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The Snowman Animator Hilary Audus on Bringing Her Industry Knowledge to the Next Animorsels Meet-Up

2 December 19 words: Miriam Blakemore-Hoy

This month, Nottingham will play host to a real christmas legend. Hilary Audus, the creative force behind The Snowman, The Snowman and The Snowdog and The Bear, will be speaking at the next Animorsels – a bi-monthly meet-up for local animators and creators at Antenna. We caught up with her to get her thoughts on animation, directing and her artistic process…  

As an art student in Bristol, it was Hilary’s background in illustration which drew her to animation, along with a desire to escape the isolation that came with working from home. “I realised that if I was just to do illustration, I’d be sitting at home by myself in my studio. I wanted to be with people,” she says. “I’ve always been interested in animation so, following my post-grad, I got a job at a studio.” While working her way up from a Junior Assistant to Animator, and finally to Director, Hilary worked on several classic adaptations of artist Raymond Brigg’s books during her career, including The Snowman.  

Of course, at the time they had no idea what a momentous project they were actually working on. “When we made The Snowman, we didn’t know it was going to become what it did. It was just another film; I haven’t even got any photographs from that time.” But turning it into a special Christmas TV event? “We did know,” she says. “We thought we’d have him fly to the North Pole to meet Father Christmas. We did an animatic that included a tea party, and purposefully kept it all terribly English. At the time, Raymond hated the idea because he saw it as being a bit commercial. I think subconsciously, you just know what people are going to like, so you add in these little touches, like the Christmas cake in the kitchen.”

Back in 1982, animation was painstaking, all drawn by hand during a process that could last over a year.  Thanks to updates in technology, it’s now done using computer software. “We began working on the story for The Snowman and The Snowdog in June and finally finished a year and a half later. It’s an awful lot of work!” says Hilary. These films also require a great deal of creative contribution from the production team too. “When you’re adapting something like a children’s book, there’s not enough story there for a half-hour film. The original Snowman would have made a five-minute film. You have to sit down and develop it, adding new ideas and characters.” As the process moves along – through treatment, storyboarding, sound, layout, animating, editing and colouring – the story develops into something deeper, more tangible and real. 

Hilary was responsible for animating one of the most memorable scenes in The Snowman – the motorcycle ride. This is where the main difference between being an animator and a director becomes apparent: “If you animate, it gets taken out of your hands. The director can edit your work;  I found this on The Snowman because I storyboarded and animated all the motorcycle scenes, but the director cut it around so that two scenes were mixed up. I still look at it now, 37 years on, and to me it still doesn’t work.” She laughs, so it obviously isn’t too sore a point.  

If you know the character and you can actually draw it well, it’s beautiful being able to bring something to life

Moving into a directorial role on both The Bear and The Snowman and The Snowdog meant Hilary got to call the shots instead. “I think I prefer writing and directing. I enjoy animation –  if you know the character and you can actually draw it well, it’s beautiful being able to bring something to life.  But on the other hand, when you think of an idea, it’s beautiful seeing that come to life too.” 

Looking to the future, Hilary is interested in working with 3D. “When I was at college, I really enjoyed doing sculpture, but I thought I couldn’t earn a living doing that, so I put it on the back burner while I concentrated on drawing. But now I’m interested in doing that again; I think it’s partly because I think in three dimensions – like shapes and silhouettes. In animation, you have to think of the silhouette, so I think it’s a natural progression.”

Hilary is also looking forward to speaking to other creatives about her work, and Animorsal’s event organiser, Mark Pyper is excited too. Having ran for just over a year and already built up an impressive list of speakers – with the likes of Jim Parkin (Aardman), Steve Smith (Beakus), and the team from The Soundery making appearances – Animorsels has made a strong start. Their main aim is to create a space where anyone interested in animation can meet like-minded people, make connections and share tips and advice with each other. It’s putting Nottingham on the map for all things animation, and it’s exciting to see where it’s headed.

Animorsels Christmas Special takes place on Wednesday 4 December from 6pm at Antenna. 

Attendees, who must be 16+, will receive a bag of goodies, a free drink and a chance to enter their bite-sized animation competition, Micromorsels, a twenty-second-long film challenge. 

Animorsels website