Review: The Animator’s Survival Kit

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animated version of Williams’ cover logo.

Richard Williams, one of the greatest animators of his generation, has dazzled audiences in short films, movie titles (i.e., The Return of the Pink Panther; The Charge of the Light Brigade), hundreds of TV commercials, and features that have won more than 250 international awards. He won his first of three Oscars for a 26-minute version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1971), and two more for his animation direction in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).

Early on, Williams hatched a “master plan” for his career “to become the very best at the commercial side, then master the techniques of the art of personality animation.” Dissatisfied with so-called “graphic tricks,” he decided to learn the art and craft of animation by becoming a student all over again. In the 1970s, he began inviting to his London studio master animators from Hollywood’s Golden Age of personality animation of the 1930s and ’40s. Some, such as Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas, and Ollie Johnston from Disney, came to lecture; others, including former Disney and UPA masters Art Babbitt and Grim Natwick, and Warner Bros. stalwart Ken Harris, worked with Williams on projects. All contributed valuable information. Copies of the elderly vets’ lectures, tips, critiques and comments were eagerly passed around the animation world as if they were Galileo’s notes on motion.

In 2001, Williams began sharing his hard-won knowledge of the master’s secrets in a big way. First, he conducted a series of sold-out master classes across America and Europe, followed by the publication of a manual titled The Animator’s Survival Kit. The book quickly became a bible for animators internationally.

The amazingly detailed volume–brim-full of methods, principles and formulas culled from animation’s old masters–offers “a way of thinking about animation in order to free the mind to do the best work possible.” This newly revised edition of the book contains an additional 42 pages of valuable material dealing with animal action, invention, and realism, using sophisticated animation principles, and life drawing for animation.

In addition, last year Williams released a 16-volume DVD box set collection based on the book that combines over 400 specially animated examples, with Williams on-camera teaching his Animation Masterclass curriculum.

Williams talking about his book.

In both the book and the DVD set, Richard Williams is the perfect, consummate teacher: engaged, passionate, super-energetic, and dispensing precise information easily, with charm and humor. He is truly a knowledgeable master of his art and craft and a great communicator. Few animators or teachers are blessed with Williams’ imagination, stamina and inventiveness, and fewer still have had the quality mentors that he learned from. But even a cursory exposure to his inspiring magic on the printed page or DVDs can improve one’s approach to working in any animation technique from hand-drawn to computer-based.

All forms of animation are labor-intensive. But Richard Williams offers help toward making the process more creative than laborious. However, as he once advised, if you’re afraid of work, don’t go into animation—it’s nothing but work.

About John Canemaker

John Canemaker an Academy Award–winning animation filmmaker, is the author of nine books on animation history.

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