Ian Emes, a celebrated British filmmaker best known for working with musical acts like Pink Floyd, Duran Duran, and Paul and Linda McCartney, has passed away. He was 73.
Emes was born on August 17, 1949, in Handsworth, Birmingham, England. He studied at the Birmingham College of Art, picking up a first-class honors degree in painting and sculpture. He worked across numerous mediums including drawing, painting, sculpture, kinetic art, light shows, photography, and film. He also studied art history, specializing in Surrealism and the Dadaist movement.
He participated in the school’s Experimental Workshop in 1970 and 1971, working under artist Roger Westwood. There, he shot live-action 8mm films featuring hand-built sets and models. In 1972 and 1973, he attended Birmingham Polytechnic and got a first-class honors degree in graphic design. There, he was offered a spot in the school’s new animation department and began experimenting with rotoscoping.
Speaking with Vice in 2012 about his earliest filmmaking attempts, Emes recalled:
I built everything myself. I was an untutored animator when I first saw Yellow Submarine and was so excited about it, especially the “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” sequence, which is a rotoscope, a method where you project live-action frame-by-frame when you draw it. It felt like the perfect solution for me because I was interested in little bouncy characters. It occurred to me that animation could be the moving version of my painting.
It was also at Birmingham Polytechnic that Emes was inspired to make his first musical animated short, French Windows, set to Pink Floyd’s “One of These Days.” Emes was inspired to use Pink Floyd’s music in part because of the group’s architectural background. “They went to architecture college and so I think their music creates spaces,” Emes said in a 2012 interview. “It creates environments of sound and I was so stimulated that my mind would soar, and so I would see images that were stimulated by the music.”
French Windows eventually aired on the BBC program Old Grey Whistle Test where Pink Floyd keyboard player Rick Wright saw it for the first time.
Wright quickly reached out to Emes and asked him to meet in person. Emes obliged and screened the short for the full band, who then asked him to work on the “Time Sequence” of their Dark Side of the Moon concert film.
Mike Oldfield was also impressed with Emes’s animation and in 1974 commissioned him to create animated sequences to use for his performances of “Tubular Bells.” Emes agreed and created a series of looping animations that were inspired by the work of M.C. Escher.
In 1978, Emes directed the music video for The “Oriental Nightfish” for Paul and Linda McCartney. The ambitious three-and-a-half minute video took Emes and four assistants eight months to complete, and the film screened in the short film competition at Cannes in 1978.
The following year, Emes slipped a copy of his animated short The Beard through Stanley Kubrick’s mail slot, asking if the director would like to screen it ahead of The Shining, which was filming at the time. His request never got a response, but Emes believed that Kubrick did watch the film and that it inspired the famous scene in which Jack Nicholson’s character axed through a bathroom door. Speaking to Vice in 2012, Emes said:
What happened is, he lived in England, and I knew where he lived, so I put The Beard through his letterbox. I didn’t hear anything from him and then came the axing scene, which may have been nothing, but I swear it’s something. Especially because of the timing, I’m sure there’s a connection.
Judge for yourself here.
By 1980, Emes was a bona fide star of the U.K.’s independent animation world. His work was the subject of a retrospective at the National Film Theatre and Campaign Magazine dubbed him “Britain’s foremost animator.”
It was at that time that Emes began working in live-action as well. In 1982, he collaborated with Duran Duran on the music video for their song “The Chauffeur,” and in 1984, his film Goodie-Two-Shoes won the BAFTA and received an Academy Award nomination for best short film. In 1987, he wrote and directed his feature debut, Knights & Emeralds.
In 1990, Emes directed sequences for Roger Waters’ “The Wall – Live in Berlin.” More than 350,000 people attended the show, making it one of the largest rock and roll concerts of all time. Those in attendance saw Emes’s work projected onto the remains of the Berlin Wall, an indelible image from that transformative time.
From 1992 to 1998 he served as the in-house director at Ridley Scott Associates producing and directing film and tv content. Emes stayed busy throughout the late-1990s and early 2000s, frequently reuniting with Pink Floyd. In 2002, he was nominated for a BAFTA for his work on the series Sir Gadabout: The Worst Knight in the Land, and from 2009-2016 he directed numerous episodes of the preschool series Bookaboo, for which he won multiple BAFTAs.
In 2019, Pink Floyd released their 15th and final studio album The Endless River, and asked Emes to direct the film adaptation of the work. The long-time collaborators mourned Emes’s passing on their Twitter account.
Ian Emes, British film director, animator, artist, writer and pioneer of experimental film techniques, famous for his work with Pink Floyd, has died. Our sincere condolences to his family and friends. Ian's eye-catching animated film French Windows (set to Pink Floyd's One Of… pic.twitter.com/lVyI9W8p1o
— Pink Floyd (@pinkfloyd) July 22, 2023
Pictured at top: Ian Emes – Credit: Copyeditorgb, CC BY-SA 4.0