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Happy 80th Birthday, Richard Williams!

Today marks the 80th birthday of legendary animator, director and educator Richard Williams. Born on March 19, 1933, in Toronto, Canada, Williams may be (along with Hayao Miyazaki) the most important and influential living animator today.

His credits stretch across decades and include features (Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure, The Thief and the Cobbler, Who Framed Roger Rabbit), TV specials (A Christmas Carol, Ziggy’s Gift), movie titles (The Charge of the Light Brigade, What’s New Pussycat, The Pink Panther Strikes Again), shorts (The Little Island, Love Me Love Me Love Me) and thousands of TV commercials.

He is the bridge between the Golden Age of hand-drawn animation and today’s endless stream of computer-generated blockbuster features. He has spent decades imparting the knowledge that he learned from the greats (Art Babbitt, Grim Natwick, Milt Kahl, Ken Harris, Emery Hawkins) to younger generations. For decades, he ran a studio that was as much a school as it was a production studio. Later, he traveled around the world to teach masterclasses, and more recently, he has reached his largest audience through the bestselling book The Animator’s Survival Kit.

His legacy in animation will be discussed for decades to come, as will his inability to finish his most ambitious feature film project The Thief and the Cobbler, but I would argue that his greatness does not stem from any single project. More than any film he made, it is Williams’ lifelong commitment to craft and his pursuit of excellence that will be remembered. He has unwaveringly promoted and upheld a standard of quality throughout his career, even during eras when such standards were considered unfashionable.

Williams’ ambition to create spectacular animation has always trumped all other considerations. Take the following commercial he single-handedly animated in six weeks:

In another animator’s hands, this would have been an instantly forgettable TV spot, but Williams turned it into one of the most breathless pieces of action animation ever committed to film, complete with dramatic camera motion, animation on ones, and exquisite rendering. In comical contrast to the prosaic product being advertised, the animation is an epic achievement.

Williams’ best work, be it commercials or fragments of The Thief and the Cobbler, offer an indescribably exhilarating thrill. It is the stuff that animation lovers live to see and of which we see far too little. One of Williams’ mentors, Art Babbitt, said, “Everything we’ve done up till now hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface of what animation can do.” Williams has been scratching away at that surface for the past sixty years, and has time and time again revealed new possibilities that were previously inconceivable.

You will not be disappointed by spending some time exploring Williams’ career output at the indispensable Thief Archive on YouTube, including this peerless sequence of pure visual excitement from Thief and the Cobbler:

Richard Williams’ current project is a soon-to-be-released interactive iPad app version of his Animator’s Survival Kit which will also include a copy of his new animated short Circus Drawings.

Happy Birthday to Richard Williams, an animation rebel and master.

  • Happy birthday – may you have many more!

  • Happy birthday to a living legend!! That commercial is absolutely incredible for a solo project in six weeks, I didn’t realize that before. I wouldn’t buy something called ‘Sex Appeal’ though. lol.

  • holke79

    Happy birthday and thanks for all!

  • Daniel J. Drazen

    Richard Williams’ animated version of “A Christmas Carol” is probably the best adaptation of the Dickens book ever made, bar none. When Marley’s ghost removed his head scarf and his lower jaw literally dropped down to his chest (true to Dickens’ depiction) and the rest of his lines became an other-worldly wail, it was a much-needed shock to viewers. It’s a reminder that art is most effective when used to tell the truth. Peace, love, and happiness on your birthday, Mr. Williams.

  • Toonio

    Thanks for entertainment and the truckloads of knowledge Dick!

  • marc gordon

    A true original and kind artist who honestly hardly compromised.

    you can feel passion and generosity throughout his entire work.

    hope to see some more genius animation from the man in a near future…

    Long life.

  • Mike Rosado

    You are the master that replaced Milt Kahl, sir! Happy Birthday!!

  • arv

    Many many happy returns of the day. I do not have any word to you how grateful I am to you for The Animator Survival Kit.

  • Jeremy Burnett

    Holy Crap!!!!!! I didn’t know Richard Williams Birthday was on the same day As Mine!!!! Happy Birthday Richard and bless you for all the work you have done for all of us….

  • Happy birthday! You’re totally awesome!

  • Happy Birthday, Dick. thanks for all the inspiration. And Amid, excellent distillation of his career, you hit all the best highlights perfectly.

  • bob kurtz

    happy birthday my dear friend!

  • joe g

    Happy Birthday Mr. Williams,you should be knighted.

  • Natalie Belton

    Everything Williams has made is a labor of love.

  • Mr. Williams… Thank you for all the inspiration and thank you for spreading the love of the Animation Art Form. Wishing you the very best on your special day. May your new year bring you much joy and happiness.

  • James Madison

    Happy Birthday, Mr. Williams!

  • Greg Manwaring

    Happy Birthday Dick!! You’re one of a kind!!

  • Tomm

    Back in the late nineties I discovered a VHS tape of the thief wip and a documentary about Richard Williams called the animator who never gave up. I found it incredibly inspiring as a young animation student to hear him speak about animation as an art form that could achieve the heights of a Rembrandt painting and to see someone running a studio who was so dedicated to the craft and so passionate about his work.

  • Michael Sclingmann

    I’ve had many favourites over the years, TDK, 1Cal fizz, Shell oil, but in the end, it’s always the Cresta Bear that get’s my vote.

    Unbeatable sillyness.

    Congratulations Dick… and keep drawing.

  • Andrew Kieswetter

    Happy Birthday Richard Williams!