line.gif - 1064 Bytes

Warren Street

Tuesday, 5th November 2002, West Yorkshire

I've been asked to sort out a few examples of my sketchbook work and to look out some of my backgrounds for the animated version of Richard Adams' novel Watership Down. In six months work on the film, at the studio near Warren Street underground station, London, my main work was on the Cowslip's warren sequence, which lasts no more than three minutes in the film.

Cowslip's WarrenTracking down the sketchbook on the shelf brings back many memories. These small sketches are two of sixteen on one spread in my sketchbook working out my ideas for each shot. I've made notes such as 'STUFFY CLAUSTRAPHOBIAC ATMOSPHERE OF A VICTORIAN VICARAGE' (spelling was never my strong point), which was a suggestion from the film's original director, John Hubley (1914-1977).

Tracking Shot

Because of creative differences with Hubley the film's producer Michael Rosen took over the direction of the film. Hubley, who had a playful way with animation, had been interested in my sketchbook approach and, looking at a drawing of mine of a hawthorn branch, suggested that parts of the film might be done just in that way; as a sketchbook page against a white background, the rabbits moving around the page.

In contrast Martin insisted that the drama of the story was his over-riding concern and he directed it almost as if he was directing a live-action film; to him too much experimentation with playful animation styles would be a distraction for the audience.

In my sketchbook there are also notes about panning shots, backlighting effects and a suggestion for a translucent overlay to show 'beams of light slanting through dusty air'.

The panorama above was a tracking shot. As the camera moved along the foreground from left to right the background, seen through holes cut where the burrow entrances are drawn, moved in the opposite direction, giving the impression that the camera was moving around the visiting band of rabbits, who are feeding in the main chamber of the warren, watching them from the shadows, like the strange, unsettling inmates of Cowslip's warren.

As I say, I was a background artist and I never worked on the rabbits themselves (apart from a few sketches of wild rabbits, drawn at Hubley's request) and the looping cartoon (above, right) is something I drew for fun, years later, to explore the possibilities of the animated page


Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

E-mail; ''