In Memoriam: Peter James Stenhouse

Peter James Stenhouse, director of animation at Fifty Nine Productions, has died at the age of 30, while swimming off the coast of La Coruna Province in Spain, where he was holidaying with his partner, Caroline Haggerty. He is survived by his father Bob, his mother Cathie, and his sister Jennie.

Stenhousegrew up in Upper Hutt, a small city northwest of Wellington in New Zealand, and went on to attend Heretaunga College and Massey University. For the last three years, he spent most of his time based in London where he worked as director of animation at Fifty Nine Productions, creating animation for use in the projection design of stage productions. But his wanderlust meant that he was seldom tied down to any one place for long. At the time of his death, he was living in Madrid, but his recent travelog includes lengthy voyages to Cambodia, Vietnam, and an 8,000 km, 149-day trip through Europe in 2009, on his trusty bike, Rose.

The team at Fifty Nine Productions first got to know Stenhouse in March 2009, in the months leading up to that epic cycle trip when he answered an advert placed in the trade press looking for an animator to work on a project celebrating the 125th Anniversary of the Metropolitan Opera, New York. The work that he produced for the show was breathtaking - a playful, beautiful, bravura interpretation of Chagal's painting, The Triumph of Music, set to the Overture to Mozart's Magic Flute, which wowed critics and left the audience speechless.

Stenhouse went on to work on numerous projects with us over the following few years, but he always did so on his terms, frequently working on his laptop from whichever city he was calling his home at the time. He picked and chose from the projects that we offered to him very carefully, as he was obviously (and often infuriatingly) an artist with great integrity. Money was of little interest to him, so tempting him to work on something was always a case of making sure that the piece itself was creatively engaging, rather than particularly lucrative. He never failed to amaze us with his painstaking attention to detail, his technical ingenuity and his visual flair. When talking proudly about him to other colleagues and friends, we frequently and accurately apply the word 'genius'.

His outstanding talent was globally showcased in the work that he created for Icelandic singer Jónsi, of Sigur Rós fame's live show, covered in Live Design last year, which toured the world last year and was described by The Guardian as "staggering." His animated animals - armies of ants, prowling wolves, and soaring birds helped create an atmosphere of magic, which was some how run through with the same sense of hope, optimism and joy that often seemed to surround Stenhouse.

His list of credits included work for The Lincoln Center Theatre's War Horse, The Metropolitan Opera House, The Royal Opera House, and The English National Opera. Despite this, there is one quality which is remarked upon by everyone who knew Stenhouse: and that is that he absolutely epitomised the notion of joie de vivre. He lived life at maximum capacity, and packed more in to his tragically short life than many people manage given three times the time.

It is telling that it has been difficult to work out where to hold a memorial service for Peter as he was loved the world over. He was able to make himself - and everyone he met - feel at home, wherever he was.

Printed with permission from Fifty Nine Productions.

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