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David Nelson Godfrey Mitton
13 July 1938
Preston, Prestonpans, East Lothian, Scotland
|Died||16 May 2008
David Nelson Godfrey Mitton (13 July 1938 – 16 May 2008) was a British television writer, director, producer, model maker and special effect technician, and an experienced model-maker and author, best known for producing and directing the children's TV programmes Thomas & 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 The Strathallan School in Perthshire. On leaving school, he briefly attended art school before joining the Royal Air Force. He served with the RAF at Christmas Island, and at Honolulu before returning to serve at Southern Region Air Traffic Control, RAF Uxbridge, later he served at RAF Riyan up-country from Aden in what is now Yemen. He also served in Cyprus with the air-sea rescue service, and then left the Royal Air Force in 1962.
On his return from RAF service 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 Derek Meddings 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 puppet 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 and American-born producer Robert D. Cardona. 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 "Prize Guys” yoghurt attracted the attention of television producer Britt Allcroft, who had acquired the television rights to a series of books known as The Railway Series from its author, the Reverend Wilbert Awdry. Allcroft approached Mitton to develop a pilot for a television series, and in a joint partnership between her production company (known as The Britt Allcroft Company) and Clearwater Features, they made Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends between 1984 and 2003. On 1 January 1991, Clearwater Features became part of The Britt Allcroft Company, and in 2002, HiT Entertainment bought out Allcroft and retitled the programme Thomas & Friends.
In 1982, he opened Brittwood Productions, a modeled company that produces Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.
Mitton directed 180 out of 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 the narrator 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, Allcroft helped created Shining Time Station (1989–1995) in the United States on the Public Broadcasting Service. Because of the sequences that introduced the stories from Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends to American audiences, Shining Time Station became a successful television show. Merchandise for Thomas The Tank Engine & Friends had been available before the television programme, but the programme created a new multimillion-pound industry and became an unstoppable phenomenon which could be seen in 145 countries worldwide.
In 1989, inspired by the success of Thomas & Friends, Mitton and his new company, Clearwater Features, produced a new children's television series called Tugs, which lasted for thirteen episodes. Thomas & Friends 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 Series 7 of Thomas & Friends. Following Mitton's departure, crew member Steve Asquith took his place as director from Series 8 to Series 12. In 2006, Mitton started another company, Pineapple Squared Entertainment, with director David Lane, whom Mitton had worked with on Thunderbirds earlier in his career.
Mitton and Lane had been working on several projects prior to the former's death, including the production of the computer-animated 26-part TV series Adventures on Orsum Island.
Mitton was married twice and had two sons, from both marriages.
Mitton died on 16 May 2008, having suffered a heart attack. He was 69 years old. His death wasn't announced until 28 May.
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)
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