Chris Williams: animator, kickstarter, artist
What do Wehrmacht zombies, “bubble” wingmen, Ridgefield schools, and raining foodstuff have in common? Answer: Chris Williams.
A 2001 art-history graduate of McGill University in Montreal, Williams studied animation at Sheridan College—considered one of the tops in that specialized field—in Oakville, Ontario, before heading to Los Angeles, animation’s mecca. He spent the next decade at Sony Pictures Imageworks working as a computer-generation animator and supervisor on a series on hits including Spider-Man, Alice in Wonderland, The Polar Express, and, yes, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Subsequently he took his talents to Disney to help create Wreck-it Ralph.
It was during his time in LA that he arrived at two surprising self-assessments. First, regarding his talent as an illustrator: “If you put me in a room with people who can’t draw, then I’m a great artist.” But when compared to the real pros at Disney, Sony, and Marvel, “I wasn’t very good.” Second, he had a gift for and took joy in story creation.
Meanwhile, author J.K. Rowling’s insistence that computer-generation work for her Harry Potter movies be done in England helped accelerate the exodus of that art form and talent out of the southern California. In 2012 Williams was among the émigrés, landing an animator’s position with Blue Sky Studios in Greenwich, whose portfolio of work includes Ice Age and Rio. The studio has Williams working on a Peanuts movie now.
Early on, a Blue Sky director gave Williams a list of towns he thought might be attractive to him, his wife, Jana, and their boys Aidan and Ryan, ages 14 and 9, respectively. After a review of the various attributes, Ridgefield came out on top. “It has all the things we were looking for,” Williams says, including a rural atmosphere, New England charm, and beautiful vistas. “And the schools here are fantastic,” unlike those in L.A., which “are struggling.” However, when Neumann Realtor Karla Murtaugh fetched him for a town tour, his first request was “Show me your hockey rink!”
True to his Canadian roots, the Ottawa native is a rabid hockey fan and amateur stickman who enjoyed mixing with LA’s semi-pro “bubble” players, a category he defines as excellent, but not quite ready for the majors. His ice passion has born fruit; Aidan is a speed skater now training with an Olympic coach.
Although never in uniform, Williams’s passions include the history of World Wars I and II, which he has studied in depth. It was that knowledge, combined with personal acquaintances and his skills in artistry and story telling that have evolved into two projects, one of which was recently completed and now available to the public, while the second is in process, albeit haltingly.
Red Fog, the former, is a richly illustrated—there are some 1,000 panels—graphic novel set in 1951 with the then at-large Martin Bormann, Hilter’s right-hand man, driving into Stalingrad. There he plans to apply Vril, a mysterious energy form refined by the Nazis, to raise up the dead German soldiers preserved in the Russian permafrost.
“Our pitch was Band of Brothers meets The Walking Dead,” he says. That pitch was through Kickstarter, the crowdfunding website, where he raised the $12,500 needed to get the book published. He’s now printed 800 copies, which he’s selling for $20 each. The book, illustrated by Marvel veteran Mike Docherty and with story by Williams, is worth every penny and more, trust me.
He recently returned to Kickstarter with a much more ambitious project, an animated short film entitled, The Sketchbook.
Drawn from disparate facts, the story is about a teenage soldier enlisting in The Great War in an attempt to reunite with his soldier-father and is told through the pages of the sketchbook of an artist he meets on the front lines and in the trenches. Many of Williams’s colleagues and friends have volunteered their time and talents in getting the project launched. The goal was to raise $198,000, a sum Williams describes as “a budget with a lot of favors.” The deadline was June 28, 2014, the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. The date passed in silence, however, with just 158 backers pledging $12,894.
Though disappointed, Williams remains committed to the project, which he says is merely postponed. “This is such an important story to tell,” he says, “I have to find a way to move it forward.”
Others agree. Many who made pledges to Kickstarter have contacted Williams, urging him to go on, and sending him their money. “I can’t promise the short without the full backing,” he noted, but he’s buoyed “seeing that they were passionate about it.”
“The Sketchbook,” he firmly believes will help the world remember and appreciate the sacrifice, pain and heroism of those who lived “The forgotten war.”