A man who hails from Cornwall has told his story of how he became a lead Disney animator during the ‘golden period’ of animated movies.
Richard Bazley, aged 58, has worked on some of the biggest animated films to grace the big screen, including Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Hercules and The Iron Giant.
He spent a good portion of that time living in Los Angeles and even worked with Brad Bird, the Oscar winning director behind The Incredibles and Ratatouille.
He spoke to CornwallLive about how he went from a little boy drawing in his grandparent’s garden in St Dennis to achieving his life’s dream.
Mr Bazley was raised in Devon, but his grandparents George and Val Bazley lived in the town of St Dennis and his grandfather was a star of Cornish Wrestling.
He said: “As a young boy I remember getting a book by Leonard Maltin called The Disney Films.
“I remember seeing black and white pictures of Disney world in Florida.
“I said to my mum, can we go there? But she said you have to be rich to go there.
“It was before the days of cheap flights to Miami, little did I know that years later I would be over in LA with a silver pass, which meant I could take guests out for free and was given all sorts of discounts.”
Mr Bazley said it was during his youth that he dreamed of being an animator and filmmaker, but he never thought in a million years he would get there.
He said: “I was always painting and drawing. There weren’t any distractions like today’s computers and games consoles.
“I was brought up in the country so I would go out and draw as something to do.”
After receiving an A grade in his A Levels, Mr Bazley studied at Liverpool Art School, where he received a degree in graphic design.
He then went to work at the advertising agency Leagas Delaney in London, before going around a few studios looking for animation work.
He said: “I went to a place called Purdum’s, an animation studio. And I said I would like to be an animator, what do I need to do?
“I was told to go across the road to Chromacolour to get the materials I needed by Richard Purdom.
“I just bought the animation paper I needed (it has three holes at the bottom to register) and pencils and a rubber where you can dab at the drawing and lighten it so you can construct your drawing.
“I hadn’t bought an animation disk yet and used a coffee table in the lounge which had a glass top and stuck a lightbulb under it so I could do the inbetweens.”
Mr Bazley then built a portfolio and went around a few more studios looking for work until he spoke to one studio, who told him they were making Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
He did an inbetween test and was put into a pool of inbetweeners.
He said: “There was a team already there but a handful of us were selected from the group doing evening classes.”
Mr Bazley then worked on the last six months of the film. He said: “I knew what I was doing with the inbetweens but they were throwing me scenes to actually animate during the final weeks during the film. It normally takes five years to make a decent animator.”
After finishing the film, he went on to work for Cosgrove Hall Films based in Manchester.
The studio worked on the likes of Count Duckula and Danger Mouse.
He said: “I was frustrated because it was all TV stuff and I wanted to do feature stuff.
“So I applied to Sullivan Bluth Studios in Ireland which later became Don Bluth Studios. The studio worked on The Land Before Time and All Dogs Go to Heaven, as well as American Tale.”
However, he later saw that Disney was advertising again.
He explained: “I was a directing animator at Don Bluth’s. I applied to Disney and they said they would keep me on file.
“I wrote a letter asking if the Unions were making it difficult to hire artists overseas which I had heard.
“The main recruiter called me and had a go at me leaving me to believe I wouldn’t ever be able to get in.
“A year later I heard that Disney was setting up a studio in Paris, so I applied there (although I had already sent my portfolio to Los Angeles).
“I then got a call from Disney LA and they offered me a job in LA instead.
“I packed my bags and my wife, who was a couple of months pregnant, and I went to LA.
“I worked on Pocahontas and was one of 10 animators who animated John Smith. I had an absolute blast and afterwards I was a lead animator, where you have your own character and shape how they look.”
As a lead animator on Disney’s Hercules, Mr Bazley worked on the character Amphitryon, Alcmene (The Earth Parents) and Demetrius the pot carrier.
“My parents came over to visit and I was animating a scene. And my dad looked at what I was doing (drawing Amphitryon) and he said, it looks like me! And I said you’re right!
“It was the spitting caricature of my dad, and I didn’t realise, so there he is immortalised in a film forever, so that chuffed me to bits.”
Mr Bazley said he worked at Disney during the ‘boom period’, when rival animation studio Dreamworks was set up.
He added: “We were getting job offers everywhere and our salaries were tripling.”
After working on Hercules, Mr Bazley said he heard a different studio (Warner Bros) was going to make The Iron Giant.
He had pitched the project nine years previously whilst working at Don Bluth Studios, but the idea was shelved.
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He said: “I said really? I pitched that years ago, and Brad Bird, who directed the film ( the Incredibles and Ratatouille) asked me to come over and meet him.
“I went over there and met him and he persuaded me to leave Disney to become a lead animator on the film.
“So when you see that sequence of when Hogarth meets the giant, I animated around 80 per cent of that sequence. It was a great experience.”
After that Mr Bazley worked as a supervisor animator on the Bill Murray film Osmosis Jones, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkahban and he set up his own animation company Bazley Films.
He made the first animated short film created using the programme Flash which was released theatrically.
The film was called The Journal of Edwin Carp and was narrated by acclaimed actor Hugh Laurie.
To see all of his credits to date you can visit his website here.
Most recently, Mr Bazley was nominated for an Emmy-award for directing the animated TV show Lost Treasure Hunt.
The programme was exec produced by Matt Davis, Vice President at Sony Animation, though it was a separate project to Sony.
Mr Bazley said: “We did that and it received two Emmy nominations, so I went over for the awards ceremony, we didn’t win, the odds were against us.
“We had this little team in San Francisco and a small team in Brazil, but it was amazing just to be nominated.”
Mr Bazley said the industry took a hit after the release of Pixar movies like Toy Story, which he said killed 2D animation.
He said: “Pixar would come out with great film after great film.
“People perceive CGI as being better, which it isn’t – it’s just different. But it pretty much killed off Hollywood classical 2D animation.
“And that’s what I always got a buzz about, when you do 2D animation, you do these drawings, you put them under a line tester to see how they move, you see the flicker, it’s handmade, it’s just beautiful.
“CGI is amazing, but you have someone who creates the CGI model, then someone who creates the bones and the whole rig, and someone who prepares the rig and how it moves, so you’re more of a puppeteer.
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“Animators tend to be less involved in the design of the character, and it didn’t really float my boat the same way.
“I became more interested in the bigger picture, I wanted to direct, which is what I did on the Lost Treasure Hunt and a couple of other animation projects.
“I felt I achieved my goal as Disney animator at the highest level, a lot of stuff that’s made now, it might be a TV series with flash animators, where you have a puppet, but it’s kind of factory led, it’s kind of churned out. I was there during the golden period.”