Gerald Potterton

Gerald Potterton, who has died at 91, was an animator who did some of the work on the Beatles film Yellow Submarine, directed the Ivan Reitman cult film Heavy Metal, and was a writer and producer whose work was nominated for three Academy Awards. He lived on a farm on Centre Road for 50 years and was active in this community while working on world-scale projects. 

Gerald Potterton was born in London in 1931. The Second World War broke out when he was eight years old, and like many children from London, he was moved to safety outside the city. As a boy, he used to lie on the ground and watch British and German fighters engage and see bombers take off from nearby bases. It instilled a lifelong fascination with aircraft, and his farmhouse has models of Lancaster and B-17 bombers hanging from the ceiling. He built his first model aircraft when he was eight years old. 

After art school, Gerald was an assistant animator on the production of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. “He created the two pigs, Snowball and Napoleon,” said his wife Karen Marginson, a voice actor and retired publicist from the National Film Board, where the two met. Potterton moved to Montreal in 1954 to work at the National Film Board. One of his short animated films was My Financial Career, an animated version of the Stephen Leacock short story. 

“Animation takes time. You can do it quickly, but it takes time,” said Mr. Potterton in 2014. My Financial Career was nominated for an Academy Award, one of his three nominations. In 1968 he went back to London, where he worked on parts of the Beatles’ film Yellow Submarine, creating backgrounds for street scenes in Liverpool. 

Mr. Potterton returned to work in Montreal and bought a 200-acre farm on Centre Road in 1972. The Canadian producer Ivan Reitman approached Potterton to direct the 1981 cult classic Heavy Metal. It was a complex job; Gerald supervised the work of more than 65 animators in Canada, England and the United States. 

Gerald was involved in local life. He directed three plays for the Knowlton Players. Locals knew snippets of his background, but he never boasted about his artistic success. 

“He was humble about his achievements and incredibly down to earth,” said Bill Jarand, an actor and drama teacher at Massey Vanier, at a retrospective of Mr. Potterton’s work at the Knowlton Film Festival the week after he died. 

Mr. Potterton never really retired and was never ill until the last three weeks of his life. One of his most well-known paintings shows the Brome Lake Museum’s biplane making a fictional flight over the Mill Pond.  In 2020 Mr. Potterton wrote and illustrated a popular children’s book about Joseph-Armand Bombardier, the inventor of the snowmobile. L’homme des neiges was published by Éditions Québec Amérique. 

Gerald Potterton died in Cowansville, Quebec, on August 23, 2022. He is survived by his wife Karen Marginson, his sister Audrey, ex-wife Judith Merritt, sons Richard, Oliver and Sam, and three grandchildren. 

A few of Mr. Potterton’s works of art diplayed at Theatre Lac Brome.