Graham Ralph: From Spider to Opera – Page 2

Spider video cover.

On completion of Rhinegold, Graham returned to commercials. Then one day his phone rang and Theresa asked him to meet her in a pub. Apparently, two people at the BBC had come up with the idea of a small boy in wellington boots, whenever he put them on he could wish for anything he wanted. The series William’s Wish Wellingtons was completed with accompanying merchandising and has been screened.

Graham learned the rudiments of his trade in Harold Whitaker’s ‘school’ in Stroud. Glos., in the company of John Perkins, Dave Unwin and Chris Evans. After John Halas sold out to Tyne Tees he set up Educational Films in Wardour Street. Taken on as an assistant animator, Graham stayed for seven years and never once worked on an educational film, concentrating instead on commercial work. He stayed on in Wardour St. after Halas bought back his former studio, but seven years was quite long enough in which to decide whether or not his boss’ ambitions were in accord with his own. Graham decided they were not, and having grown tired of low budget work and wishing to stretch his creative reflexes. he joined Richard Williams.

“I had a marvellous time with Dick,” he said, “He was an enormous inspiration. And I learned a great deal from working alongside Eric Goldberg who later went to Disney’s to animate the Genie in Aladdin, and who then went on to direct their latest feature Pocahontas. Working with such talents including those of Russell Hall and others, rubs off.”

For three years he continued making commercials but these were more adventurous than those made at Educational Films. It seemed to Graham then, that John Halas had worked himself into a rut while the outside world was being besieged by younger directors with alternative approaches. At Richard Williams, Graham was able to direct commercials and do a little producing while generally expanding his knowledge of the business side of animation.

Among many others, including some Johnson Baby advertisements, he produced the Russell Hall commercial for Shell called ‘The Tempest’ which featured an oil-rig on the horizon subjected to changing weather conditions; and two Ben Truman ad’s, one of which was called ‘Barge’. For this, they went to a canal with a 16mm camera and an operator who shot them on a decrepit old boat against a background of boringly awful warehouses. Armed with this uninspiring footage they isolated the useful elements and set them in beautiful countryside enabling the Ben Truman campaign to prove very successful.

But then there was an acrimonious split between Richard Williams and Carl Gover who had been left in charge while Richard attended to commitments in America. In his absence the philosophy of the studio drifted away from Williams concept of what it should be and where it was going. The conflict arose from a clash of ideologies. Carl was a businessman whereas Richard was an artist, but an artist steeped in both art and commerce, and it appeared to him that commerce was gaining the upper hand, he wanted a return to original precepts. Carl disagreed and left to set up a new studio which he called ‘The Animation Partnership’ and invited Graham to join him there.

“Dick asked me to stay on as an animator but I wanted my own studio by then and I considered his offer to be a backward step. I’ve always felt that this profession needed good commonsense – logical business-sense applied to it, which it now has. In those days, it still had the air of a cottage industry about it, always running on a shoestring. I always thought it had more potential. Why! the Design Industry had established itself far more than Animation. So I decided to go with Carl Gover, chairman and MID of the Animation Partnership.

“Meanwhile Jerry Hibbert had already formed his own studio two years previous in 1983, and laboured to establish its credibility with two or three others and it was now apparent the company could grow bigger. For three months I had been working on my own and had completed a job for Aero when I had a call from Jerry. I had been recommended to him and he invited me to join him, saying, ‘I haven’t got anyone I can leave in charge of the studio while I take a holiday.’ We agreed to try it for a year and I stayed. This is our twelfth year together. Our turnover has steadily increased each year, and so has our client base. Although Jerry and I have different ways of working, we share common philosophies when it comes to business. Simple things like ‘if you promise a deadline – you meet it’ and ‘you are only as good as your last job’. These simple adages are often forgotten by many studios and they go under because of it. As directors and artists we understand the principles of cash flow and so forth which means we have always been able to pay our staff on a Friday. It was something we decided we should always do. A sound business sense has kept us going.”

Just over 3 years ago Graham grew depressed with his client list and the quality of their commercial scripts, which were often quite poor. In order to restore a modicum of job satisfaction he suggested that he make a little film and put it out under a new label: Hibbert Ralph Entertainment. With Jerry’s agreement and support they opened a new wing essentially just to satisfy Graham’s yearnings. Jerry is perfectly happy working on commercials, although he had expressed a desire to do something different. Although Jerry has lectured, Graham has always been the one to attend festivals and diploma shows. He enjoys viewing student animation but he is not looking for talent, that is not the reason he attends.

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