Saturday, January 26, 2013

Granny Squirrel

As most of you know Frank Thomas animated the squirrel sequence in The Sword in the Stone.
Bill Peet's storyboards provided rich situations for Wart as well as Merlin, who go through great lengths to fend off female admirers. 
At first Merlin advises Wart on how to deal with the love struck girl squirrel, then he finds himself in the same predicament with Granny.
Contrasting attitudes, fantastic acting business and of course masterful animation made this one of Disney Animation's most entertaining sequences.
Even the ever so critical Milt Kahl was impressed. "Wasn't that a rich thing Frank did?" he confessed enthusiastically to me, when we were talking about Sword in the Stone.

I want to briefly stress the importance of animation business here. This sequence has tons of it.
If there are any secrets about Disney Animation, this is one of them.
When you have personalities interacting like this, the animation benefits so much when a character doesn't succeed the first time around in his or her intended action. Simple example:
Merlin pushes Granny Squirrel away, but her weight causes her to bounce right back. So Merlin pushes her again, trying a little harder or just doing it differently. 
Another one: 
Merlin explaines to Wart how to prepare before jumping safely from one branch to another. Then he fails and almost falls down. 
FAILING in character animation is a good thing, because it gives the acting a human touch.

An example not from the movie: a character jumps over an obstacle. He doesn't land firmly on his feet like a gymnast, he might fall and then get up. Or at least after the big jump he needs to take a few small steps to regain balance. Stuff like that adds life!
If all your animated actions always suceed, you might be serving the storyboard but not the character.
Remember Chuck Jones' One Froggy Evening? When the frog lands after a leap, one leg slips down, because it missed the right contact to the ground.

Below are some of Frank's beautiful design sketches for Granny.

A rare workbook sheet. Frank plans out scene continuity and acting business.

This is an animation rough from that very section. Merlin thinks he can avoid this uncomfortable situation by just walking away. Fat chance!

The search for animatable facial forms and shapes.


  1. I'm a huge fan of this scene, I remember as a child enjoying Sword and the Stone and would always look forward to the squirrel sequence. Thank you for this brilliant post.

  2. I always hear the phrase "animatable forms". What makes a shape/form "animatable"? Are there particular characteristics or general principles?
    Thanks again for all the great posts!

  3. Andreas, I read some time back where Frank's finished animation was the 'roughest' for the clean up artists to take over of all the work produced by the Nine Old Men. Any truth to that? I suppose it doesn't matter one bit, as long as the acting and performance is in there, no matter how rough it is!

  4. I just finished re-watching this scene on youtube, and it never ceases amazing & charm!

    Andreas, not to change the subject, but I was re-watched Eric Larson's Peg musical number from Lady and the Tramp. I always found that piece of animation sensational. Any chance you can do an article on that scene in the future?

  5. I laughed my head off during this scene when I was a kid.

  6. Frank's roughs were brilliant but always tough to read. I know. I tried and failed. Luckily, I was bailed out by my good friend, and Franks's long time assistant, Dale Oliver. I spent most of my time on "The Sword in the Stone" in Milt's Kahl's unit. Believe me, that was enough.

    1. Haha, Floyd, assisting Franks stuff would have been tough for sure - breakdown/Inbetweening, not so tough. Let me ask you, with Milt, did you only do rubdowns, or totally redraw his stuff when assisting? Was Mendez on the same crew with you??

  7. I was about to ask you about 'animatable forms' when I read that Michael Trujillo had already posted about it.
    Would you be able to a future post on, and elaborate about, what the difference between an 'animatable' and 'non-animatable' form is, and what you look for in a good form?
    What are some good references I could seek out to learn more about this?

  8. Haha, this scene is hilarious! :D And I really enjoyed your "characters failing" explanation – so simple, yet very true and makes complete sense.

  9. The squirrels sequence is probably the best part of the film !

  10. Oh, and Andreas, excellent post as always! You are a treasure trove - thanks for sharing with us all!!! ;)

    Hey, did you see the recent interview where Bobby Z. said the new Roger would be hand animated?!! I hope they approach all of us old crew to see if we're available and willing to go another round!

    1. News to me, if Zemeckis said this recently.
      Are you ready for Camden Town again?