The original 130 film stories of Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends would never have been made in the way so loved by children if it were not for the artistry of David Mitton.
Beginning in 1980, I spent over 2 years meeting animators and watching show reels in all sorts of styles - classical , stop frame, clay and computer. The latter was in its infancy and lacked the warmth I wanted for Thomas. Also, he needed to exist in a dimensional world that would seem familiar and totally accessible to children sitting at home watching TV.
At last, an animator phoned me and said "There's this yoghurt commercial - I think you should meet the guy who directed it. He's in South London." I did meet him and he was David Mitton.
A yoghurt carton bobbing around in water may seem far removed from Thomas chuffing along his branch line, but from little yoghurt pots big engines grow.
David completely understood my vision for the look of Thomas and he knew how to achieve it. In 4 words - live action model animation.
David also introduced me to an amazing group of talented people - Steve Asquith, Terry Permane, Bob Gauld Galliers, Dave Eves and more.
With the help of the local bank to fund production, Ringo Starr agreeing to be the storyteller, Mike O'Donnell
and Junior Campbell composing the music, we made our first film - "Thomas Down The Mine." It knocked everyone's socks off!
David and I went on to write 130 stories together - as many as possible based on The Rev. W. Awdry's own stories.
We all approached the stories as if each one were a gleaming, high quality feature film in miniature. David's love of the epic nature of film was put to wonderful use - think the opening of "Henry and The Flying Kipper."
I was a stickler for balancing shots of epic landscapes with the intimacy and humour of engine conversational exchanges. David had a good sense of humour but you wouldn't hear many laughs if you visited the shooting set. There was mostly silence - the silence of total concentration and dedication to the cause. The making of magic by supreme film making.
David's first love, and where he felt most at home, was on the film set creating wonderful shots. No one did it better. He genuinely loved all the engines and talked of them as living beings - which, of course, they are and always will be in the hearts and minds of children everywhere.
Great collaborations do not come about by accident. They happen for a purpose. What better purpose than giving so much happiness to so many in the spirit of excellence.
If I have one regret for David, it is that he had learnt of some plan that future Thomas production be made in CGI. I would rather that he had passed on in ignorance of that news.
Whatever the future may or may not bring, his work deserves to last forever. Thank you David or as you would sign off to me "Yours Aye"