Tag Archives: John Hubley

Notes on “Watership Down”

Watership Down

In 1973, Richard Adams’ acclaimed novel Watership Down sold over 30 million copies.  Epic in scope and human in detail, the band of intrepid rabbits led by Hazel, Fiver and Bigwig strike out on an adventure in search of a new home.

Black Rabbit cel

Original production cels (gouache on acetate) on original matching background layout (mixed media on paper.)

In 1978, famed producer and writer, Martin Rosen (Women in Love) brought to the silver screen the much loved story of this group of rabbits.  Conceived, written and produced by Mr. Rosen, Watership Down the animated film was met with tremendous critical and audience praise.  (Four-time Academy Award-winning animators Faith and John Hubley [Moonbird, The Story of an *] developed and designed the opening fable sequence.)


Original production cel set-up (gouache on acetate) for the opening sequence of "Watership Down" designed and animated by John and Faith Hubley. 


Original production cel (gouache on acetate) from the opening sequence of "Watership Down". 

Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times said of the film, “An epic told with elegance, wit and persuasive detail.  It is lyrical, literal, very exciting, often very funny and entirely enchanting.  As it is the best scripted, so it must surely be the best acted animation feature of all.”


Original concept art, mixed media on paper and acetate, for "Watership Down."

What is it about?  A city-state is doomed.  Cassandra-like, a visionary rabbit (Fiver) prophesies the coming calamity.  Together with a small but resolute band of fellows, he sets off for safety and some dimly apprehended place that he has seen in his dreams.  The little band travels across an immense landscape, meeting with strange and fearful adventures on its way.  Such a journey Odysseus made—and the comparison is not inapt.  This great adventure finds its ultimate fulfillment on Watership Down where, after winning battles and surviving harrowing ordeals, harmony is at last established and the future is assured.


Original layout drawing, graphite and colored pencil on 12 field animation paper.

C19 47A

Original production cel (gouache on acetate) with, from left, Silver, Pipkin, Fiver and Bigwig.

Such noted actors as John Hurt (Hazel,) Sir Ralph Richardson (Chief Rabbit,) Zero Mostel (Kehaar the seagull,) Denholm Elliott (Cowslip) and Nigel Hawthorne (Campion) provided the voice characterizations.  Art Garfunkel’s lyrical single “Bright Eyes,” from the soundtrack became the second biggest selling single in British recording history at the time.


Original production cel (gouache on acetate) with photo-reproduced background with, from left, Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig and Blackberry.

Watership Down is one of the best animated films since the heyday of Disney…the story seems to have slipped easily and delightfully on to the screen…the film is remarkably beautiful to look at.” –Financial Times, London, U.K.