Richard Williams


Born: March 19, 1933;

Died: August 16, 2019

Richard Williams, who has died of cancer aged 86, was an animator who won no fewer than three Oscars. He got two for his work on creating the wacky Roger Rabbit and his impossibly curvaceous, flame-haired wife Jessica, based on a mix of Rita Hayworth, Lauren Bacall and Veronica Lake.

Williams was director of animation on Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), a hugely ambitious and expensive mix of animation and live-action in a film-noir wrapping. Otherwise his resume consists largely of shorts, some memorable animated credit sequences and one pet project on which he worked for decades.

Williams began work on The Thief and the Cobbler in the 1960s, while paying the bills by producing animated credit sequences for major feature films. Footage from the unfinished film persuaded producer Steven Spielberg and director Robert Zemeckis to hire him for Roger Rabbit.

The success of that film led to Warner Brothers putting up money for completion of The Thief and the Cobbler. But the film went over budget and fell behind schedule.

It was taken away from Williams, re-edited and released in two very different versions with different titles in different territories in the 1990s. Several subsequent versions have been produced using an early workprint.

Williams was born Richard Edmund Lane in Toronto in 1933. His father left when he was a baby and he was brought up by his mother, a commercial artist, and her new husband, whose surname he adopted. He saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs when he was five and decided there and then that that was what he wanted to do.

After studying at Ontario College of Arts, Williams moved to London and worked as an animator on adverts. From the outset he used income from commercial work to finance more ambitious projects and he won a Bafta for his short film The Little Island (1958).

He went on to establish himself as one of the go-to animators for animated feature film credit sequences, his work characterised by grand loops and swirls, baroque lettering and a sense of humour.

He produced credit sequence animation for What’s New Pussycat? (1965), the original, spoofy film of Casino Royale (1967), the Pink Panther sequels in the mid-1970s and less obviously perhaps for The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), with a Russian bear menacing other national animals on a map of Europe, while the English lion slumbers.

Williams won his first Oscar for a 25-minute animated version of A Christmas Carol (1971), while all the time beavering away on The Cobbler and the Thief.

He was not a fan of films that mixed animation and live-action, but was persuaded that Who Framed Roger Rabbit would marry live and animated characters as no other film had before.

It was a major hit and he won an Oscar for best visual effects and a special Oscar for the characters. It was his greatest triumph and ultimately his undoing, leading indirectly to the loss of control over The Cobbler and the Thief.

Williams continued working into his eighties and was jointly nominated for an Oscar with his fourth wife Imogen Sutton three years ago for a short entitled Prologue. His previous marriages ended in divorce. Sutton survives him, along with six children. BRIAN PENDREIGH