Gerald Potterton, the London-born filmmaker and animator who directed the 1981 animated cult favorite Heavy Metal and contributed to the memorable “Liverpool” sequence in the 1968 Beatles film Yellow Submarine, died today at a Quebec hospital. He was 91.
His death was announced by the National Film Board of Canada. No cause was stated.
“Gerald came to Canada and the NFB to be part of a new wave of storytelling, one that was fresh and irreverent, and he brought great wit and creativity to every project,” said Claude Joli-Coeur, NFB Chairperson and Government Film Commissioner, in a statement. “He was also a builder, helping to lay the foundation for today’s independent Canadian animation industry with Potterton Productions…He was an exceptional artist and a truly nice man.”
Potterton had graduated from London’s Hammersmith Art School when he moved to Canada in 1954, working with the NFB before directing his own notable animated shorts in the early ’60s. Among his early credits were two Oscar-nominated films: My Financial Career (1962) and, in 1963, Christmas Cracker (1963), which he co-directed with Norman McLaren, Jeff Hale and Grant Munro.
He also directed live-action films, including the 1963 comedy The Ride and the acclaimed late-career Buster Keaton short film The Railrodder (1965).
Potterton had started his own Montreal-based studio Potterton Productions in 1967 when, the following year, he was invited by his friend, director George Dunning, to return to London to contribute to a highly anticipated Beatles film. Potterton did layout for what would come to be known as the “Liverpool” sequence of Dunning’s film featuring the song “Eleanor Rigby.”
In 1969, Potterton animated the “Pinter People” segment of the NBC Experiment in Television series. The segment was based on the work of playwright Harold Pinter.
Returning to his studio in Montreal, Potterton produced the 1971 Oscar-nominated animated short The Selfish Giant, based on an Oscar Wilde short story.
In 1981, Potterton directed Columbia Pictures’ animated science fiction-fantasy anthology film Heavy Metal, adapted from the magazine of the same name. With its graphic violence and sexuality, the film was pointedly aimed at the adult market, with good-versus-evil sci-fi fantasy tales voiced by a cast that included SCTV stars John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy and Harold Ramis, among others. Though only a modest success upon its release, the film’s heavy-metal-poster style of animation would prove influential, and its popular soundtrack included songs by Black Sabbath, Blue Öyster Cult, Sammy Hagar, Journey and Nazareth, to name a few.
Subsequent credits include the 1983 short The Awful Fate of Melpomenus Jones and the 1985 TV-movie George and the Christmas Star. In 1987, he co-created the Canadian animated children’s series The Smoggies, which ran until 1991.
Potterton was selected by the World Animation Celebration in 1998 as one of “Ten Men Who Have Rocked the Animation World.” According to the NFB, there have been more than a dozen retrospectives and lifetime honors for his work over the years, including at the Ottawa Animation Film Festival in 1994 and the Seattle Film Festival in 1997.
🕯️ With a heavy heart, we mourn the passing of long-time friend and collaborator Gerald Potterton (1931-2022). Join us in celebrating the life of the director behind Heavy Metal & The Railrodder by revisiting his #NFB filmography→ https://t.co/9gzBNJKjvF 📸w/ Buster Keaton, 1965 pic.twitter.com/WYzJlgMsdR