“There are so many things I have worked on, and one is never really satisfied with one’s work. In some ways you may say I have been in a rut, but it has been a steady old job and I’ve been lucky because I’ve dipped a finger in every part of production. Character animation is not really my forte, other people can do it so much better than I. Although the techniques of animation are pretty much the same for both character work and diagrams, the latter is a little more exacting. You have to get your facts right and adopt the most effective teaching approach. It is not always easy!
“Quite often, people talk about diagram animation as if it were simply a matter of putting a few diagrams and stills on the screen. I assure you it can become far more involved than that and I draw your attention to our BP films The Power to Fly and Moving Spirit. I worked with Bob Privett, Alan Crick and Digby Turpin on those.
“The budget is of primary concern and model animation can prove very expensive, but having said that, there are times when it can be the perfect short cut. Obviously, if you have a complicated set-up, say a molecular structure which you intend to rotate through many degrees, then you would choose a model shot. It all depends upon cost, circumstance, intention and expediency.
“In my time I have worked a great deal for and with Shell Oil Company on North Sea oil projects and I am happy to say we have been able to establish a very good working relationship. In the late 70’s we made Hydraulics, Margins of Safety, Typhoons, and Carburetters, all sponsored by Shell.
“Generally a company will have a script prepared when they first approach us, but they usually ask how best it might be put across to prospective audiences, and it becomes a ‘give and take’ process wherein I may ask for a script modification to allow us more time in which to fit the animation.
“In commercial animation we may be asked to do aerial image work. We made several commercials for the Melitta Company (1979) showing their range of products and they wanted the items to appear as model work, table top style, with applied animation. We shot the items first, then rotoscoped the individual frames as a guide for the animators. We are quite used to this technique now, as there is a demand for that type of work.
“The whole scene is changing as we enter the computer age. Although I believe we will always do work in the old ways, the computer is another tool offering us fresh opportunities.
Brian contributed some stunning airbrush effects and backgrounds for Heavy Metal, and animated effects seen in the lavish Butterfly Ball, while for a recent TV title he animated an overhead flying sequence around a speeding sailboat for which he made a splendid model as an aid to visualisation.
John Halas has summarised his own feelings which, not surprisingly, echo those of Brian’s many other friends:
“One wonders what makes Brian tick? What makes him so valuable as a collaborator? Here is my list of propositions:
1. His technical skill in graphic design. He certainly understands layouts, composition, tonal differences and he is a very competent designer himself.
2. His technical skill in understanding the uses of the rostrum camera; how film works, and what effects one can get through superimposition, multiple exposure etc.
3. Possibly the most important point is his ability to absorb complex scientific techniques, complexities which would frighten the hell out of any other animator.
4. His sense of co-operation which retains his particular independence as an artist and his willingness to work with others.
5. His modesty which is an enormous bonus when one has to work with a group within a unit.”
“I am glad that I have had the opportunity to work for such a long time with Brian and I can say without any hesitation that his contribution was vital in every production he touched.”
Brian is very dismissive of his talents but a look though the years at some of his detailed artwork is sufficient to convince casual observers of the high degree of attention to detail and accuracy he has achieved. The most he will ever say about himself is that he is useful in a team”, preferring to praise others such as Roy Turk, Bill Traylor and Harold Whitaker who, he says, “are experts in their own fields.”
Brian Borthwick would probably dispute this most strongly, but everyone who has ever witnessed his skills would readily assert that he, too, is an expert in his own field.
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Printed in Animator Issue 21 (Winter 1987)