probably Roy, John L. and Peter (Bond), but as I'd only been at the studio a few weeks I wasn't sure who they all were, only who I was -- nobody. So I shuffled past them all with my head down. I was halfway down the stairs when Dick broke off from his conversation, turned round and said, "Great splash!" before continuing his discourse.

While it's probably true that he knew such comments could make you cancel your plans for the evening, sharpen your pencil and work until midnight instead, it's moments like that which stay with you forever. A lesser director might build you up with a trace of condescension, yet Dick had a way of drawing out the best in many people and making you feel your contribution was much greater than it actually was. That's a rare gift. Whether it was because I was so far down the food chain doing only effects, or whether it was because I was more keen than artistic, or whether it was just beginner's luck I can't say, but it's the highest part of a human being which steps aside and allows a far dimmer light to shine to its brightest potential for a brief moment.

I think I was about 9 years old when the scene was first animated by Ken Harris. I remember well the awe of seeing a dope sheet with the names: Ken/Dick/Jane in the 'animated by' tick box and knowing that the scene had remained boxed up all the way through my school and college years. I guess we've all got memories like that from The Thief....

You might want to track down John Cousen, if you haven't already, he animated all the witch's vapour effects. Graham Bebbington and Lynette Charters were the other two effects animators from the Forum days. Heather Tailby did a scene or two also. Lynette did most of the animation - sand dunes, clouds, etc. - in the opening sequence with the prophecy. And Julie Penman was everyone's hard-working assistant and carried so much of the workload with very little credit. When you have Julie assisting you, your workload is lifted off your back on angels' wings...

The bubbles... (see 4/14/2008 post)
Neil set the style for the outlines for the first 15 feet or so, then handed the sequence over with the brief that they should move more like breasts, adding with an oblique glance, "Those are Dick's words, not mine!"
Not sure I was up to the challenge and thinking this might be more of a bloke's job, I nevertheless finished the rest of the bubble animation, then set about experimenting with the reflections, distorting all those little tiles on the floor.

The bubbles on most of those Thief scenes were animated on three levels with the idea that when shot on different passes, the bubbles behind would still be seen through the bubbles in the foreground. They ended up being painted all on the same level as it would have been too expensive to paint and shoot with three levels, so a lot of that detail and also the depth was lost. After the first scene was approved on twos and I was told to put it on ones I saw at first only the size of the job - I think it was about 80 odd feet - that first scene where the Thief squeezes out of the hole. "He wants it on ones", I moaned when I got back downstairs, "It'll take forever." "Well, you're not going anywhere, are you?" John C. quipped in response. He was right, I wasn't going anywhere - not for a long time! I was of course thrilled when it was actually finished on ones (due in large part to Julie who handled much of the assisting for the sequence and also kept track of all the different levels and who was working on what). The experience taught me not to look at the whole mountain, just the next two or three steps ahead. In proportion to the rest of the film it wasn't a mountain anyway, just a small hillock, but it's still the longest and largest scene I've ever worked on.

The day the studio closed I was in Wales. Lynette called me in the morning with the sad news and I jumped straight into my car. Four or five hours later I was in Camden joining in with the lamentations and farewells of my comrades. Dick's first words to me were "Sorry we couldn't finish your bubbles on three separate levels." I was shocked because nothing was further from my mind. It was really quite humbling because he'd just lost his whole film and I wanted to say something to him that wouldn't sound completely lame, yet he magnanimously drew the attention away from himself and was really there for all of his crew. But then that was how he was on so many occasions that I recall.

I know a man's grace doesn't sell many tabloid newspapers and wouldn't raise a chuckle over a few pints in the pub, but it's a side to Dick that is very real and perhaps gets eclipsed by the more 'colourful' facets of his personality when stories are being told. Because of his kindness, his encouragement and the example he set as a hard worker rather than a delegator, the year and a half I spent working under his direction is right up there as a 'Jim'll Fix It' episode in my life. (Actually, it was John Cousen who fixed it for me to work there, but that's another story...)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Throw in the kitchen

My apologies to my fellow bloggers that I have been away for so long. I shall try and contribute more in the future – but concerning the different scenes I worked on, this will be an interesting undertaking. As you will see in one of my future entries, Dick entrusted me with a scene that would keep me and 3 assistants busy for an entire year.

But for now, I will stick to the time when I finished assisting the scene “Bild” for Brent Odell, where several elephants and war-machinery were lifted up.

I was preparing to assist on the next scene, when already a re-arranging of animators and assistants happened. No sooner had I settled in at “The Forum” at Camden street, that I packed my bags and moved to the legendary “138 Royal College street”. Dick had decided that I might as well go ahead and animate my first very own scene. This was – as it turned out – part of a master plan, where we young and hungry assistants soon became junior animators and the hours that we put in voluntarily would put pressure on the other animators too.

But right now, I was in heaven. I worked in the lair of the master himself, just one floor below and on my own scene. I happily met with Dick, and he presented me with a sketch for “Kettle”:

To the "uninitiated" (me) this looked like a case of “huh?” But as the image below shows, Roy Naisbitt clearly read Dick’s intentions and as usual created a beautiful layout.

Today, in times of computer animation and programs like “Massive”, known from Lord of the Rings, even the armies of the Mighty One-Eye would be laughably small. But in 1990, we only had the mighty “Xerox” and patience on our side. The “2.5-D perspective” of the artwork really was a benefit here, as it meant we (warmachine) animators could cheat perspectives in complicated scenes like these and with all the FX going on and the fast cutting, we could get away with placing and tracing many characters.

When hand-drawing a tray with 40 one-eyes that gets destroyed by a rocket, impaling many soldiers and throwing the others to the abyss over 75 drawings time just flies by..and before you know it, 3 weeks are over….

Monday, April 14, 2008

Second Pipe Sequence and Bathroom

All: pipes by Ken/Raymond

Left: pipes by Ken/Raymond, Thief by Ken/Dick
Middle: pipes by Ken/Raymond
Right: Thief by Ken/Neil, bubbles by Neil/JaneNeil did the first 15 feet or so of the bubbles just to set the style, and then it was handed over to the Effects Dept. where the bubble animation was continued, and reflections were added throughout.
The effects animators also animated the bubbles with reflections for the rest of the sequence.

Left: Yumyum by Tissa David/Neil, not finished under Dick's direction
Middle: Jewel F/X by Mick Burns
Right: Thief by Ken/Neil, bubbles by Jane (reuse of scene above)In the days following the shut down of the production by the Completion Bond Company, Dick suggested to Neil Boyle and John Leatherbarrow that if there was any way they could continue to work on the production they should. Neil and John, joined by Effects Supervisor John Cousen and Color Modelist Barbara McCormack, then set up Premier Films to help finish The Thief and the Cobbler. From a new studio space in London they were able to employ a large number of the artists that had worked under Dick, and worked only on sequences that had already been carefully planned out by Dick with his storyboards, as well as finishing scenes through to trace, paint and shooting that had already been started under Dick's direction.
The Princess scenes for this sequence fall into these categories. In the 70's Tissa David had done scenes with originally 2 Princesses who were sisters. Neil and later in 2 scenes Tim were trying to reference Tissa's original scenes where possible, but because the dialogue had changed, the actress voicing it had changed, and the whole original set up of the scene had changed (i.e. that the original scenes were dialogue between the two Princesses Mee Mee and Yum Yum, but Dick had subsequently cut out Mee Mee from the story) -- that all meant that much of the Princess stuff had to be done anew. But the intention was to try and keep any nice poses or attitudes from Tissa's original drawings where possible, and integrate them into the new Princess design and the new geography of the shots.

Left: Yumyum by Tissa David/Neil, not finished under Dick's direction
Middle: Thief by Ken/Neil, bubbles and reflections by Jane
Right: Yumyum by Tissa David/Neil, Thief by Ken/Neil, not finished under Dick's direction

Left: Yumyum by Tissa David/Tim, Thief by Ken/Tim, not finished under Dick's direction
Middle: Tissa's linetest, originally there were 2 princesses in this scene
Right: Thief by Ken/Neil, bubbles and reflections by Jane

Left: Tissa's linetest
Middle: Yumyum by Tissa David/Tim, not finished under Dick's direction
Right: Thief by Ken/Neil, bubbles by Jane (not reflections) Tim's drawings of Yumyum here are very faithful to Dick's storyboards

Left: Yumyum by Tissa David/Tim, not finished under Dick's direction
Middle: Thief by Ken/Neil, bubbles by Jane (not reflections)
Right: Tissa's linetest
Neil also animated the curtain for the middle scene.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Simon Maddocks Part 1

Simon Maddocks just sent these photos with comments.
(I added a few things). See also his update to our first post "The Opening Scene".

Richard Williams at the 1990 Christmas Party at St. Pancras Way.

Dietmar and Monika Kremer. Michael Schlingmann and Tanya Fenton
138 Royal College Street. Dick owned this building. The Forum was only leased for the duration of the main production. You can just make out that someone has put the word "END" on the door, so this is probably from around the end of the movie production in Camden.
F/X supervisor John Cousen holding a leg by the downstairs line tester in The Forum. I don't know why.
Bill the security guard with his chips.
Margaret Grieve and Dee Morgan.

Tessa Wolpe hands me my redundancy notice on 15th May 1992.

The Checking Department at St. Pancras Way. Atlanta Green on the right.
Sally Burden, who ran Trace And Paint after Maggie Brown left.

The last gathering in the pub after the takeover. Neil Boyle, John Cousen, editor Peter Bond and Paul Dilworth in The Eagle.

Richard Williams in The Eagle. Ian Cook "Films are ephemera"

Guan Chuan Chew ("Chew"). Chew and his wife were the studio accountants.
Sophie Leatherbarrow, F/X animator Lynette Charters and Roy Naisbitt.

Neil Boyle and producer Mo Sutton. Richard Williams and John Leatherbarrow.

Roy Naisbitt

Jim Maguire in front of some of the scenes he looked after as librarian.

Ross Dearsley working on a war machine build scene I think.
Max Berry working on Fido animation, probably assisting or in-betweening for Dave Byers-Brown.
The Forum in Camden, where the animation, production and editorial sections of The Thief were housed in 1990 to 1992, on the first and third floors.
An in-progress drawing from the "Thief On Springs" sequence.
Desks on the first floor of The Forum, with the wall of scene boxes in the background.
A detail of some of the scene box labels.
Tim Watts and Robert Malherbe.

Friday, April 4, 2008

First Pipe Sequence

For my taste this is one of the highlights of the film. Here is another contribution by a trusted source, with a few edits by me:
On most productions the animation of pipes wobbling and clanking would probably have been assigned to the effects department, but for this sequence - where the Thief works his way up the inside of the palace drain system - Dick had Ken Harris work out the various vibrates, accents and stagger timings of the bending pipes, figuring that Ken would milk the situation for all its humor, and be able to inject some of the Thief's personality and timing into the movements of the pipes.

Errol le Cain painted the backgrounds for this sequence, following the layouts that Roy Naisbitt and Dick had designed. As well as painting the background sections of palace wall and the skyline beyond, Errol painted watercolors of each of the pipes setups, which were then scalpeled out and mounted on a cel overlay. This was done so that Errol could apply his distinctive color sense in designing bands of graduated greens and browns which ran along the length of the pipes and suggested, in a graphic way, their roundness. This cut and paste on the mock ups of the pipes almost certainly was done by Roy. (It always seemed to fall to Roy to cut, paste and invisibly join the background artwork!) Color Modelist Barbara McCormack then matched exactly each of these bands of color to equivalent shades of cel paint so that the same effect could be achieved on the final production cels. Inks had to be matched to the cel paints too so that each band of color would butt seamlessly to the next, rather than be separated by an ugly black trace line. I have no idea when Errol did the color setups for the pipes, but I think it was a long time prior to the shots going in to clean up and color. This was not unusual though -- I think that Dick would sometimes get a sequence worths of background paintings done by Errol after Ken had finished his roughs, even though he knew that the clean up and trace/paint on the characters may not be done for some years hence. I guess Dick figured that Errol was unique and he wanted to get him to do as much of the film as he could by producing the backgrounds as soon as they were ready to go. A lot of Ken's Thief rough scenes already had background paintings done for them by Errol. Roy used to fish them out of the archive at 138 so that matchlines could be checked as the scenes went through final animation. Ken did the original rough animation for the pipes sequence probably somewhere between the very late 60s and the mid 70s -- most of the X sheets seemed to fall somewhere between there...

Ken's original pipe animation was cleaned up and detailed by Raymond Guillaumet. Raymond was always cast by Dick on any job that needed extreme precision and technical drawing (Raymond had previously been a diagrammatic animator and a lettering artist, and had designed the fonts and lettered many title sequences for feature films including some of the early James Bond films and the famous 'zero gravity' floating titles to 'Barbarella')

The animation of distant birds in the sky, dust and debris falling from the pipes, and the flies following the Thief's progress up the pipes were animated variously by Dick, Neil, Holger and Dave Cockburn.

The shots of the Thief coming up through the palace toilet were animated by Neil from Ken's roughs. A late addition to these shots was made when Dick decided he wanted the jewelled toilet flusher to turn slightly in the breeze. Dick was always keen to have some sense of air moving through the palace and would often request that hair, veils and drapes sway slightly in the wind. The direct inspiration for this came from the Powell and Pressburger film 'Black Narcissus', where a Himalayan wind flows continuously through the nunnery in which the story takes place.

Left: Thief by Ken/Dick, water by Graham Bebbington
Middle: pipe by Ken/Raymond, Thief by Ken/Dick, water by Jane
Right: pipe by Ken/Raymond, Thief by Ken/Dick, water by Lynette Charters4/21/2008 update by Jane Wright:
"The first one where the Thief reaches a hand up to the pipe while still submerged was Graham's, the one where he struggles up the pipe I did, and the third one (if it's a separate scene) may be Lynette's as she did the other long shot from that sequence."

Left: Alex
Middle: done in LA (?), not under Dick's direction
Right: pipes by Ken/RaymondWhen Dick was forced to fill in the gaps of the movie with storyboards he added a lot of boards with Yumyum, Cobbler and Nanny into this sequence. As far as I can remember it, only the single close up of the Nanny saying "The nice young man is fixing your slippers, my dear" (left image) was completed during the original production, and Alex Williams did it. I don't know if this one shot was picked out as an attempt to nail down the Nanny's design in close up, or for promotional/trailer material, as I don't remember any of the surrounding shots ever going into production (?) The rest of this sequence seemed to remain forever in storyboard form in the original workreels... The other scene (middle image) was done after the shut down of the London production -- at least I don't remember seeing any line tests for it -- but I do remember very clearly that Dick had done very precise (color) storyboards for these scenes, with many of the poses already worked out. There's a slightly snappy timing to how the Nanny reaches that final lovely pose which suggests to me that it was done in LA - just a hunch - but the pose itself is definitely one of Dick's.

All: Ken/Raymond

Left: Ken/Raymond
Middle: Ken/Neil
Right: Dick

Left: Ken/Neil
Middle: Ken/Dick, water by Dave Cockburn
Right: Art/DickFrom what I heard Dick was a bit upset when some scenes were included in Roger Rabbit that were pretty similar to this (the Thief flushing himself down the Toilet) and he refused to be involved with these scenes.

Left: Roy/Raymond
Middle: Ken/ Raymond
Right: Ken/ RaymondFor the scene on the left Roy probably animated a rough miniature version which was then enlarged and the final drawings done by Raymond.
If you watched the new "Horton Hears a Who" movie, there are a few shots in there that look as if they were inspired by these last 7 scenes.

All: Ken/Raymond

Thief by Ken/Dick, pipes by Ken/Raymond, water by RaymondRaymond was a perfectionist and very self critical. I remember he was unhappy that Dick wanted him to animate the water for this scene. He felt his animation of the water was not irregular and random enough. Part of the reason for this was also that Dick was looking for a stylized approach versus a naturalistic one.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


Left: doors by Roy, guards heldcel by Holger (maybe)
Middle and Right (same scene): horses by Juergen Gross, dustbin by Ken/Raymond, Thief by Ken/HolgerThis was one of my first Thief scenes. I worked on it around Christmas 1990. On Christmas Eve, one day after the Christmas party that was depicted in the recent photos, we had a little celebration in the animation department with chocolat muffins and lots of good champagne. This was the only time ever that I did some animation while not being sober. I was working on the overlap of the Thief's sleeves, animating straight ahead. When I later checked I was surprised that the animation had turned out decent. I just had to fix some of the sleeve lengths.
If I remember correctly this was also the day that Judy and Juergen became a couple.

Left: Holger
Middle: dustbin by Ken/Raymond, Thief by Ken/Dick
Right: dustbin by Ken/Raymond, Thief by Ken/DickRoy and Dick had lots of big reference sheets where they collected cut out images from art books about
Persian Miniature painting. I remember one image which was very similar to these BGs. Perfectly black ground with flowers. Even the buildings were very similar.
For the middle scene Dick diverted from the usual fly formula and had some flies land on the Thief's face for a while, switching from animating them straight ahead to tracking them along with the Thief's pose to pose animation.

Left: Holger
Middle: dustbin by Ken/Raymond, Thief by Ken/Dick
Right: dustbin by Ken/Raymond, Thief by Ken/Dick, water by Jane Dick took it a bit literal here with the Persian "Miniature" style. These dustbin drawings were tiny! I was lucky to have 2 very good assistants helping me. Hilary Denny and Tom Matzeit. Doing the keys for this scene was difficult but the inbetweens were hell. I feel like apologizing to Hilary and Tom, but I think they did some of the most accurate inbetweens on the film here. After this Tom became Raymond's favorite assistant. Raymond did the most precise work in the studio and was very particular about inbetweens.

UPDATE 4/21/2008
Jane Wright (formerly Jane Smethurst) sent in updated information:
I also did the splash in the dustbin sequence that is thought to be Raymond's. It was interesting to read that Dick wanted a stylized design rather than naturalistic because he'd changed his mind with the next splash and he wanted a more organic feel. Just as well as it was the first scene I ever animated and I wouldn't have been able to copy Raymond's style if my life depended on it!"

(Holger:) Memory has deceived me before. I remember trying to compliment Raymond on his animation of the water for this scene (the last scene of the April 4 post) and at that point he told me that he wasn't happy with it and that he felt that he had not done it irregular enough. Maybe it was more a case of that Dick liked it the way Raymond had done it, rather than Dick asking beforehand for a more stylized style.

Left: Holger
Middle: Thief by Ken/Dick, water by Jane Smethurst
Right: Thief by Ken/Dick, water by Lynette Charters (now Serembe)

Left: Holger
Right: doors by Roy