Released in 1978, Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman has endured as a beloved winter’s tale and is synonymous with the British festive period. This year we commemorate the story on our official Christmas coin with a charming reverse design by the award-winning animator and illustrator Robin Shaw, who also served as Assistant Director of the film adaptation’s sequel, The Snowman and The Snowdog™. We spoke to Emma Noble, a product designer at The Royal Mint who helped bring the coin to life, and gathered some insights from Robin on his creative process and inspiration for this year’s design.
The Little Boy Inspired by The Snowman™
Much like the falling snow that prompted James, The Snowman’s central character, to build a snowman, the film adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ story inspired a young Robin Shaw to follow a path that has resulted in an award-winning creative career.
“The Snowman was something I saw as a child and entranced me. I looked at the book and saw the film and thought: ‘That’s what I want to do!’ To be entrusted with Raymond Briggs’ most enduring creation continues to be an incredible honour and joy.”
Reimagining a Classic on a Coin
Robin is no stranger to creating coin designs for The Royal Mint, having supplied the reverse designs for The Snowman coins of recent years. He discusses his inspiration for this year’s design and the particular sentiment he wanted to explore:
“There is something very special about the moment James draws the smile on the snowman. It is the moment of creation; the moment when the snowman is given character. There’s a wonderful ambiguity to it. Is it James giving the snowman that character or is he revealing it? That was the sentiment I wanted to explore.”
Producing a fresh design is no easy task and takes an inordinate level of talent and thought, as Robin explains:
“Because of the size of the finished coin, the design had to be very clear. I drew on the frames in the original book showing James building The Snowman, as these capture the growing relationship between the two of them before The Snowman has even come to life. They also needed to work perfectly as small, clear images that individually capture a moment. That’s ultimately what I wanted to achieve with this design; it’s all about showing the relationship between the little boy and snowman.”
The Snowman story has become iconic but so too have the original illustrations that Raymond Briggs created for the book. Using soft pencil illustrations, he managed to create a hazy, nostalgic feel that perfectly captured the atmosphere of a magical snowy day. Reinterpreting this imagery would inevitably produce challenges, which Robin acknowledged:
“One of the main challenges, as is always the case, was making sure The Snowman simply looked right. In each of the book illustrations and in every scene of the film he looks different. Even across the countless illustrations I have drawn of him over the years, the actual details and proportions of his face change and shift depending on the moment being captured. It is so easy to think, ‘Oh, his head is just a white circle with two dots for eyes and a satsuma nose.’ The truth is, however, because there are so few details, everything must be in just the right place and drawn just the right way for the expression and emotion to shine through.”
Bringing the Design to Life
With almost 24 years’ experience of working in The Royal Mint’s coin design department, Emma Noble has become a true master of her craft.
Using a computer package called ArtCAM and often working with very small relief heights, it takes great dexterity and precision for Emma to render designs onto a coin. For instance, on a 50p coin she can only go to a maximum height of 0.17mm – the level of accuracy and precision required to produce something of such quality and intricacy is quite extraordinary. Emma had the following to say on working on a coin design for such a beloved theme:
“Everyone knows The Snowman, whether it’s the book or film, as they’re both still extremely popular to this day. It was a privilege to create the model for the coin and help bring Robin’s design to life. I think this year’s coin is wonderful, especially since it’s released at Christmastime when there’s that magic and excitement of the festive period in the air.”