Barry J.C. Purves is an internationally renowned animator, set designer and director of both cinema and theatre, with a career of more than 45 years behind him. Born in Suffolk but currently living in Altrincham, he moved to Manchester in 1973 to study Drama and Classical Studies at the University of Manchester, thus merging his love for Greek civilization and for theatre. He debuts initially as an actor, but, feeling more inclined to work backstage, he later becomes a set designer and a director.
He took his first steps in the world of stop-motion animation at the important television studio in Cosgrove Hall, where he worked first as an animator and then as a director for several years. Since his first assignment in the Chorlton and the Wheelies series he lets his talent be shown: his marked sensitivity leads him to treat puppets with sweetness and attention, as well as with extreme precision and diligence. He immediately learns to work according to the rhythm of a television set: speed and efficiency are essential, but no more than good teamwork. He also kept working at Cosgrove Hall as an animator and assistant director for The Pied Piper Of Hamelin in 1980 and for The Wind in the Willows from 1981 to 1986.
In 1986, after a great deal of experience, he decided to temporarily leave the television studios to work as a freelancer, making some of his award-winning short films and film projects. In 1989 he made his debut with Next! – The Infinite Variety Show, an homage to Shakespeare in which we see a young Shakespeare puppet who stages, in an audition of a few minutes, all of his plays in a succession of changes of clothes and transformism.
Strengthened by the success of his first short film, he soon directs others, always using stop-motion: in 1992 he released Screen Play, the story of a tragic love told according to the aesthetics of the nō and kabuki theatre, followed in 1993 by Rigoletto, a reinterpretation of Verdi’s famous drama, and in 1995 by Achilles, inspired this time by the characters of the Iliad Achilles and Patroclus and their love affair, exploring their relationship from a carnal point of view.
In 1998 he devoted himself to a short film about Gilbert and Sullivan, the iconic duo of the English operetta, to which he gives the title of Gilbert & Sullivan – The Very Models, while in 2001 he worked on a fresh and light project, about an aardvark who dreams of become a drummer, called Hamilton Mattress.
He went back to directing in 2010 with Plume, his most intimate film; a metaphor for the elaboration of a mourning, Plume is the story of a winged man whose wings are torn off by demonic beings, and who, in order to continue living, finally learns to swim. The eighth short film, Tchaikovsky – An Elegy, is a melancholy examination of the life of the famous Russian composer through his own eyes, visual elegy which summarizes the main events of his career in a few minutes.
Besides the success of his own short films, his talent does not keep him away from the television scenes for too long: he is again requested by Cosgrove Hall in 2005, where he returns to work for the successful series Postman Pat, Fifi and the Flowertots and Bob the Builder.
He then directs two series both of 52 episodes: Rupert Bear and Toby’s Traveling Circus, a Mackinnon & Saunders production for Komixx and Channel 5, but an even more important collaboration is that of the Twirlywools series from 2015 to 2017, that went on for 100 episodes. With an average duration of ten minutes per episode, these sweet animations for children are capable of transmitting many wonderful teachings to the little ones, also thanks to the concreteness of the frame-by-frame technique, which brings the characters of these series closer to young spectators.
Other than being director, animator and set designer, Barry Purves is the author of two film manuals, Stop Motion – Passion, Process, Performance (2007, Focal Press), and Basics Animation – Stop Motion (2010, Ava Publishing), and he is also involved in teaching this technique at universities all over the world, where he holds master classes and seminars.
Barry Purves’ Theatre Production
Despite his main focus on animation, Barry has never abandoned his passion for theatre. As a matter of fact, he has been working for numerous theatrical productions, especially for the Altrincham Garrick Playhouse, where he is either director, set designer, or both. His plays are characterized by extreme attention to detail and design that blend tradition and innovation, making creative and unconventional style choices. He also pays the utmost attention to the script, so that it is well formulated and effective.
His first job as director and set designer was for The Bald Prima Donna, which was followed by many others, including of course Shakespearean reinterpretations of The Turn of the Screw and Verdi’s Il Trovatore and Rigoletto, passing from The Importance of Being Earnest to Jekyll and Hyde until the very recent Frankenstein (2022). As mentioned before, he has very often worked as a set designer; his most recent work is The Little Mermaid (2021), a show with explosive costumes and a sparkling atmosphere, but he has also designed other important productions such as Aladdin, Romeo and Juliet and The Secret Garden. In total, Barry has worked on about forty productions in twenty years; he is an example of passion and commitment, the same he dedicates to this form of art that is the full expression of himself.
NO ORDINARY JOE
His latest short film, No Ordinary Joe, is a very original project inspired once again by the life of an out of the ordinary character: for his ninth film, Barry has chosen to celebrate the exploits of an absolutely extravagant woman, Marion Barbara Carstairs, or, more simply, Joe Carstairs. Born in the early twentieth century, Joe was nothing more than the typical respectable woman of the time: she was among the first to declare herself openly homosexual and non-binary; she embarked on a career as an entrepreneur in the automotive sector; she became a motorboat pilot, winning numerous competitions and making herself known for her speed.
However, what attracted Barry the most about her was her friendship with a puppet, which she nicknamed Lord Tod Wadley, a leather doll that she had kept with her since the 1920s and that accompanied her everywhere, as her right-hand and alter-ego.
Using both stop-motion and live action, Barry decides to keep his typical theatrical structure, setting the story on a stage clearly “dressed” as Joe’s bedroom, played by the famous Scottish actress Lindsay Duncan. Joe, sitting at her dressing table, indulges in a profound reflection on her own life, gently recalling the past and the events of the times gone by, with the company of her faithful companion Toddie, who always speaks to her honestly.
With the characters of Joe and Toddie, Barry makes two opposite operations at the same time: he directs an actress in live action, and he animates a lifeless puppet, bringing together two personalities both different and complementary, and establishing a spontaneous and intimate dialogue between them, in which even the viewer feels welcome to enter this magical world.