Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Merry Christmas From Escape Studios - and Tiny Tim!

Spot the Difference
Way back in 1971 I was the voice of Tiny Tim - age four years.

The reason I got the job was because my Dad's old animation studio in  Soho Square in London had taken on their first really big project - a TV adaptation of Charles Dickens'  A Christmas Carol, and they needed a little kid to do the voice-over.

By chance, I was just the right age.

The twenty-two minute TV special was produced by Chuck Jones and many scenes were animated by Ken Harris, one of Chuck's star animators from Road Runner days. Other legendary animators from the first Golden Age of Animation included Grim Natwick and Emery Hawkins.

These animation masters passed on their knowledge of animation to the animators at the studio in London, at a time when the craft of animation was almost dying out. I still have copies of their lecture notes - some of which I still use in the classroom today.

Dickens' story was perfect for animation. Art Director Roy Naisbitt designed hugely complex background layouts, creating a sense of the grime, squalor and claustrophobia of 19th century London.

Roy Naisbitt later went on to do the extraordinary two and a half dimensional background layouts for The Thief and The Cobbler, and he also did the stunning layout work for the two-minute short cartoon that opens the 1988 hit "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?".  It is Roy's work that gives the film's opening its unique character.

From left: Unknown, Ken Harris, Grim Natwick, Art Babbitt, Richard Purdum, Dick Williams

The style of Christmas Carol was based on the illustrated Punch cartoons of the 19th century, similar to the animated interludes in The Charge of the Light Brigade which the studio had completed a few years earlier. The idea was to make the film feel like a moving illustration - a tough drawing challenge for the animators.

Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim
Voice talent was provided by - among others - Alastair Sim and Vanessa Redgrave.

And I got to play Tiny Tim.  But I don't really remember much about the experience at all, not even recording the lines.

The only part I actually do remember is the ice cream cone I got afterwards.

You can't buy a Christmas Carol on DVD, even though it won as Oscar for Best Animated Short, and it is no longer broadcast at Christmas on TV. But you still catch it at YouTube - see below.

Some of the animation is a bit clunky - you can tell the bits that were handed to animators who were still learning their craft, and the parts where the studio just ran out of time.

I may be biased, but I don't think there is a version of The Chrismas Carol out there that does better justice to the atmosphere of the book.

So, a very Merry Christmas from the real Tiny Tim!

"God bless us every one"
---- Alex

The Escape Studios Animation Blog is a personal view on the art of animation and visual effects. To apply for our new BA/MA starting in September 2016, follow this link 

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