Derek Lamb


It almost seems trite to blog about a matter this personal, but I wanted to say a few words about a mentor and a friend who I just learned lost his battle with cancer last week.

My first job in the 'industry' was as Production Assistant on the animated film Goldtooth: Karate Kids 2, under the leadership and Direction of Derek Lamb. Produced in 1996, the film focuses on youth substance abuse, including glue and gasoline sniffing, a common health problem among street youth worldwide. In 1997, Goldtooth won the UNICEF Meena Prize at the Ottawa International Film Festival, which recognizes outstanding animated films dealing with children's issues and rights.

Working on this project was a life altering experience for me. I learned a lot about the business, the world and myself. Derek taught me about art, about commerce and about the importance of doing good works.

Born in England, Derek began his film career as an animator-writer with the National Film Board in Montréal in 1959. In his time at the NFB he played some role in over 200 productions as a director, producer, animator and composer. He taught animation at Harvard and McGill Universities and the National Institute of Design in India. The last time I heard from Derek he sent a postcard from India (where he was working on a project for Unicef). He drew a picture of two happy little men sitting on top of a mountain wearing fez hats. I 'heart' India was all it said. Vintage Derek.

He returned to the NFB as an executive producer in 1976, and in 1977 he became director of its English animation department. During his five years as director, he produced two Academy Award® winners, Special Delivery (1978) and Every Child (1980). He was the executive producer on The Hockey Sweater, that perfect slice of Canadiana that we all know so well from its screenings on CBC. He is also known for animating the opening credits and designing the stage sets that provided the backdrop for the long-running PBS series, Mystery! using original artwork by Edward Gorey.

Not just a genius filmmaker, Derek had a love of music and had been an accomplished folksinger in the early 1960s. He even opened for a then-unknown Bob Dylan in '62 during his first Montreal appearance. A favourite anecdote of Derek's after a few beers involved a fellow who told him after the show: "That Dylan guy was terrible, but you were great!"

The last project Derek worked on was Peep and the Big Wide World, a children's series on PBS that was the brainchild of the wonderful Kaj Pindal who was a longtime collaborator of Derek's and the creator of many of the characters in Goldtooth. Peep was a huge success even winning the's a picture of the wonderful Kaj with his well deserved award. I'm so glad they saw this project through together and that the last thing they worked on together was a success. I adore Kaj and when I think of Derek's passing the fact that Kaj lost such a dear friend and collaborator just breaks my heart. When I was working with them, watching them create together was like watching two little kids who really loved eachother play in the sandbox together. They never seemed to lose the joy that comes with discovery.

Derek loved to connect with audiences and tell stories any way he could. He often told me when we were working together about how influenced he was by the shows he took in at the British Music Halls when he was a boy. I love to connect with audiences and tell stories in my own way - and when I think of that, and think about my influences I think immediately of my first great boss and his legacy with affection, pride and gratitude. He will be missed.

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