Richard Williams

This post is in memory of the animation legend Richard Williams who passed away on August 16, 2019.

Richard Williams (photographer unknown)

In 1985, Harald Siepermann, Hans Bacher, Uli Meyer and Jens Wiemer started an advertisement company, called Mad T Party. For this company the artists created all kinds of artwork, such as advertisement illustrations, poster designs, comic books, but also storyboards and character designs for television commercials. Some of these commercials were animated at Richard Williams animation studio in London. “Through this work, we had met Richard Williams who was often animating the commercials, that any of us would had been working on before,” remembered Harald Siepermann. “Through our common interest in animation and the love for the work of Milt Kahl, a friendship developed.”

The artists – and especially Hans Bacher – maintained good contact with Richard Williams, who frequently came to their studio in Dusseldorf to make Xerox copies of Hans Bacher’s impressive collection of Disney artwork. Harald Siepermann and Hans Bacher would also visit Richard Williams in his animation studio in 13 Soho Square, in London.

The connection with Richard Williams led to a remarkable opportunity for Harald Siepermann and Hans Bacher. Richard Williams was assigned as Animation Director on the Steven Spielberg / Walt Disney production Who Framed Roger Rabbit. “When Hans and I were visiting him one day in London,” continued Siepermann, “he had been talking to Spielberg and Zemeckis and was looking for artists to increase the manpower of his lil’ studio in Soho Square, to manage the amount of work that would be necessary to handle Roger Rabbit.” Siepermann and Bacher were hired on the spot, and Williams asked them to help with character designs for the weasels and storyboards for the ‘Escape from Toontown’-sequence.

Since the 1960’s, Richard Williams’ studio was located at Soho Square in London. But because of the production Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the studio moved to a new building, a former department store, called the Forum in Camden Town, where the Walt Disney studio was located. Because of the movement, Richard Williams had to cleanup his former studio, and throw away a lot of his animation cells from the television commercials, that were produced at his studio.

“Hans and I got quite a few cells from Dick’s commercials as presents when we asked for them,” commented Harald Siepermann. “‘Go ahead, take them.’ Dick himself didn’t think of them very highly… The Pink Panther cell I found one night when I was walking home after a stroll along Oxford Street, after ‘a hard day’s work’ and saw two big containers in front of Dick’s old studio, filled to the max with stuff that apparently Dick hadn’t found worthy enough to take along with him to the new location. The cell, incl. the effects sheet, cut together from scotch tape, was the first thing I pulled from the container.” Harald Siepermann had the cells framed, and hung above his desk.

Animation cells from Richard Williams studio.

Harald and Hans worked a few days at the studio in Soho Square in late February, before moving to the new building. Below are some pictures in that old studio.

 

For the 25 year old Harald Siepermann it was a great experience to work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit. A few years earlier he was still a student Graphic Design, and now he was involved in the biggest Hollywood production at that time. This opportunity opened many doors in his career, what was made possible by Hans Bacher and the late great Richard Williams.

Dolf and the National Crow Party

Television series Alfred J. Kwak often dealt with serious topics such as drugs, whale hunting, poverty, the environment and diseases. Another topic was fascism. The main villain of the series was the crow Dolf de Kraai [Dutch name]. Dolf is an interesting villain, different from your ordinary vicious pirate or mean stepmother, that you often see in children television series.

Early episodes give more insight in Dolf’s childhood. His father was an alcoholic and his mother died when he was very young. Because of his unstable childhood, Dolf always seems to walk the dark path of life. This becomes most evident when he starts his own political party called the National Crows Party, and becomes the dictator of Great Waterland. Dolf, with his small moustache and military uniform, is clearly a caricature of Adolf Hitler.

 

One of his political plans includes that all crows have to be completely black. There cannot be any white crows or crows with spots. Ironically though, because, since his mother was a blackbird, Dolf has a yellow beak himself which he paints black with shoe polish every day. Also animals that are against Dolf’s plans, are deported.

Due to their different personalities, Alfred J. Kwak and Dolf de Kraai often cross paths throughout the television series. Thanks to Alfred’s actions, Dolf’s political party is dismantled, and Great Waterland becomes a democracy again.

Below are model sheets by Harald Siepermann and Hans Bacher of Dolf as leader of the National Crow Party…

 

… and below are a series of sketches by Harald Siepermann.

30th anniversary Alfred J. Kwak

30 years ago, on April 3, 1989, the television series Alfred J. Kwak premiered in Japan. Early discussions for a potential television series started in late 1987 after television producer Dennis Livson, founder of the production company Telecable Benelux B.V., discovered the first comic book of Alfred J. Kwak, at the Frankfurter Buchmesse. The comic book, that was designed by Harald Siepermann and Hans Bacher, sparked his interest and he saw potential for a television series of 52 episodes.

Harald Siepermann worked out the story arc of the series together with Dutch artist Herman van Veen, and he did all the character and prop designs together with Hans Bacher. Siepermann made the character designs with pencil, and Bacher did the inking and the colors. Eventually they created over 200 unique characters for the series. An amount that’s quite unprecedented for animated television series.

 

Once the characters were completed in August 1988, the designs were collected in a book called Character- and Color-Designs for Alfred J. Kwak, which served as an instruction guide for the animators in the Japan, where the actual animation was done. The book contained model sheets that explained the structure of the characters, color codes, costumes designs, and character comparative sizes.

 

When the production continued in Japan, Harald Siepermann spent several weeks at the studio in Tokyo to supervise the production, explain the background of the stories, develop storyboards and explain the animators how to draw the characters. Also when Siepermann returned to his home in Germany, he remained the first person to consult the production and to approve the storyboards for each episode, and create additional characters when needed.

 

After Alfred J. Kwak premiered in Japan the episodes were aired on a weekly basis. On December 24, 1989, the series premiered in the Netherlands, and a year later in other countries around the world as well. In many countries the series became an immense success and a merchandise phenomenon.

AJK episode 11 Alfred Joins the Circus

This post is about episode 11 from Harald Siepermann’s popular television series Alfred J. Kwak, called Alfred Joins the Circus. In this particular episode the duck Alfred J. Kwak wants to join the circus. There happens to be a circus in town and there is a position for clown available. Alfred is up for the task. However, as confident Alfred thinks he is, ones the public starts enters the circus arena, Alfred gets stage fright.

 

Funny detail about this episode is that, while the series consists of animal characters, there is actually one human in the series, an overly aggressive man. In this reverse world, it is the human who is behind bars and part of the circus act.

Here are several character designs by Harald Siepermann for the episode:

 

And here are the model sheets by Hans Bacher:

Chain letter

In the early 1990’s a chain letter was circling around Hollywood and also made its way into the animation world. Hans Bacher, who got the chain letter from Daan Jippes, listed Harald Siepermann as one of the five people to pass the letter on to. “In 1993 I got a copy of a chain letter from London, which had been through all of California before,” commented Harald Siepermann. “It promised eternal luck if the chain wasn’t broken, you know these kind of letters. The list of names included the likes of Whoopie Goldberg, the Zuckers, James Newton Howard, F.F. Coppola, Dinah Shore, Jane Fonda, Art Buchwald, etc. It somehow got into the hands of cartoonists and I got it through Daan Jippes and Hans Bacher.”

The person that received the chain letter had to send it to five other peoples. Harald Siepermann decorated the letter with a funny drawing of Alfred J. Kwak and passed the chain letter on to Herman van Veen (co-creator Alfred J. Kwak), Shigeko Nonaka (Vice President of Telescreen Japan, Inc.) Christian Schnalke (friend and co-writer of several animation productions Siepermann worked on), Heribert Schulmeyer (German comic book artist), and Andreas C. Knigge (German publisher of the Alfred J. Kwak comics).

Here are several of these chain letters by various artists, that Harald Siepermann kept in his archive.

Happy Holidays

Happy holidays and a happy 2019 to everybody!

Here are a series of Christmas themed designs of Alfred J. Kwak by Harald Siepermann and Hans Bacher from circa 1990. The illustrations were used for a Christmas card that was send out by Mad T Party, the advertisement company of Harald Siepermann, Hans Bacher, Jens Wiemer, Thomas Mossolff and Christian Schellewald.

Harald drew the sketches of the main characters from the television series and placed them in a composition. The final inking and colors were done by Hans Bacher.

Introduction to Dolf de Kraai

The main villain of the television series Alfred J. Kwak is the crow Dolf de Kraai. Dolf is not really a common villain, like a vicious pirate or mean stepmother, that you often see in children television series. Since the television series starts when Alfred and Dolf are young, it shows more of the background of each character and their upbringing. In Dolf’s case it shows the origin of his actions as an adult later in the series, when he became the dictator of his country through his own founded political party called the National Crows Party.

Dolf is introduced in the series in episode 4. He is a classmate of Alfred, but they are no friends. In contrary, Dolf teases Alfred because he is a duck and has a mole as a father. A family situation that Dolf finds weird. However, his feelings towards this family situation might be more based out of jealousy since Alfred does get a stable upbringing from his loving father Henk de Mol, while Dolf on the other hand has a father who is an alcoholic and his mother died when he was very young.

 

Dolf’s father is a crow, but his mother a blackbird. Therefore Dolf is born with a yellow beak. Ashamed of his yellow beak, he colors it black every morning with shoe polish, to look completely black. Below are the sketches of Dolf’s father and mother by Harald Siepermann and the corresponding model sheets by Harald Siepermann and Hans Bacher.

 

Because of the unstable childhood, Dolf is always active in criminal activities. This becomes most evident when he starts his own political party called the National Crows Party, and becomes the dictator of Great Waterland. The different characteristics of Alfred J. Kwak and Dolf de Kraai play very well against each other and they often cross paths throughout the entire television series.

Below are some of Harald Siepermann’s sketches of a young Dolf de Kraai and the model sheet by Harald Siepermann and Hans Bacher.

AJK merchandise 3

Here are a series of illustrations by Harald Siepermann and Hans Bacher of Alfred J. Kwak. These space theme designs were part of the extensive collection of merchandise that was produced based on the successful Alfred J. Kwak television series. The inking of these illustrations were done by Hans Bacher based on the sketches of Harald Siepermann.

Storyboard of Balto

In 1993 Harald Siepermann worked on the movie Balto, the third animation feature from Steven Spielberg’s Amblimation studio. Balto was based on a true story about a husky dog named Balto who was the leader of a sledge dog team that, under difficult weather circumstances, had to transport medicine from Nenana, Alaska, to a little town called Nome, to save children from a deadly epidemic.

Once the production was launched the team was in need of additional storyboard artists. Hans Bacher, who was the Production Designer on Balto, recommended Harald Siepermann to the producers. While Siepermann is more known for his character designs, he also had a long resume as storyboard artist through his work for his Mad T Party company, his work on the duck Alfred J. Kwak, and on the Walt Disney/Steven Spielberg picture Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

In August 1993 Siepermann went to the Amblimation studio that was located in London, where he worked until the end of the year on the visualization of the script into a storyboard. Below are storyboard thumbnails of the scene were Balto meets the white wolf and is resurrected after he had fallen from a high cliff.

Making of the second Alfred J. Kwak comic book

Vissen in Troebel Water © Harlekijn/Van Veen, Siepermann, Bacher

Throughout 1987 Harald Siepermann and Hans Bacher worked on the development of the second comic book about the adventures of Alfred J. Kwak, called Vissen in Troebel Water [Fish and Chips]. Harald Siepermann designed the characters and wrote the comic book, based on a theater play called Onder Water [Under Water] by Herman van Veen, and Hans Bacher did the inking and color design.

In this adventure Alfred J. Kwak is concerned about the situation of the herring, who are threatened by the new modern fishing ship of Kapitein Stoppel, which will immensely reduce the herring population.

The images below show the process of the making of the comic book, with as example pages number 6 and 7 of the comic, based on what is in the Harald Siepermann Archive. In these pages Alfred J. Kwak and Henk de Mol are on the beach relaxing after their adventure in the first comic book. The sun makes way for the rain. In the distance they see a new ship being launched into the water and they decide to have a closer look.

Siepermann drew the page layout with in each panel a rough sketch of the drawing. On a new paper he drew for each panel a more detailed sketch.

 

Once the sketches were completed Hans Bacher did the inking of the entire page and provided it with color. Next to the (rough) sketch Siepermann often wrote the corresponding text of the characters. Once the text was clear and finalized, Siepermann wrote it in a script. The comic book publisher would added the text later in the text balloon of the finished color page.