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Immersed in Movies: Richard Williams Gets Deeper into ‘Prologue’

Immersed in Movies: Richard Williams Gets Deeper into 'Prologue'

Fresh from its acclaimed Telluride premiere, Richard Williams’ Prologue short has its Oscar qualifying run this week at the Laemmle Royal in West  LA (watch the trailer below). The hand-drawn, six-minute work focuses on the brutality of  the Spartan-Athenian wars through the eyes of a young girl. I spoke to the 82-year-old Williams about the process and more ambitious feature that’s an off-shoot of Prologue.

Bill Desowitz: This idea goes back to your childhood. Let’s begin there.
Richard Williams: Since I was 15, I’ve been thinking about the area and if I would ever get good enough to do it. I figured 15 years ago, now’s the time. So I’ve made a self-contained film, which is quite different from what the [feature] will be. Not the style, in which I try to convey the horrible feeling of war as a kind of ballet in animation and then I went for realism. Then this little girl observes it and runs to her grandmother. And it ends on a compassionate disgust on the part of women. It never ends, so I wanted to do a self-contained package of war. But it’s grim. It came out more intense than I expected.
BD: But what a contrast between innocence and brutality.
RW: Well, I think it’s shocking to see such terrible violence in drawings and it’s not a cartoon. So I want to get a hypnotic quality in my work. I’ve been trying for years and now I can do it.
BD: Was there a moment when you had this artistic epiphany?
RW: Absolutely. It’s a weird thing and it happened about three years ago. The only analogy I can think of yogurt when it suddenly takes. I realized that after 60 years of experience that I’ve finally arrived at where I want to get: anything I can think of, I can put down. And people who’ve seen it tell me they can’t look away.
BD: How did you animate it after completing 6,000 drawings (mostly at 24 drawings a second for the action)?
RW: I’ve gone back to 1900 with one sheet of paper and a pencil. I shot it actually with Aardman’s camera and then it goes into their computer system to take away blurs and grade it and polish it. It’s like varnishing it. I have a workshop there. And there’s very little color: each man has different color eyes and there’s blood and the Spartan shields have a red symbol and the Athenian ones have a blue eagle. And the little girl has a light tan dress. Otherwise, there’s no color.
BD: And where are you in making the feature, which is self-financed?
RW: I’m about four minutes into it. Aardman has a camera set up in the middle of my room and it’s like a tent.
BD: What’s the feature about?
RW: It’s about the reaction to the war, mostly about women. But I’m trying to avoid discussing it. I go around saying the working title, Will I Live to Finish This? I’m up against mother nature. But I’m in good shape — I’m in better shape than when I was 60.
BD: And it’s also being made at Aardman?
RW: Yes, Aardman has a camera set up in the middle of my room and it’s like a tent. I have it all planned out in my mind (six scripts), but it’s early days. I change everything as I’m discovering new stuff. I’ve always been fairly innovative but I’m always surprised. This is really pushing it.
BD: Can you give us an example?
RW: About two months ago, I discovered a new way of cutting that nobody’s thought of in 100 years.
BD: It’s that great silent tradition you’ve tapped into.
RW: And I’ve nailed a new thing.

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