Balancing Budget and Brilliance

animation studio new york ny

A documentary film by Kevin Schreck called “Persistence of Vision,” tells the story of Richard Williams, an extraordinary animator known for his iconic work in the Pink Panther films, and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” Williams was an artist of the highest caliber whose personal quest was to create a hand drawn, animated masterpiece to serve as a milestone in the history of animated film. “The Thief and the Cobbler,” began with his personal funds in 1964. After working on and off for nearly three decades, only twenty minutes of the film was complete.

Due to his success with “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” in 1988, animator Richard Williams was able to attract funding from Warner Brothers for this personal animation film project he was so passionate about. However, by 1992, the “The Thief and The Cobbler” was still not finished so, Warner Brothers pulled out of the project. Some say it was the ballooning budget, others claim the studio grew nervous about competition from a new animated feature in production called “Aladdin.” Perhaps it was both? Regardless, the film fell into the hands of the insurance company who set out to finish it.

Once “The Thief and The Cobbler” was out of William’s control, a successful animator Bert Calvert was hired to oversee its completion. He added musical numbers, (the original film had none) and lower budget animation, rumored to have been produced in Korea, was inserted. The movie that was released internationally in 1994, under the title “The Princess and the Cobbler,” was a far cry from Williams’ original vision. It did not fare well with critics or at the box office.

A short time later, Miramax Family Films created another version for U.S. distribution. Longer sequences of animation were cut down in this version, which was released in 1995. Titled “Arabian Knight” this version didn’t fare much better than its international predecessor. Both of these films have disappeared into the bargain bin of obscurity. Meanwhile, an early work print of William’s original film has survived and gone on to achieve cult status. It now circulates among hard-core animation fans as the definitive example of excellence in animated film. It has also inspired related projects, such as Kevin Schreck’s documentary.

“Persistence of Vision” producer Kevin Schreck says, “This is a remarkable story about the making-and unmaking-of this epic animated film and the creative genius behind it. It is a story, both tragic and inspiring, that has been forgotten in cinema history.” So often, that is the case with difficult projects. In an effort to speed up the process and make it profitable, something gets lost. Collaboration is at the heart of the film and television industry, and often serves to make a film great. At the same time, too many differing opinions from people who are not like minded, and a project’s most brilliant and creative moments can be watered down or lost.

Had Williams been able to finish “The Thief and the Cobbler” one has to wonder how many box office records it might have broken, how many awards would it have won? This story highlights the ongoing conflict for producers as they weigh budget versus brilliance, quality versus cash, fear versus faith in a great idea. And, who is ultimately in charge of weighing those questions and making the decisions? All a producer can do is be sure that they believe in their vision of the project, be able to communicate it effectively, and be willing to stick their guns whenever possible. That’s how successful, original programming happens and in the end, everybody wins.