D. J.: How long have you been operating as Animus?
T.W.: About eight years. It has gone through various forms. It has always been my company but I started off in association with a live action company, and then we went our separate ways. In 1982 I joined forces with Carl Gover (the ex-Richard Williams Studio producer) to form ‘The Animation Partnership’. Although we are independent studios, we both work in association on various commercials and big projects.
D. J.: How many permanent staff do you have?
T. W.: We have about eight including myself. My philosophy is to train up staff, not just use freelancers, which is very hard when times are lean because you are paying heavy overheads but it pays off when the work is coming in because you are hand training people through an apprentiship. I say in the book that the best way to learn animation is as an apprentice, working under a master or key animator. But unfortunately these days it is getting less and less possible. Therefore the book is, in a way, a substitute teacher.
I was lucky to start as Richard Williams’ own assistant. I asked him at the time, how long does it take to make an animator? He told me two years, but one year if you work hard in your own time. I was determined to do it in one year, so I worked hard at line tests and all sorts of things and it was about a year later when he started giving me little bits to do in commercials.
D. J.: What artistic training did you have before you entered the animation industry?
T. W.: I did a four year course on graphic design and illustration at East Ham Technical College. The only animation we were shown during the four years was Richard Williams’ The Little Island which really impressed me. But at that stage I assumed that animation was all done in America. It did not occur to me that it was possible to make a career of animation over here. When I left art school I wanted to go into advertising as a copywriter or art director because that is what the college had conditioned me to think. I also tried to become a book illustrator but I could not get in.
D. J.: Was this because it was too competitive?
T. W.: Our illustration lecturer at art school was Ralph Steadman, a wonderful teacher, he encouraged me and introduced me to a couple of publishers. One got near to publishing a story I had written but at the last minute pulled out saying: “It is too modern for us, we don’t know if there is a market for it’s To make it more frustrating there was an article in the Sunday Times the next weekend asking: “Where are the original thinkers in children’s illustration in Britain? The progressive illustrators are in America.” I wrote saying that it was the publishers who were at fault because I had been turned down for being too progressive. I never got a reply.
After trying for seven months to get a job I decided I could not sponge off my parents any more and would take the first job that I could get anywhere in the art field. I saw a small ad in Campaign: “Wanted, junior background artist for animation studio. Must have good illustration portfolio.” It was with Halas & Batchelor. I took along my portfolio and got the job. I was so green that I did not realise what a background artist did. I thought that perhaps I would make some contacts there that would enable me to move on to what I really wanted to do. After a couple of weeks there I realised that I was in my chosen profession. Originally I was cleaning brushes and stretching paper for people but eventually I was allowed to do my own backgrounds. Within three years I was head of the background design section working on The Jackson Five American TV series.
I was unhappy because I got to the point where I could do the backgrounds but I wanted to make drawings move. I had already seen Richard Williams’ work and I thought he was way ahead of the rest. I was also impressed with some of the Canadian Film Board stuff. But, because I was trained in graphics I wanted to be more progressive in a graphic style rather than a traditional cartoon style and there was no one at Halas & Batchelor doing this. I applied to Richard Williams, for an appointment and took the portfolio along. He liked everything in the portfolio but said: “Unfortunately I haven’t got any vacancies at the moment. You are top on my list so keep trying.” A year went by and I had heard nothing from him so I thought, I am going to apply once more and if I don’t get in there I am going to go to try my luck with the Canadian Film Board.