David Mitton : biography
David Nelson Godfrey Mitton (27 February 1939–16 May 2008) was a British television producer and director, and an experienced model-maker and author, best known for producing and directing the children's TV series Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends and Tugs. During the 1960s, he worked with Gerry and Sylvia Anderson as a special effects technician on series such as Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Joe 90, The Secret Service and UFO.
David Mitton was born in Preston, East Lothian and educated at Strathallan School in Perthshire. On leaving school he briefly attended art school before joining the Royal Navy air-sea rescue service and being assigned to Aden, in the Middle East.
Awards and Nominations
- 1985: Nominated for Best Animated Film for Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends (shared with Britt Allcroft and Robert D. Cardona)
- 1987: Nominated for Best Animated Film for Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends (shared with Robert D. Cardona)
On his return from the Middle East in the early sixties, Mitton embarked on a career in children's television. He began working as a special effects technician on a series of programmes created by Gerry Anderson's AP Films that used a puppet technology called supermarionation. Mitton was a member of the supervising visual effects director David Medding's team, displaying a special skill in setting up the electronics necessary to blow up buildings on cue in Thunderbirds (1965-1966), Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967-1968), Joe 90 (1968), The Secret Service (1969) and UFO (1970-1971).
As Gerry Anderson moved away from animation, Mitton became freelance. He worked as Assistant Director to Ridley Scott on the famous Hovis commercials of the seventies in the United Kingdom and began directing animated television commercials himself. In the mid-seventies he established a company called Clearwater Films (later Clearwater Features), with former Thunderbirds director Ken Turner. The company soon gained a reputation for innovative stop-frame animated television commercials. Clearwater produced two award-winning commercials, one for Hovis set in an orbiting space station and another for PG Tips tea bags.
Another commercial for 'Ski' yoghurt attracted the attention of Britt Allcroft, who had acquired the television rights to the Thomas the Tank Engine stories from their author, the Reverend Wilbert Awdry. Britt Allcroft approached Mitton to develop a pilot for a television series and in a joint partnership between her company and Clearwater Films they made Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends between 1984 and 2003. In 1991 Clearwater Films became part of The Britt Allcroft Company and in 2003 HIT Entertainment bought out Britt Allcroft and retitled the programme Thomas & Friends.
Mitton directed all 182 episodes of the seven series made between 1984 and 2003 as well as writing the scripts once the original stories had been filmed. Mitton was able to move each engine's eyes in real time – not stop-frame animation– by using a radio control linked to a motor mounted behind them, and there was a sculpted mask that could be changed to give different facial expressions. The role of Mr. Conductor was played by Ringo Starr for the first two series in the United Kingdom and the first series in the United States. Ringo Starr was replaced by Michael Angelis in the United Kingdom and George Carlin in the United States.
The show became an instant success on British television and in 1989 it was released as Shining Time Station in the United States on the PBS channel and proved equally as popular. Merchandise for Thomas The Tank Engine had been available before the television programmes but the show created a new multi-million-pound industry and became an unstoppable phenomenon which could be seen in 145 countries worldwide.
In 1989, inspired by the success of Thomas the Tank Engine, Mitton and his new company, Clearwater Features, produced a new children's television series called Tugs which lasted for thirteen episodes. Thomas the Tank Engine also inspired the 2000 feature film Thomas and the Magic Railroad with Alec Baldwin as Mr. Conductor. Mitton was a creative consultant for the models used in the film.
Mitton left following the completion of the seventh series of Thomas the Tank Engine. In 2006, he started another company, Pineapple Squared Entertainment, with director David Lane, who Mitton had worked with on Thunderbirds earlier in his career.
Mitton and Lane had been working on several projects prior to his passing, including the production of the computer-animated 26 part TV series Adventures on Orsum Island. Mitton passed away on the 16 May 2008 having suffered a heart attack.
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