We would storyboard each piece as we went along. One of the problems was the writer of the lyrics didn’t like the musician so he asked to be taken off the film after writing a third of it. I had to do some writing myself and I brought in other writers, then I hit on the idea of having the two workmen – one from the North and one from the South, painting the bridge, and that gave me the links.
The way it happened reminds me of an experience I had with The Yellow Submarine. The late George Dunning called me in to see him when The Yellow Submarine had been in production for three months (the whole film took a year). He said, “Bob, you are a funny man.” I said “Thank you.” He said “I want you to make Yellow Submarine funny.” I said, “OK, I’ll try” and I asked for a storyboard. He said “There is no storyboard”. I asked for a script, and he said “There is no script.” Then he asked, “Have you ever taken LSD?” I said “No, I haven’t.” He said “It’s a pity, because the whole film is a psychodelic trip.”
Yellow Submarine was based in the drug culture of the 60s and it is wonderful for that reason. It didn’t have a storyboard and Great didn’t have one either. It was a kind of happening. At one point when we ran short of money I went out and shot live-action because live-action was cheaper and it helped kill some time. So the film was put together as a hotchpotch.
These days I don’t move without a storyboard. I am very strong on storyboarding and I am very strong on styling. The days of ‘happenings’ – making films up as you go along – belong to the 60s. Now, because of video scanners and other things we have to help us, we put in more rehearsal and more storyboarding and structuring.
I divide my film-making life into two chapters: those films I made when I didn’t know what I was doing – and there were quite a few of those in the beginning – and the films I make now that I know what I am doing. I put the story on the wall and make my mistakes on the wall. I try not to make my mistakes on the screen. The problem with film is if you make a mistake in it or you strike a wrong attitude, it is there for ever. When the film is finished you can’t take it out. Every time the film is shown you feel embarrassed. You look away because that was Bob Godfrey 10 years ago, he is not the same as the person standing here now. It is the growth of the artist, I guess, and a loss of innocence. When I started I was completely innocent, nothing was impossible. We made quite a bit of money doing commercials. I just went out and made films.
I think you have to divide your life into doing what you want, and what society wants you to do. If you only do what society wants you to do you will make some money and live in some sort of style, until society is tired of you and then it puts you on the scrap heap.
I was talking on the way here with the director of this festival about the fickleness of advertising agencies. Most animators are for a short time, the flavour of the month, or maybe it’s more like being the flavour of the year. Styles change year by year. I was the flavour of the month in 1955. I’ve had to get by since then, on my wits.
People ask me if I gamble, I say “No, my whole life is a gamble, I don’t need to gamble on horses!” Being in the film industry is gamble enough but it does provide you with a full and happy life. You make a lot of friends, especially in the animation business. As we are such a happy band of brothers and sisters, the minority of the film business, we all know one another; we travel the world together, going to festivals and it is all very enjoyable. I wouldn’t be anything else other than an animator because making an animated film uses everything that you’ve got as a person, and it uses a few things you haven’t got as well, I can assure you. So you have to be a mathematician, an electrician, a photographer. You have to be a painter, a designer, the lot. The only thing I haven’t done is computer animation and I’m too old a dog to learn new tricks. I don’t think I will try to do that. Fortunately there is enough demand for my style of animation to keep me going for quite a few more years.
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Printed in Animator Issue 23 (Summer 1988)