Brighton Museum is celebrating the 40th Anniversary of The Snowman with an exhibition of Raymond Briggs’ original drawings on show until January 6th (John Henty enjoyed visiting this too – see pg 33). We caught up with animator and illustrator Robin Shaw, who’s worked a lot with the character – from the Irn-Bru ad, to The Snowman and the Snow Dog film (Robin was Assistant Director), and this autumn, a new book written by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Robin, and published by Puffin.
Robin, as a self-proclaimed ‘World’s Biggest Raymond Briggs Fan’, what appealed to you about The Snowman as a boy? I could see how it was drawn. Ladybird used to do these fairytale books that had beautiful paintings but, as a kid, they were so out of my range of understanding. With Raymond’s work, I could see every single stroke of the pencil – and they were like the coloured pencils that we had at school and I had at home.
What’s the most important lesson he’s taught you? Raymond really knows how to capture an emotion in his drawings, in a very simple way. When he draws a character who’s feeling quite sad, he often draws them from the back because that’s a simpler way of conveying their emotion. That’s something I’ve done a lot.
Has The Snowman become easier to draw? It has become more refined. It hasn’t become easier. It’s a time-consuming and specific style of work. When I’m doing Snowman things, I try not to draw like I would naturally draw. I try to draw like Raymond, and I show him my drawings before I show them to anyone else.
What’s he like to work with? Brilliant, because he understands the things we’re doing to turn illustration into animation. He’s very respectful, and appreciative. I think he knows how much I love his work and how faithful I try to remain. At the same time, he always finds some little detail that could be improved!
In the Brighton Museum show, I learnt that the original animators added personal touches – like naming the little boy James. Have you? No. Raymond’s upbringing and mine were quite similar. The layout of Raymond’s childhood house is very like my own, so there were lots of details I was really able to get into. But when it comes to renaming things, or bringing things in that are mine, I don’t do that, because it’s Raymond’s.
How do you deal with the theme of loss that’s so pertinent in the original? It’s really difficult because it’s not just about losing a person or a thing; it’s about that nostalgia that you can feel, even when you’re a child, when you have a really good time and then it’s over, and there’s a sense of loss. It’s about trying to capture that, rather than solely raw grief.
Illustrations by Robin Shaw from The Snowman by Michael Morpurgo
The Snowman runs till 6th January, Brighton Museum.