Ken Clark chats with John Coates – Page 3

On my desk I had a copy of the book The Snowman – I have it still -and I thought it would make a really marvellous little film. We phoned the publishers and bought a one-year option. Then we purchased more copies of the book, cut out Raymond Briggs pictures and made an 8-minute Animatic, shooting the still drawings and adding a few touches of our own, for example: the trip -which was not in the original story. We presented this to Channel 4 and they loved it. In fact, they were willing to buy the Animatic as it stood. We turned down their offer of £50,000 to get the film started, eventually agreeing to £100,000 for the UK and German television rights.

By this time Hamish Hamilton, the publishers, were interested and between us we formed Snowman Enterprises, 60% TVC and 40% Hamish Hamilton, and made the film.

When The Snowman was nominated for an Oscar, I went over to the States and visited my friends in Hollywood. They showed me a great many reels of film, much of it very slick, polished and well done, but it was nowhere near as creative or interesting as the things being done here.

K.C.: What was their reaction to Snowman?

J.C.: They were very impressed by the fact we were moving light and shade around. Twenty years or more ago there were many who would have said you couldn’t do that sort of thing – but you can, it’s expensive, but you can and by so doing you are able to achieve a whole new dimension which we hope to take a stage further in When the Wind Blows.

KG.: An extra magical dimension came from the flying sequence. Was it all a figment of the imagination?

J.C.: Raymond Briggs lives at the foot of the South Downs and the trip was actually from his house to Brighton pier and beyond.

KG.: Did it involve any rotoscoping?

J.C.: No – no! I bought Steve and his young lady over from Canada to animate that sequence. It is very nicely done – even to turning the pier in perspective.

KG.: So it was all hand animation, you did not resort to computer generated images?

J.G.: None at all. I’m old fashioned, I suppose, I admire some of the computer animation, it can be great, but if you are going to do what I call ‘the old acting’ or ‘personality animation’ then that is quite different. Computers can help streamline part of the operation, speeding up the camerawork by automating tracks and pans, but they cannot create ‘feeling’. If the flying sequence in Snowman had been computerised, the film would have lost an awful lot of its charm and ‘something special’ feeling. For it to have happened suddenly in the middle of the film, smoothing everything out would have jarred. No! I think animation is going to remain in human hands for a little while longer, but I am sure the computer is going to catch up.

When the Wind Blows.

KG.: What happened to all your artwork, with Snowman finally in the can?

J.C.: Well we kept all the cels, but not the drawings. The cels are very pretty and I think they will become very valuable. When we finished Yellow Submarine the Americans filled a 707 with the cels and flew them back to the States where they were sold in poster shops. The Museum of Modern Art in New York has all the big Pepperland backgrounds and had them on exhibition.

K.C.: (British museums, please note.)

J.C.: The artwork for TV commercials is kept for 3 years unless it is an on-going series when we keep every one until 3 years after the final issue. We have sent material to hospitals when we thought it might prove amusing to them, but an awful lot is junked. We couldn’t keep it all. Other studios must have the same problem. We do keep all our shorts, however, they are stored in the basement.

When the Wind Blows.

KG.: Now you are reaching the completion of When the Wind Blows.

When the Wind Blows.

J.C.. Raymond Briggs had been writing this black comedy about the nuclear bomb during the making of The Snowman. We received initial development money from Channel 4. Black comedy is director, Jimmy Murakami’s forte, sol sent off a copy of the book to him the very next day, and then busied myself trying to raise the remainder of the money. Raising money for an animated feature is pure hell. In the end the bulk of the money came from the old National Film Fund Corporation and Channel 4. The BBC Omnibus programme interviewed Raymond about his book, and then a dramatised version was performed on Radio 4. Although they did it very well, I thought it was very sombre and heavy. In the actual film we have John Mills doing the voice of Jim and Peggy Ashcroft voicing the part of Hilda, they are absolutely marvellous. David Bowie approached us with a request to write the score, you may recall he introduced The Snowman for us.

K.C.: We will be taking a closer look at When the Wind Blows in a future issue, all that remains for me to ask is – What next?

J.C.: Well currently we have in preparation Tolkein’s Father Christmas’ Letters and Granpa by John Burningham.

K.C.: John, we’re looking forward to your big premier later this year and wish you every success.

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Printed in Animator Issue 16 (Summer 1986)