Euan Frizzell animated and directed everything from commercials (around 200 of them) to award-winning children's films and documentaries. But his special interest was in characters and character animation.“When animated characters live for more than a few shots they inevitably develop lives of their own," Frizzell said.
"When that starts happening you are beginning to get a soul in the character, and something that you can really work with. It becomes both a personal piece of expression and a collaboration with the character, which is a huge amount of fun.”
Frizzell was born and raised on the Canterbury Plains. In the mid 70s he studied for a Diploma in Visual Communication in Design at Wellington Polytechnic. After buying a second-hand 8mm movie camera he began experimenting with animation. At this point animation was largely hand-drawn, and shot on film. By the time Frizzell graduated in 1975 he was hooked, and began working as an animator and cameraman. During this period he provided animation for car and man opus The Dominant Species, created his first short animated film (The Peaceful Partisans of the World) and shot early Vincent Ward documentary Ma Olsen.
In the late 70s Frizzell spent time training as an animator at England's pioneering Halas & Batchelor studio. He was also part of the animation team on ambitious anthology movie Heavy Metal (1980), inspired by the cult sci fi magazine.
In 1982, back in Wellington again, Frizzell relaunched his company Gnome Productions (first born in 1977). Alongside commercials and opening and closing credit sequences for film, he would make a name with his many films for children, including early award-winner The Wizard and his Magic Spells (1984) and Shopping with a Crocodile (1986), which was nominated at Animafest, one of the oldest animation festivals in Europe. A number of his films would prove healthy sellers on video.
By the 90s Frizzell was leading the company alongside producer/ managing director Shaun Bell, who he credited with playing a major part in Gnome's expansion. The company grew to as many as 50 staff. Among the many to have learnt from Frizzell over the years are Dylan Coburn (Karactaz Animation), Cameron Chittock (Meet the Feebles), George Port (PRPFX) and many Weta Digital talents. Frizzell animated classic characters Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, Daffy Duck, and Fred Flintstone, and the company worked with companion company Toonz Animation in Auckland on a number of programmes for Disney. He also helped animate NZ On Air's beloved goldfish, Eric.
Frizzell's 1991 adaptation of Margaret Mahy tale The Great White Man-Eating Shark won a long line of international awards. He then directed and commanded animation on another four Mahy tales: The Boy with Two Shadows, Keeping House, The Witch in the Cherry Tree and The Three-Legged Cat. Collected on 1994 volume The Magical World of Margaret Mahy, they reached platinum sales status (Frizzell would also animate a number of characters for A Tall, Long Faced Tale, a documentary about Mahy).
Frizzell went on to apply his animation talents to a series of stories by another Kiwi chidren's storywriting legend, Lynley Dodd. Narrated by Miranda Harcourt, the tales were screened in some territories as television series Hairy Maclary. On video, the second Maclary volume became the bestselling Kiwi title of 1998. In the same period, Cameron Chittock called on Frizzell to co-direct series Oscar and Friends. Mixing claymation with painted backgrounds, Oscar proved a healthy seller overseas.
When director Chris Wilks decided to trace the history of Kiwi animation in documentary From Len Lye to Gollum (2004), he chose Frizzell to handle animation duties. Frizzell would win a New Zealand Screen Award for his efforts. By now three quarters of his work was being made for international distribution.
Frizzell also directed and animated Musacus, an instructional film promoting a NZ-born musical education system that helps students learn keys via colour-coding, instead of notation. The film was a finalist in the distance learning category of the 2007 New York Festivals awards.
Working with IP company Geniosity — which he cofounded in 2009 — Frizzell led the animation of Rugger Tales, a slot on children's rugby series Small Blacks TV. He also masterminded the animated ID for Wellington company Cereal TV.
Frizzell was a founding member of the Games Animation Visual Effects Trust, who organised the first of many AnimfxNZ conferences in 2006.
Euan Frizzell passed away on 23 September 2012.
From Len Lye to Gollum (Television Documentary) Director Chris Wilks (2004)
'Oscar and Friends'. Cameron Chittock website. Accessed 2 November 2015
Geniosity Limited website (Broken link). Accessed 2 November 2015
AnimfxNz website. Accessed 2 November 2015