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.