Friday, June 10, 2011

Milt Kahl

I think Milt Kahl was one of the most important and influential artists of the 20th century. As far as the look of the Disney style, there were three main animators who influenced and shaped it. Ub Iwerks, Fred Moore and then Milt Kahl for the longest period. 
Ollie Johnston said that Walt leaned on Milt for for the final look of the Disney characters, because he saw appeal and believability in his drawings.
Even Marc Davis stated : if it wasn't for Milt, the rest of us would look pretty good.
Milt left the field of animation in April 1976 and moved to Northern California.
After having written a fan letter as a student I first met him on a visit to San Francisco in early 1980. Eric Larson had given me Milt's phone number, so I took a deep breath and called him. He proposed to meet up at his condo near Sausalito.
It took a couple of bus lines, then over the Golden Gate Bridge to a specific bus station. I waited a couple of minutes, and there he was, walking toward me.
My heart was pounding so fast, after all I had heard about his volatile temperament, and how intimidating he could be.
Well, you couldn't meet a nicer, happier man. As it turned out Milt had just gotten remarried, and he was totally in love with his wife Julie.
Back at his place he showed me photos of her, and he had a big smile on his face. I looked around the living room while Milt prepared a little lunch, a Waldorf salad.
There were a couple of Picasso posters on the wall, A Fred Moore sketch of three High School girls and a Ken Anderson layout sketch from "101 Dalmatians".
And of course a display of his mesmerizing wire sculptures.
Throughout our conversation I found out that Milt didn't want to talk about his animation technique, he preferred to be more philosophical about his work.
I started to ask him about the balance of straight versus curved lines in his drawings, I swear, he didn't know what I was talking about.
"You need to draw well", that's it. But he did talk about how much he enjoyed developing characters, "Song of the South", Merlin and Mim, Shere Khan and Madame Medusa being some of his favorites.

The photos below show us at later get togethers at the "Spinnaker" restaurant
in Sausalito.

The animation drawings speak for themselves and show a graphic change,
from the round volumes of Pinocchio to the sophisticated lines of Medusa.
Medusa was drawn as a gift to animator Art Stevens on Milt's last day at the studio.

I have a couple of his pencil tests for you, the famous Pinocchio skip, and then
the Sheriff of Nottingham walking toward camera with a lot of weight.
























46 comments:

  1. Excellent post Andreas! Really nice to read your thoughts and see such lovely work :)
    Best Wishes,
    L

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  2. Fantastic post! Those pencil tests are beautiful. Lovely story on how you met MIlt as well.

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  3. It's interesting how little detail there is in that Pinnocchio pencil test compared with the drawing of Pinocchio at the top of your post Andreas. Is there a reason for this difference in drawing detail that you know of?

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  4. Amazing blog Andreas, It was such a great pleasure shaking your hand at ADAPT in Montreal a few years back... for sure i'll stop by here more often :)

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  5. Hey Andreas,

    You made my Milt Kahl Day a "second class rate" post with this!
    This is amazing, all these drawings are pure treasures and I can not thank you enough for sharing with us.
    Thanks for also visiting my blog.
    You are an inspiration to all of us who loves traditional animation.
    Keep them coming!
    Best.

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  6. Oh my God! This is the Heaven!! Thanks again Andreas!

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  7. Thank you for bring us those skectches !!!

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  8. After just a few days, you've spoiled us with some amazing treasures. Thank you for taking the time for all these excellent posts.

    I hope, in the future, that you'll also post some of your own work. You were one of the gems for Disney animation, and they'll miss your personality in their films.

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  9. It is fantastic to see the working process of such a great artist. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. This blog is already a great resource, I can't wait to see what you post next. I hope you will show us some of your own tests one day!

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  10. Adreas thank you, the story how you met Milt is amazing. Every single word here inspire me so much!!!

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  11. To Andy Latham,
    I presume that the lower level of detail is to work out the motion without having to consider all the other stuff at the same time; simplifying to focus on the movement overall.
    Could be wrong, agree/disagree?

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  12. I love how rough these are! In that 7th drawing down (Sorry I don't recognize the film - but the drawing with several poses sketched out and a lot of red col-erase) it looks like he was working out the profile view of each pose on the side. Was he doing that to strengthen the pose at 3/4? His drawings have such convincing three-dimensionality, and I'm wondering if working out the rotation was part of that.

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  14. To Phantom -

    Yeah I know that's why an animator would choose to use less detail, but I just wondered why the two examples were so different when they're both "roughs" and both done by the same artist.

    Maybe the simplicity in the skipping animation is just Milt's first pass and he would go back and add more detail later, but still regard that more detailed drawing as a "rough"?

    I suppose I have just been used to only really seeing "rough" animation in the state at which it leaves the animator and goes to cleanup (ie complete animation). There are far fewer tests online showing earlier stages in the process. I assume the pinocchio skip animation is an early stage and the other example at the top of the post is the final drawing that would go to cleanup. I guess?

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  15. AMEN.... Thank you for continuing to put this stuff up...

    P

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  16. Your blog is an animation gold mine! Every time I visit here I get inspired to animate more and more. Thanks for spreading the wealth!

    I especially love those thumbnails of Tigger. I've never really seen many of Milt's Tigger drawings (or how he felt about that particular assignment), but seeing this is a real treat. You must've had a blast working on that character.

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  17. So awesome. Thanks for posting this. Milt Kahl is my hero and I credit him with heavily influencing any style found in my own drawings. This blog is incredible!

    @Courtney-The film is "The Wind in the Willows." That's Mole and Ratty. It's one of the post-war paired up shorts (it was like 25 or 30 minutes per short) that Disney did in the 40's before getting back into feature length. It was combined with "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and the combine release is called "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad." It's actually a very fun/funny film to watch. I laugh out loud pretty much every time I see it! Any fellow animation nerds out there feel free to correct me if any of the info I posted here is off.

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  18. Thank you for posting these. It's going to be a good challenge to study all of them and try to do them myself.

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  19. He was right about taking a more philosophical approach. Good drawings can totally throw away the "rules" of drawing that people so often try and forcibly apply when you actually break them down. Appeal is a more abstracted train of thought in designs, it seems.

    Wow though...totally love Milt's stuff - I always gravitate towards his drawings at the end of the day.

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  20. Thank you for your posts! It's almost like I'm reading "The Illusion of Life" all over again but with video. I look forward to more!

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  21. Thank you Andreas, for this great inspiration..you had and still inspire us...can't wait for more..:)..Thanks a lot....best

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  22. I've still got that Marker pen!

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  23. Hi Andreas great post! Do you have any pictures of Milt's wire sculptures? I remember a few years back seeing some of your amazing wire sculptures and being inspired to do some of my own. Keep up the great work!!

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  24. Thank you so much for all this wonderful work! I have Merlin and the teapot as my desktop now. Also, great stories.

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  25. Thanks very much for sharing your stories :)

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  26. thanks so much for sharing Milt's work Andreas!! He is definately one of my favorite artists~

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  27. That man produced so many animation gems, it's amazing.

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  28. I love seeing Milt's roughs and thumbnails. It's such great insight into his approach and thought process. I hate to talk of just one from the pile but that Tigger sequence... so wonderful!

    Now you've got me curious about what you said of Milt preferring to talk of theory over technique. Imagine the gold to be mined out of that!

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  29. obrigado!!!! the medusa drawing is already in my wall!!!

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  30. Very interesting. Milt Kahl is a great animator - my favourite scenes of him is where Roger and Pongo in "101 Dalmatians" react to Nanny's line "The puppies are here!"

    I also like his "The Sword in the Stone" animation.

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  31. Oh my gosh, what a treat this is!

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  32. Milt Kahl's daughter is honored and proud of him...thank you, Andreas !

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  33. Andreas:
    I seem to recall you were a fan of "Absolutely Fabulous" which are the words that come to mind when I see these postings of Milt. I love the breadth of your selections here. It's great to show his range , how much simplicity, solidity, and "good" drawing are there in his cartoonier 40s work. That Pinocchio skip is so amazing. What a resource. You should put a name on your collection. The Deja Archive or something.

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  34. !!! wow I've never seen so many star names on a list of comments before. You're a popular guy Mr. Deja. Well I "met" you once before at a disney inspire days; you're an awesome person...I would've given my left arm (i'm right handed) to meet Mr. Kahl. As a student and fan, I cant Thank you enough for posting what you have and for sharing your experiences.

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  35. Sybil, thanks so much for leaving a comment.
    Your Dad rocks!

    John, this blog is just getting started!
    As far as what's coming up, let me quote Scar/Jeremy Irons : " You have no idea!"
    Thanks for visiting.

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  36. Hi Andreas, thank you so much for all of this! I was just re-listening to the talk you gave on the Animation Podcast and you mentioned that you had a video clip of Milt talking about how he approached the prince picking up the king scene in Sleeping Beauty. I was wondering if you are planning on sharing that with us. Thanks!

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  37. I guess that if I will ever get the chance to meet you, I will feel the same way you felt when you met Milt Kahl.

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  39. awesome awesome drawings Andreas!

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  40. Thanks for sharing Andreas! These are amazing!

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  41. I have loved that sheriff walk for ages, great knowing where the credit is due.

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  42. Milt never seizes to amaze me.

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  43. Unbelievable! Those pencils tests are amazing!

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  44. Thank you so much for posting these sketches, truly inspiring and amazing. Man those walk cycles are incredible. This is really honestly a treasure to see.

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  45. He's such an amazing animator. I can look at one of his sketches for ages and still not get enough of it. His work is timeless and truly amazing!

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