Alan Dewhurst, Passion Pictures co-founder and BAFTA-nominated producer of Peter & the Wolf, died from cancer in late May. He was 63. Dewhurst’s family confirmed the news to Cartoon Brew.
Dewhurst was born on February 19, 1960 in Salford, Greater Manchester and when he was seven, his family relocated to North London. His father is playwright Keith Dewhurst and his mother was actress Eve Pearce, who died earlier this year. Dewhurst went to St. Aidan’s Primary School in Stroud Green then Highgate School before enrolling in Peterhouse College at Cambridge University where he studied archaeology and anthropology.
Dewhurst started in the animation industry as a runner at the Soho Square studio of the legendary Richard Williams. He worked with Williams for four years, doing mostly commercial service work.
In a 2013 interview, Dewhurst said of his former boss, “He’s really a kind of inspirational character, and from him I learned many of the things that I’ve sought to apply throughout my career.”
As his time working with Williams came to an end, Dewhurst partnered with Andrew Ruhemann to launch Passion Pictures. Williams had started working on Who Framed Roger Rabbit and was no longer taking advertising jobs, so he recommended the upstart studio to his clients. Within two weeks of opening their doors, Dewhurst and Ruhemann had a full pipeline of commercial work.
According to Dewhurst, the early Passion years were spent working to improve the level of the company’s output and match the level of quality to which he was accustomed from his time spent with Williams. He also wanted to follow Williams’ career path and eventually get into narrative production. Dewhurst saw Passion as a commercial company “with a view of using the success of service work to help develop and get us on our way with narrative work.”
As the years went by, however, Dewhurst felt Passion was settling too comfortably into a service work niche due to its tremendous commercial success. So, in 1998, he sold his half of the company to Ruhemann and set out to fulfill his dream of producing narrative animation.
Dewhurst eventually teamed with Hugh Welchman at Breakthru Films, who he’d met teaching at the National Film and Television School in the U.K. According to Dewhurst, his years spent in academia were foundational to his later narrative work.
He described his time in education as “a really pivotal experience because over the course of about three years, I helped supervise about 20 graduation films of many different kinds, working with many different directors and producers in many different styles, many different aesthetics. And I feel that’s where I really kind of learned about the guts of narrative filmmaking.”
Dewhurst took what he learned from working with students and applied it to several independent short films that he produced, the most successful being the Oscar-winning musical short Peter and the Wolf. What’s more, Dewhurst recruited one of his former students, Suzie Templeton, to direct the film.
Peter & the Wolf was developed over a period of three years. According to Dewhurst, the project was incredibly difficult to finance and eventually ended up receiving capital from 13 different sources, an exceptional number for a British animated short at the time.
He says another difficulty was getting the director he wanted, but that he always knew it had to be Templeton. “Suzie had made the best student short I’d ever seen in Dog and was clearly one of the best British animation directors of the last few decades.”
With Dewhurt’s coaxing, Templeton eventually did board as co-writer and director, and Dewhurst’s instincts paid off. The world premiere, with live accompaniment by the Philharmonic Orchestra, sold out London’s Royal Albert Hall in September 2006 and other live performances were held in several other countries. Produced by Breakthru with Se-ma-for Studios in Łódź, Poland, it was nominated for a BAFTA, won both the top Annecy Cristal and the festival’s audience award, and eventually won the Oscar in 2008 for best animated short.
In a social media post, former Passion employee and longtime Dewhurst friend Fraser MacLean wrote:
Alan and Andrew knew and understood the power and the importance of quality in all aspects of the work: creative, technical, and organizational and it was wonderful to have that confidence – that none of the work they brought through the studio was ever anything other than the best quality. For all that I knew him as a reserved and quiet character, Alan always had a very distinct spark in his eye and the beginnings of a smile on his face – and I always felt that he knew and understood and cared a great deal about the potential of the many different animation teams he built and managed. The industry and the community in London – and much further afield – has lost a very sincere, focused, and visionary man.”
Dewhurst is survived by his wife Ellen Walder, his sons Henry and Alexander, his sisters Emma and Faith Dewhurst, and father Keith Dewhurst.