“Persistence of Vision”

Thief and CobblerKevin Schreck’s unauthorized documentary on the making of The Thief and the Cobbler called Persistence of Vision has been running the festival circuit and is making quite a stir.  It’s a cynical dirge about what failed to be the greatest animated film of all time.  Directed by Richard Williams (Who Framed Roger Rabbit), Thief took over thirty years to produce, and after going over budget and past numerous deadlines, the backers removed it from his studio and hired a cheaper and faster studio to complete it.

Although not the masterpiece it set out to be, Thief was a training ground for hundreds of new artists, including those who would be part of the animation renaissance of the late-1980s.  These are the artists who studied under Babbitt, who was already a senior citizen and a living animation legend.  Some quotes from the animators in the documentary:

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“The great Art Babbitt.  He was the only guy that ever punched Walt Disney in the mouth.” [editor's note: not quite, but close.] – Chris Knott, special effects artist

“[Williams] brought Art Babbitt over to run a course on animation teaching us how to animate and it was fantastic – I was so lucky.” – Julianna Franchetti, animator

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“And it was grueling, because, imagine, he’s compressed an entire year’s worth of exercises into a month, and you gotta go home and do a whole exercise that an animator out in California would have had a week to do, you’re doing it overnight.” – Greg Duffell, animator

“We allocated mornings to sit with Art Babbitt and have lectures, obviously, the skills, information towards, and in the afternoon go back to commercials, do commercial breaks, and then go home, and do some homework, and Art would send us a little test to do, and as you can imagine, it’s animation, so it took quite a lot of time.  We were up until four or five o’clock every morning to do all these tests, and then go back the next day, show Art Babbitt, more lectures, go back to commercials, and then go back – it was a fantastic experience.  A valuable learning curve.” Brent Odell, animator

Babbitt06“I’ll always remember Art explaining how different people walked.  And he got up, and did this walk, ‘This is how, you know, people walk.  You know, this is how the cool people walk,’ and he was saying, ‘this is a double-bounce.’  But because Art was so old, all the walks looked to same to us!  They all looked slightly staggering.  But he knew what he meant, anyway.” – Julianna Franchetti

“When Art came over in 1974, [Williams] was directing the commercials.  Art wanted him to succeed – really believed in Dick. And from his knowledge and perspective, Dick was doing things that weren’t being done anywhere else.” – Greg Duffell

“I mean it’s animation. In this world, when you’re an artist and you have a chance to end your life as one of the best artists working on one of the best things, everybody wants to do that!  He thought that Dick had it.  And if he could work for Dick, I mean, where he had the best stuff, he would [do] it.  So that’s what he did.” – John Culhane, historian

Babbitt01“Art Babbitt’s a very practical person, and Art thought about Dick that Dick was saving animation, that he was saving the art, that it was falling into an abyss, and that Richard Williams was the savior of animation.  He was saying that it was this building in London, with these people working in it that were going to save the art of animation, and take it beyond.” – Greg Duffell

“Art said we only scratched the surface of what animation can do.” – Greg Duffell

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This entry was posted in 1946-1970s: Later Years and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to “Persistence of Vision”

  1. Clearly you need to watch the Recobbled Cut of The Thief and the Cobbler, which presents the unfinished film in as finished a state as possible under the circumstances. It’s easily a masterpiece as intended.

    http://youtube.com/thethiefarchive

    Animating Art (Babbitt) and Art Babbitt on PM Magazine are also on the channel.

    Although early production of the film stretched on for twenty years while Williams was doing other projects, because he never had the money to go into full production, when he did go into full production in 1989, after the success of Roger Rabbit, production moved on at a fast pace and the film could easily have been completed as intended, if Warner Bros. had any faith in Dick and the film. But they didn’t, and Aladdin was coming out, and you know the rest.

    It’s still a great film regardless, at least in its original or Recobbled version.

  2. TLMTO anim says:

    Would you as a film corporation have faith in a guy who spends 20 years working on the same film? Obviously, this was not meant to be a commercial project, and getting involved with big studios was one of Williams´ biggest mistakes. The story could´ve been a 30 minute short film, and knowing RW, he could´ve spend five or six years to complete it. Masterpieces are not “planned”, a film can become one after it´s finished and projected before an audience for several years, not before…
    I´ve watched the film many times, it has its great moments, but positioning oneself as the maker of the greatest masterpiece of animation is too arrogant. And by the way, why would anyone want to have the ultimate animation film when Art Babbit himself said “we only scratched the surface of what animation can do”?

  3. Greg Duffell says:

    I’m sorry if what I stated did not come through clearly in the documentary, but the quote attributed to me above about Art Babbitt coming to England in 1974 should read that it was Art that was directing the commercials at Richard Williams’ Studio for that summer. I was eighteen years old at the time and picked up a few scenes on a Cadbury “Alamo” chocolate bar commercial and Mr. Babbitt, the director, went through the requirements of the scenes with me in fine detail. In addition Art was animating test footage of the Cobbler character and I was assigned from time to time to do very exacting enlargements and reductions of his drawings based on specific instructions from Mr. Babbitt himself.

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