Toonarific Interview – Richard Bazley

Originally posted: 4-7-2004

Talented animator who worked on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, “The Iron Giant” and many others.

Animating marvel Richard Bazley contacted us regarding his upcoming project, Osmosis Jones, so we just had to pounce for an interview. He has done so many great films, and will most assuredly do more. Here is what he had to say.

During your childhood, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Animation had always been an interest from an early age. This was a time before videos, so there was a lot more mystique about animated films. If you missed a realease of say “Snow White”, it would be many years before you could see it again. I remember looking forward to Christmas as virtually each year “Jason and the Argonauts” would be shown on television. When I was about eleven there was also another program on the BBC called “The Do-It-Yourself-Animation Show” hosted by Bob Godfrey. They had a series of animators give talks on the show which included Terry Gilliam when he was doing the Monty Python animation and Richard Williams who showed a section of “The Thief and the Cobbler”. This definitely had an impact on me and ultimately lead to my choice of career.
What was your favorite show and or cartoon characters? Did any of these influence some of your later work in life?
I always had a leaning towards the Disney Films, although I did enjoy the Warner Bros. shorts as well. I went back to see the “Jungle Book” again and again when it was at the theatres, I enjoyed it so much. The type of animation in these older films is unsurpassed and I still feel that the contemporary Disney films fall short of them. I was also enamoured with “Sleeping Beauty” and it has been wonderful to make the acquaintance of some of the great artists that worked on these films, in fact a good friend of mine is Victor Haboush who was a layout artist on “Sleeping Beauty”. He designed the thorn forest. He also painted backgrounds for “Lady and the Tramp”. I was lucky enough to get him as film consultant on my short “The Journal of Edwin Carp”.
What was your childhood like? How was the family environment and surroundings, and did those affect any of your career decisions?
It was a very idyllic childhood. I was brought up in the Devonshire countryside in England surrounded by by beautiful scenery. My father although a maths teacher was very creative as was my mother. They both encouraged my drawing from the start. It definitely helps if your family are supportive as the arts can be a very difficult way to make a living.
Where did you learn your animation skills?
I always drew but it wasn’t until many years later when I was in my twenties that I learnt to animate.
What was the first project that you worked on, and how do you feel about it now, looking back after you have done so much?
I got a lucky break. The first animated film I worked on was as an inbetweener on “Who framed Roger Rabbit”. It was a very exciting time. When I was looking around to work in animation I was working as an Art Director in advertising but something was unsatisfying about it. I stopped by one studio called Pizzazz and an animator called Eric Goldberg should me how to inbetween drawings. Later that day I met another animator called Jill Brookes who mentioned that Disney was in town making a film. She called them up and fixed up an appointment for me. I did an animation test the next day which lead to me being asked to do an evening class for a few weeks. This lead to me getting the job and the realization of a childhood ambition.

Looking back now it seems like it was all destined. The fact is that we really make a lot of our chances through hard work and diligence and then a little bit of luck with it. Working on “Roger Rabbit” was a great experience, however the studio closed at the end of the film and I saw how ruthless the industry was. It was another six years before I went to work for Disney in LA as an animator.

I remember Richard Williams (Animation Director of Roger Rabbit) downplaying the film in comparison to films like “Bambi” and it wasn”t until I had gained experience on a lot of films until I saw what he meant. Roger Rabbit is a very broad and slapstick film that didn’t require the subtlety of acting that the old Disney films required.
For the viewing audience, could you please list some of the projects you’ve worked on during your career. Out of all of them, what was your all-time favourite and why?
Here are the films that I’ve animated and Supervised on, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”, “All Dogs go to Heaven”, “Rockadoodle”, “A Troll in Central Park”, “Thumbellina”, “The Pebble and the Penguin”, “Pocahontas”, “Hercules”, “The Iron Giant” and “Osmosis Jones”.

Out of the features the film that I had the most fun and thought was by far the best was “The Iron Giant”. This was a Director driven film. In most cases the films are made by committees and the end result can become very watered down from the original vision. That is due to the control a lot of the executives exercise. Their concern is more about making the right career moves and impressing their boss as opposed to making a great film and taking any risks.

Obviously the film that I have enjoyed making the most was my own short “The Journal of Edwin Carp”. It is based upon the novel by Richard Haydn and I used the book illustration style of Ronald Searle for the film. I was a particular fan of Ronald Searle( I have over 80 of his books). The nice thing was to have complete control over the production as |I also helped to raise the finance for it. Macromedia were sponsors along with Wacom Technologies. I used the program Flash to execute the film because it gave me the particular look that I wanted, this thick and thin ink line effect. It also meant that I could animate these lines in a way that I had never seen before.
Of all the people you have had the opportunity to work with, who was your favorite and why?
The most exciting experience was to work with Hugh Laurie (Father in Stuart Little, BlackAdder, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Jeeves and Wooster) who did the voice for my film. I had written the material a number of years ago and to hear him read the lines the way he did was incredibly exciting.

As a Director it has to be Brad Bird ( The Iron Giant) who singularly followed his vision without listening to the detractors.
Are there any types of projects that you would like to work on in the future?
I am hoping to do another in the series of “Edwin Carp”. The first short was a day from his diary, so it lends itself naturally to do more. I will explore different techniques though.
Is there anyone or company that you would like to work with?
I would have liked to have had the chance to have worked with John Lasseter who created “Toy Story”, but to be honest I really want to continue to pursue my own goals now, I have worked for enough other companies, it is now time to do my own thing. In fact that is what I am doing. I am setting up a business at Corsham Media Park, a new film studio nestled in the hills of the Wiltshire countryside. It is a dynamic new site that will house a variety of media companies. One of the key backers is Nick Mason, the drummer of Pink Floyd, so chances are you will be hearing a lot more about it. They have taken an MOD site and really transformed it into something quite spectacular. There are a number of built in advantages which I cannot mention yet, but will insure that it will be at the forefront of technology.
Out of the various production companies you have worked for, which one did you enjoy the most and was the most comfortable with? Why was the environment so pleasing?
My experience on “The Iron Giant” was the best, but this was due to the inviroment that Brad Bird created at Warner’s and his project, so as soon as he left, it disappeared. Also I did enjoy the first couple of tears at Disney during a bit of a boom period of animation. I was able to use the full resources at Disney and actually see in the Disney “morgue” as they call it, all the drawings and artwork from the classic films.
You were a lead animator on “The Iron Giant”, which is one of the best animated movies I have ever seen. How did you get the chance to work on this project and could you tell us a little about your experience working on it?
Well I had in fact pitched the same project about 8 years earlier to Don Bluth. He passed on it and my sketches and step outline sat at the bottom of a pile of ideas that I had for some years. It was based on Ted Hughes book “The Iron Man” and it is quite often read in the schools in England. A number of years later I heard that Warner Bros. was working on it. I was at Disney at the time and went over to check it out. Brad showed me a couple of the storyboards and even at this rough stage I new that he was going to create something very special. At Disney they couldn’t understand why I was leaving, but I have always learnt to follow my instincts and new that this was the right move. Personally it was, although the film wasn’t a blockbuster, it won critical acclaim and is enjoyed by all those that see it. I have also been able to learn from the experience and apply those things to my own film. One of the lines from the film that still really impresses me is “You are who you chose to be”, it is so true.
Your upcoming project is “Osmosis Jones”, which you are animating a character called Drix. Could you tell us a little about the show and what role your character portrays.
“Osmosis Jones” is far from the traditional Disney animated film. It is edgier and more adult in tone. It is more in the tradition and the live-action “buddy cop” films such as “Lethal Weapon”. It takes place in the Human body ( in this case Bill Murray) who ingests a virus whose goal it is to destroy him. It is up to white blood cell Osmosis and a cold pill that frank takes called “Drix” to prevent him. The two characters are light-years apart but have to work together to achieve their goal, it is the only way. No film is complete without “conflict” and in this case it is the classic conflict of two characters that have to work together who do not like each other.

Osmosis is a street wise cop who doesn’t do things by the books and my character “Drix” is a chemically manufactured pill that is almost robotic like C3PO of Star Wars with a touch of “The Terminator” about him who does do everything by the books. Due to the nature of the design and character we actually animated this character in the 3D program MAYA
Now, for all of the animators-to-be out there, what sort of advice can you give them that they would find helpful during the journey ahead?
If it is solely animating you are interested in then keep on drawing and practicing. It is never to late to learn something, be an eternal student. Sometimes you have to look at new art or new mediums to stay fresh, productions can be a little warring at times so it is important to keep your passion for the medium alive somehow. Study art, movies, theatre and live and then apply all this to your art.
Sweet! If only I could animate. Oh well, that’s why people like Richard are around, to take up the slack. His work is incredible, and his talent is infinite. I can’t wait to see his next work.