Date of Submission
Film and Electronic Arts
Persistence of Vision is a feature-length documentary that attempts to tell a story from cinema history that has long been overlooked. In the early 1960s, a young animator named Richard Williams sought to redefine the medium of animation and take it beyond anything attempted before. He would often say that with animation, “you can do anything.” With this mantra in mind, Williams had a vision: to create the greatest animated feature film of all time. He spent the next three decades working on his film, known as The Thief and the Cobbler, meticulously expanding and refining it—until he lost ownership of his magnum opus. Williams refuses to discuss that film publicly.
My interest in this story stems from a lifelong fascination with the endless possibilities offered by the art of animation. Because of Richard Williams’ unavailability, I had to gather information from a wide range of sources in order to make this documentary. After a successful fundraiser on the website Kickstarter, I was able to travel to the United Kingdom, Ontario, and New York to interview several animators and other artists who worked with Williams on his film to record their various memories and perspectives. I gathered and used rare archival footage, artwork, rough animation, and other forms of visual ephemera to create the story told in my film.
But although my documentary is about another man’s film, this was a personal project, as well. Richard Williams is an artistic hero of mine, but his story also feels like a sort of cautionary tale for me. It is not difficult for me to imagine myself in Williams’ place, working obsessively on a beloved project that is ultimately doomed. Williams’ story inspires feelings of elation, ambition, and fear.
Williams was unavailable, there is an appropriate parallel between my film and his story. We will never know if Williams’ film would have been the masterpiece that he wanted it to be, and we will never know the full story without the protagonist’s input. Like Williams’ unfinished epic, my own film remains necessarily incomplete because of Williams’ silence.
The remnants of Williams’ The Thief and the Cobbler represent an aesthetic marvel and a showcase of virtuoso animation technique. Even in its fragmented form, his film is fascinating. But what I find even more intriguing is the real-life story behind the making of an unfinished masterwork. Persistence of Vision is a story of art, obsession, and dreams; the untold story of the greatest animated film never made.
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Schreck, Kevin C., "Persistence of Vision" (2011). Senior Projects Spring 2011. 149.