Interview: story of stop-motion animation legend Barry JC Purves

Well known British stop-motion animator Barry JC Purves is one of the best animators in the world. His animations looks like real action sometimes. Barry co-operated on many animation projects, teached professional animators from big studios and travel around the world to show his animation skills.

You are really famous in animator´s community, but nobody knows something about your life. Have you always been clear that you want to be an animator or have you dreamed about anything else?

I’m flattered that you think my work is known in the community. Sometimes it does not seem that way. Even after forty years the animation doors are hard to open, especially the feature film world. I wanted to be an actor, but with this voice and not being able to sing or do accents…well there were better actors. But I love performance, and animation supplies that. I so wish I could work more in theatre, ballet or opera as a director – I wish whatever reputation I had as an animator carried some weight in the other arts. Sadly, most of the time, us animators are looked at suspiciously by theatre – only people like the Quays have managed a varied career. I’d like the arts to realise that the skills we have can apply to theatre and such. We are storytellers basically.

Barry Purves interview

Have you studied any animation school in England or you had to studied puppet animation by yourself at home?

No, I have not had a days animation training. I would have liked some training on the technical side of things such as loading 35mm cameras. But I just thought about animation from an instinctive point of view and observation. Animation is a loose thing, and has no rules as such, so teaching is equally loose, but there are plenty of tricks to making it work.

 You gave an animation lessons in professional animation studios like Dream Works, Pixar and Will Vinton Studio (today´s Laika Studioand in a colleges around the world. Which schools or studios call for your knowledge today?

 I have been very lucky to teach around the world, and people suggest I become a full time teacher, but the red tape would destroy me. I would rather burst in for a few giddy days and get people fired up. Yes I have been to the major studios, and we got on well, but I’ve never had the call to go and work there. My most enjoyable university, especially for the location, is the Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia. But I have had great times teaching all round the world. I’ve also had sad times where I have seen the students desperate for inspiration, knowledge and resources. 

You have been invited to our neighborhoods – Slovakia animation festival Fest Anca and some of visitors had opportunity to join to your all day stop-motion workshop. What did everyone try?

 Try to get people to think about what animation is, what storytelling is, what art is, and what animation can contribute. I try to get people to see it as a way of being released, of being uninhibited, of being heard, and of passing on stories. Of being ourselves through the safety and distancing of animation.

Would you like visit Prague and show your craft and experiences to Czech animators? 🙂

Oh yes, please, especially as there is such a history there.

Have you visited any other animations festivals that really impressed you in last few years?

I’ve been to both big festivals with many thousands in the audience, but these can be cold and impersonal. I’ve also been to many small festivals, with a handful of people in the audience – and often these audiences are the most enjoyable as you can see that your work has made a difference.  I went to a festival in Meknes, in Marocco, and we showed some films on a sheet, in a derelict church, to children who clearly had never seen anything like this before. Their joyous reaction is really why we should be doing what we do. I go to festivals and markets and all I hear is budgets, and financial talk and products, and never a word about storytelling. Let’s not forget that is what it is about, and introducing new audiences. But I have to say that festivals never cease to amaze me – the organisation required is astonishing, with so many guests and so many films. Long may you all continue to make such festivals with such grace. Without them, who know what would happen.


You are a living legend. Your movies are well known around the world. But aren´t you going to make one more award winning movie? 🙂

You are may too kind, but even legends need to feed the cat. I have so many projects I want to make, but rejection and lack of finance makes life hard. That there are not new movies from me is not that I’ve not tried. I’m trying every day.

What do you think about current animation movies? Did you see any interesting one?

A confession – I would go to the theatre first before a cinema visit – as I love the raw direct nature of theatre, and the joyful imaginative storytelling, and I’m afraid it’s hard to watch animation without thinking purely of the technical side, or wishing that I had worked on that movie. If you want to know my favourite animated movie, it is Adam Elliot’s Mary and Max. I have seldom cried so much in the cinema. Such a powerful film.

Do you know any young animators from England which we cannot miss their animation skills?

Our short film world is having a bit of a lull at the moment, but I think there will be a change soon. We have so many talented animators, all working on the feature films. I hope we can do more shorts that showcase all our talents.

You have cooperated on King Kong´s movie by Petr Jackson. Can you tell us what was your role in production and how hard is co-worked with such as big group of people for individual artist like you?

Well that was actually 15 years ago….so long ago, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, but a slightly odd one. I was there too early when the technology of how to do Kong himself was still being discussed and developed. I did a lot of previz work and can claim credit for the image of Kong and the three dinosaurs caught up in the vines. I found the whole set up in New Zealand a joy. Such creative, friendly people.

You have also been working on children’s series for Channel 5. What do you think about actual series (created mostly in CGI) like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Wheel On The Bus or Peppa Pig? Why those artists think that small kids don’t need sophisticated animation with higher art level?

There is some terrible children’s animation, but there is also some brilliant children’s animation, and I was lucky enough to work on 100 episodes of Twirlywoos. Personally I believe we should not talk down to children, but give them something to inspire them. Even if they don’t understand everything, as long as we make thing interesting, and good quality. I have heard people say that ‘it’s only for children, and they won’t notice the lack of quality’. Well I’m sorry this child, pointing at myself, did notice the quality.


And one question in the end. What would you recommend to Czech animators which are less confidence, but they are really talented?

Just grab every chance to animate, and enjoy it, and tell good stories, and demand resources.

Thank you for your answers, hope we will see you soon in Prague, Barry! 🙂

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