Richard Williams: the Prologue

I was about to post something on my own animation and noticed that Richard Williams is promoting the beginning of his private animated epic that I assume remains inspired by the story of Lysistrata. The Premiere was a few days’ ago in the US at the Telluride festival and is due soon at a cinema in LA to qualify for Oscar nomination.

Here is the link:

and a copy of the Poster:

Screen shot 2015-09-20 at 17.45.31

I understand that the Prologue shows an encounter between a Spartan and an Athenian and is seen through the eyes of a small girl. More than that, I do not know, but it is exciting. The publicity arouses discussion about the THIEF and inevitably there are comments, much overplayed in PERSISTENCE OF VISION about it never being finished, which is unfair. The reason it was never finished is that Warners lost confidence. Williams believes this is because they were screened a version of the film with one vital reel missing, so the story made little sense to them and after that, it only took a bit of nudging. Equally, we know that there were many hangers-on who wanted to take the film in different directions, and wanted a more conventional Disney-approach with songs (which of course they got when the film was recut as “Arabian Knight”.) Also, it is true that Williams was involved in a couple of projects (like RAGGEDY ANN) that ran into trouble, but my view is that he clung on while others would have abandoned ship long before. I think Williams has tenacity and he certainly has talent and technique.

Meanwhile, here are links to previous posts on Richard Williams from animate-tim:

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Richard Williams rightly deserves all the adulation he gets from animators. Sadly, the general public is less aware of his significance, though most have seen and admired his work in “Roger Rabbit” and all of us have seen the effect he had on the industry. Anyway, I am always amazed by Williams’ generosity. It was clear when he was presenting his cut of “the Thief” a few months’ back.

When I was a schoolboy, and later when I was at university, he gave up his time, had me visit the studio and talked for hours to me about the process of animation. On that second visit, he took me to a restaurant where I remember eating a plate of smoked salmon and otherwise hanging on his every word, none of which I have forgotten. “I think in colour” was the most amazing statement. I envy that. I think in lines, not colour at all, and I think I struggle with colour. I wrote an article based on what he said which was printed in an oxford magazine.

wilson article 1 wilson article 2

Afterwards, I had time to kill before getting a bus back to Oxford and I went to see a show called “Another Country”. Within a year, I was doing front covers for Amber Lane Press which printed the text of the play. (Here are some of them together with the programmes for Another Country)

jj farr when she danced

colin firth 2 Daniel_Day_Lewis 2 rupert 2

I vividly remember Rupert Everett and Kenneth Branagh, and later went back to see their understudies, Daniel Day Lewis and Colin Firth. Day Lewis was the godson of a lady who lived in my house and sat in my room with the poodle chatting about the past. I lived in a converted conservatory: there was a swimming pool at the bottom of the garden.

It had only been a year or so since Mrs Thatcher had announced the identity of Anthony Blunt in the Commons as one of the Cambridge Spy ring. What had not been emphasised I suppose was the fact that most of the spys were gay and had been to the better Public schools. “Another Country” picked up these themes, of treason, homosexuality and espionage in the mid 1930s. The play began in Greenwich and transferred after stunning reviews there to a 19-month run at the Queens in the West End, almost unheard of for a straight play both then and now. Years later, I directed my own production of “Another Country” and Sam Buntrock, now an established theatre director in his own right, played Judd.


All the screams on the page above are copies of Richard Williams’ sensational “Christmas Carol” which I was watching while I was without a computer for the last few days: I have to draw a screaming face for a new student film, “Wasteword” directed by Andrea Niada. As ever, Williams has already done it, and done it better than I could ever imagine doing. I have been sent lots of Roger Bacon paintings as reference.

Ah, here is a link to a youtube upload of Errol le Cain’s film “the sailor and the devil” Simply tremendous to see it after all these years. I was amazed to find Errol le Cain was working for Williams: two of my heroes in the same place. More on Errol le Cain later I think….

Nasruddin was the figure in the Richard Williams film  that I discovered in the early 70s. The film changed completely when it became the “Thief and the Cobbler” and the Nasruddin character disappeared. There are various stories about why this happened. Last Sunday Williams simply said that the original story and the original character did not work. Nasruddin, however, is still visible in a crowd scene riding on his donkey (which he ridesbackwards)… here are some drawings of statues in Turkey- one faintly comic and the other more respectful. He was a real character but he used humour and his stories are laced with unexpected incident and comment. however, Nasruddin turns up in Turkish legend as Nasreddin Hoja and then again in Albanian as Nastrudin Hoxha. I don’t know whether it is more appropriate to see Nasrudin as Turkish or Iranian: the oldest manuscript from 1571 suggests he was Turkish or active in Turkey. When we made the first version of “A torture Cartoon”, it made sense to add a version of Nasruddin because Necati is Turkish

and then later when we did “how to be Boss” we did a new design and told one of the many Nasruddin stories. You can find the sequence at about 2.39: “Have you told your wife who is boss in your own house? Don’t worry. She knows!”

There is a Pappas illustrated edition of stories which I would love to see. Otherwise, the best editions are those illustrated by Williams himself and the spectacular Errol le Cain


  • The Subtleties of the Inimitable Mulla Nasreddin, by Idries Shah, illustrated by Richard Williams.


  • The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasreddin, by Idries Shah, illustrated by Richard Williams and Errol Le Cain

Here is a link to the “what is bread?” section in what is left of the Williams film with Kenneth Williams’ voice:

It is simply delightful to listen to Kenneth Williams, and Richard Williams version of Nasruddin is so elegant. The Williams character should be spelt “Nasrudin” of course. Apologies.

Richard Williams

brigand poses

I had seen Williams on a childrens’ tv programme called “Clapperboard” and he was shown drawing one of the brigands laughing. I loved the way that the character moved as he laughed. It was subtle and in close-up, but there was clear movement and character. The laugh was something he had recorded himself and I believe, now, that the animation was loosely based on one of the imps in Sleeping beauty. But there is no disguising the mastery. The hand movement on this sequence as the brigand laughs is exquisite and I have looked at it in some detail- Williams draws hands like no one else. This character is now one of many brigands in the second half of the “Thief”.

The sequence is marked by a change from pen and ink outlines to wax pencil outlines that were used also on “Christmas Carol”. At the studio, I was given one of these pencils and some cel and told to draw something which I did, but I was very nervous and I found it difficult. The waxy pencil is easily smudged and is only  truly bonded with the cel when it is exposed to hot light under the camera. I should imagine though that the cameraman was forever cleaning the glass panel that holds the animation in place. I think I may have tried using some paint. I am not sure, but I got to use paint later on working for “Wicked Witch” in the late 1980s as they wound up work on “Roger Rabbit” and took on project after project that aped the animation/live action combo style, or simply tried to look computer-generated ( some of the Waterboard adverts that accompanied one of the waves of Thatcher privatisation, for instance which were all actually drawn in coloured pencils on cels that had been sprayed with a formula that made them sufficiently textured to accept the crayons. The same method was used in the Snowman, Father Christmas and the Beatrix Potter films at TVC)

charles II in Soho square

My trip to 13 Soho Square was a day that must have changed my life or at least given it proper direction: in the evening, so excited was I that I vomited with gusto on the train and over my mother’s handbag. I knew then, maybe from some kind of Rorschach test, that I had a vocation to draw animated films. I remember meeting the great man on the stairway in front of what must have been one of his own oil paintings. I draw no parallel at all between my vomit and his painting though I have no real memory of the visual content of either. His picture all looked very dark and grand to me. Animators upstairs flipped scenes that I think I knew even then were from the projected film of “Nasruddin”- I am pretty sure that I saw the thief bouncing from one canopy to another. that was also in the finished print we saw on Sunday. I had seen pirate versions of this on youtube and the australian DVD where it seemed a bit repetitive. In the NFI theatre, with a crowded audience, it looked wonderful. This is broad slapstick and it always needs an audience to get the most out of it!

Later, I went back to the studio a few times and had a delightful dinner with Richard Williams in which he compared computer people to madmen trying to sell crutches to people who have no difficulty walking. “But my crutch is gold plated” he said they would say. “Why walk when you can hobble with a crutch?” This was the infancy of Computer animation and within less than 10 years I myself would be involved for a brief period in the production of computer games animation. But he is right: there can be no short-cuts and nothing replaces the raw knowledge of being able to draw exactly what you can imagine in your head.

I was particularly keen for Necati to see “the Thief” in the best possible way. I have some publicity material the studio gave me by which time the name had changed from “The thief who never gave up” to “Once”.

During the talk after the screening, when a few odd people, one of whom I am afraid I have drawn above, hogged the microphone and went on and on (and on!) about pirate versions of the thief that they had seen on the internet (no one mentioned Gilchrist by name- why not? though Dick Williams urged him to get on with his own work instead of obsessing about “the thief”), Williams talked a bit about his current project,apparently based on “Lysistrata” and called “If I live”. When we met for Dinner in ’82 or ’83, he had been talking about an adaptation of the Epic of “Gilgamesh”- a story about  a babylonian Noah figure, and there is a creation account in “Gilgamesh” which lies behind the first creation story in the bible. It is more vivid and much more fun, certainly worthy of animation as indeed is Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata”. I will dig out my own animated versions of Aubrey Beardsley and maybe the (unpublished and scurrilous) comics based on Greek texts and post them on this new blog in time but I suspect Williams is doing his own thing with the Greek comedy and has moved some distance away from Beardsley. I moved from Beardsley too: it simply took up so much time! I would love to know what happened to Gilgamesh and what Williams’ “Gilgamesh” would have looked like and also I would like to know what role the laughing camel must have had in “Nasruddin”. There was alot of publicity about the camel but he makes a very brief appearance in “The thief”. Had the hogs stopped talking evasively about Gilchrist, then maybe I could have asked about Gilgamesh or the Camel. Now, we may never know!! I will write more on this subject another time. In the meantime, here are some sketches made on Sunday afternoon during and after the screening.


Author: timewilson

animator director and teacher

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