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Bob Godfrey Answers the Question “What Is Animation?”

British animation legend Bob Godfrey (1921-2013) answers the question “What Is Animation?” in this short film directed by Martin Pickles. Pickles was inspired to become a full-time animator and to study Animation at the Royal College of Art after meeting Godfrey at Animafest Zagreb in 2004. He recorded the interview with Godfrey in 2006 at Bob’s Acme Studio in South East London.

Says Godfrey:

“Well animation is not live action, I think that says it. Anything that is not live action which is actuality but is drawn is animation. And the thing about animation is that there are absolutely no rules. I mean these schools that are springing up all over the place ‘How to Walk, ‘How to Run,’ based on live action. How a live action man runs, how a live action person walks, you know, people in animation don’t have to walk, I mean they don’t even have to have legs, they can go up in the air.

“In animation you can do absolutely everything and I said I think that the only two restrictions are your bank balance and your mind. And, well, your imagination that you can grow, you know, providing the budget will allow you to. And when people are confronted with this absolute freedom they tend to freak out, they tend to say ‘We want limitations, we want gravity.’ Basically, there is no gravity in animation, animation is free, it can fly, it can go anywhere. And I don’t think enough people realize this, they’re too earth bound. It’s not earth bound, it’s fantasy.”

You can read the rest of the interview here.

Film by Martin Pickles
Voice: Bob Godfrey
Transcript: Jules Shevlin
Script editor: Anna Minton
Music: Tanera Dawkins
Sound design: Tom Lowe

  • I Disagree

    Amid, you’ve got a typo here. You wrote Bob “Godrey” not Godfrey.

    Anyway, I disagree with his premise. I actually find it quite compelling when a film could be made in live action, no fantasy elements, and yet it is animated.

    I think that animation is a highly interpretive artform. You get a different effect if you tell a realistic story with no fantasy elements, and yet it’s animated. It’s about how you caricature, how you render the backgrounds, how you use colour.
    Rather than completely disregard naturalistic movements as Godfrey suggests, I think it’s great when an animator has that knowledge under his belt, and can decide whether or not a sequence should be exaggerated or natural. Because all of the movements are human-crafted, animators are free to vary things. And the best whimsy I have seen in animation has been made by animators who know how to move things naturalistically. How can I buy a fantastical world if I don’t believe it can exist?

    Anyway, I think there’s a place for everything from naturalism to pure abstraction in animation. And despite Godfrey urging people to be free, his definition of animation comes off as rather limited.

    • While Godfrey might limit animation with this way of thinking indeed, you, Mr. I Disagree, too are limiting animation stating “How can I buy a fantastical world if I don’t believe it can exist?” If you are not able or willing to dive into a world that couldn’t exist in ‘real life’ you’re missing out on a whole lot. Which is perfectly fine, just don’t limit animation with that statement, like you say Godfrey does.

    • Will

      I agreee, I disagree (you know what i mean). Animation can take many forms.If the artist decided he wants to be realist then let him. As Godfrey said in the video, (rather contradictory) animation can BE ANYTHING. Anyway he will surely be missed. I remember he signed my sketch book at the Bedford Animation festival in 2006. I great artist and man RIP.