Friday, June 20, 2014

How They felt about each other's Work

Back from France, where I had a blast visiting friends. Didn’t go to Annecy, just hanging out around Paris, which to me is the most beautiful city in the world.
I will be without tech help for a few more days, so here is another post without images.

Since I knew seven of the Nine Old Men (Les Clark and Lounsbery had already passed away when I started at Disney) it was always interesting -though sometimes a little awkward- to hear their comments and opinions about the other ones’ work.
Frank and Ollie often brought up the subject of Milt Kahl’s superb draughtsmanship, but they both felt that Milt had shortcomings as an animator because drawing and design were Milt’s main concern. Not the inner feelings of the character. Frank thought there was a time (during the late 1930s through the 1940s) when Milt was just perfect for the studio. His designs and animation took the Freddy Moore approach to a more refined level, and other animators were able to follow his lead, graphically.
Later Frank also said this about Milt’s animation: “Milt is right about 90 percent of the time, but when he is wrong…boy, is he ever wrong!”
To me, this is actually a huge compliment from one master animator to another. The following statement by Frank is not. “Milt Kahl is an animator who used animation principles very intelligently.”
That’s basically saying, Milt was more of a technician than an artist.
Ollie stated one time that Milt only did what was required in the story boards.

Frank and Ollie thought that Lounsbery had the chops to be a great animator, but that he didn’t work hard enough.

As far as Marc Davis, they thought that he used live action reference too literally. They placed Marc between their own approach to animation and that of Milt Kahl. Milt being too absorbed by perfection in drawing, and their animation being driven by the characters’ inner emotions.

Frank stated that in his opinion Ward Kimball’s only sincere character was Jiminy Cricket. After that Ward started experimenting for experimentation’s sake.

Frank and Ollie liked Woolie Reitherman’s action sequences, but they occasionally questioned his judgement as a director. Robin Hood was the film Frank enjoyed the least working on.

As you can imagine, Milt had strong opinions as well, when it came to looking at his colleague’s work.
He thought that Frank and Ollie could do about anything in animation, but their work was handicapped because of poor drawing. On his last film The Rescuers Milt got so upset with the lack of quality in Frank and Ollie’s work (as well as the work of other animators) he literally blew a fuse. He felt that Bernard and Bianca moved like humans and not like mice.

About his friend Marc Davis, Milt said that Marc was the better draughtsman, but he was the better animator. “When Marc designs a character he starts out by making great drawings right from the start, while I struggle with a lot of bad sketches before I arrive at something I like.”

Milt on Lounsbery:” You had to give him the broad characters, he would do well on those. But he was limited, because he couldn’t handle characters like Peter Pan or Wendy.”
Milt judged Ward Kimball in a similar way, but admitted that Ward would often come up with character situations he himself could never do, like Lucifer the cat looking for a mouse under the tea cups.
Milt thought that was just brilliant.

Milt wasn’t overly enthusiastic about Eric Larson’s animation, but felt that the best thing in Lady and the Tramp was the character of Peg.

Marc Davis’ favorite animator was Milt Kahl. “You never know how Milt is going to animate a scene, he always surprises you.” Among Marc’s favorite Kahl characters were the dancing Llama in Lake Titicaca, and Tigger. 
He talked about animator casting for Peter Pan, and felt that Milt should have gotten Captain Hook  to animate. “In the film Frank’s acting is ok, but the drawing is subpar.”

Eric Larson was complimentary about all of his colleagues. When talking about Milt Kahl he mentioned: "We all learned from Milt, but I did disagree with him on more than one occasion.”

I am not sure how Kimball felt about the others’ work. He was generally concerned about too much realism coming into the Disney features. One time he gave Milt Kahl, who often handled realistic characters, a “compliment” : “Boy, you are so good with that boring stuff!”
Sometime in the late 1970s the studio screened the film Dumbo for newcomers in the training program. One of the trainees ran into Kimball afterwards and said: ” Ward, Frank Thomas just mentioned that he thinks there isn’t one scene in Dumbo that doesn’t need improvement.” Ward’s answer was:” Frank said that because he didn’t work on the picture.”

According to someone who knew John Lounsbery, during what must have been a down day for him, John stated:” Let’s face it, there is Milt Kahl and the rest of us are just a bunch of amateurs.”
We all know that nothing could be further from the truth.
These guys were ALL phenomenal artists, and with that comes the occasional insecurity, professional jealousy and even a little bit of arrogance. But go and try to name another group of artists who not only changed the medium of film, but changed the lives of so many people.

35 comments:

  1. Couldn't of said it better any other way. This made me think of all my colleagues I was in school with and the strengths/weaknesses we each had.

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  2. Content de te revoir. Tu commençais à me manquer.

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  3. Another comment from Kimball was about Woolie's animation, Ward felt that Woolie was a great animator, but felt he suffered "an inferiority complex".

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  4. Fascinating stuff, thanks, Andreas. You mention the Nine Old Men, and I can't help thinking that it might have been the Eleven Old Men (including Tytla and Babbitt), were it not for the strike. I wonder how those two would have developed in the '40s and '50s if the creative climate at Disney had been right for them. Tytla might have been the best of them all. He put together the drawing skills, the inner life, and the emotion; he wasn't overly influenced by photography; and his acting background was different from all the rest. What did the Nine Old Men say about Tytla, and what did he say about them?

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    1. They all thought Tytla was phenomenal. Milt said that there has never been anything as powerful as the Devil on Bald Mountain.
      Ollie recalled that during the Golden age of Disney there was no way of telling where this fantastic medium would go, particularly when he saw how Tytla was advancing.
      Tytla visited the studio during the production of Sword in the Stone. Milt showed him the pencil version of the Madame Mim sequence. Tytla was apparently very complimentary.

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  5. Man, it's so fascinating to hear what the Nine Old Men thought of each other.

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  6. A very interesting subject, thanks allot for sharing!

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  7. Hurray, you're back! How does it feel knowing that The Lion King has just hit its 20th anniversary?

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    1. In a way it feels like a long time ago, but then again it doesn't. I have so many vivid memories from that production. From my awful test scene of Scar to the film's premiere at Radio City Music Hall.

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  8. I think these comments might sound a little bitter, but they were probably just as critical about their own work. I've been reading Canemaker's book about the '9 old men' and it's really interesting to read about the various ways each one of them approached animation.
    I get the feeling that they were all critical of everything because they were all aspiring to a level slightly beyond their abilities. Which is a little hard to understand because it all looks PERFECT to you or I. Like James Gurney (who is awesome by the way) mentions above, It'd be interesting to hear a bit more about Tytla and Babbit. At least Babbit's approach is well documented by Richard Williams, but Tytla could really do anything so it would be interesting to know what his approach was like.

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    1. I have a dynamite Stromboli rough animation test coming up for a post. That will be the time to discuss his approach and technique.

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  9. Thank you for your insight! Very interesting!

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  10. Very interesting! Thanks for sharing.

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  11. Ah, so cool Andreas. Thanks a lot for sharing. I miss the 9 old men good ol days, and I'm in my 30s. Haha. I wish you guys could've stayed to match their years at the studio.

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  12. "Frank said that because he didn’t work on the picture." LOL!

    Seriously, though, it seems to me there's always some criticism you can make, some bit here or there that seems it could've been better.

    At least the guys weren't ego-maniacal enough to say everything they did was perfect.

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  13. That's amazing meeting 7 of the nine old men. I felt the people who really brought so much change into a person's life is probably the films you helped Ron Clements and John Musker make since Little Mermaid. I feel those two directors had the way to shape a great story and provided so much inspiration to me to create new stories and draw new characters. So what you consider to be the strongest piece of animation from the 90s?

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    1. I think a lot of magic came together on Aladdin...and in a different way Lion King with its amazing story. Lilo & Stitch was a surprise, stylistically and story wise.

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    2. I can see a lot with Lion King, I've been watching it at work when I am on my break via I-pod and I still remember going to that scene where Simba goes to the tip of pride rock and gives out the mighty roar. Every time I see that scene it reminds me of when I was graduating from high school and hearing my name being called out. But I also feel with Mulan when it comes where she sees her father and mother in the shadows of the house and her decision on what she must do so her dad doesn't get killed in war I felt was the strongest piece of animation with her emotion you feel what she feels. What was the favorite sequence you did on Lilo and Stitch?

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  14. Andreas, what are your thoughts on the directorial efforts of Woolie Reitherman? I know that Milt Kahl was very irritated with the reusing of animation in Robin Hood and the lack of variety in design in that era of Disney films. Was that due to a lack of care on Reitherman's part or was he just under a lot of pressure from studio executives to cut corners?

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    1. Woolie just died to bring the films in on a reasonable budget.
      Animators argued though that the the re-use of animation is just as costly as new animation.

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  15. “Boy, you are so good with that boring stuff!”

    I suspect perhaps only Ward Kimball and Walt Disney were the only people who could tell that to Milt Kahl and get away with it!

    Andreas, this article didn't have any drawings or photos, but honestly, it didn't need it. Great stuff, thanks for sharing it. :)

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  16. really cool and inspiring article...thanks Mr Andreas

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  17. This is fascinating ( and a little bit funny). Thank you so much for posting this.

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  18. Thank you so much for taking us "behind the scenes" with these great artists. By the way, are you available for speaking engagements?

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    1. Yes, I do the occasional speaking engagement.

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  19. Thanks so much Andreas, for keeping up this blog. I can't get enough of these stories. You're site is always a bottomless well of inspiration.

    Happy 20th Anniversary for Lion King!

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  20. Thanks for the post, Andreas! I'm excited about the Stromboli rough!

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  21. One of the most interesting articles I've seen here!

    That's what makes a team.. a team! to gather different profiles, everyone with their unique strong points.

    I've done a lot of team work and one of the bests joys for me is to see the different animation profiles and trying to learn from that skills you lack (while maybe other people think the same about you)

    After all, the range of art it's enormous and we only live a few years! There will be not the perfect artist but we must understand that, keep the pride away and enjoy art! because art it's nothing more than the share of knowledge, don't you think? :)

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  22. Among so many things in this article stands out to me the fact that Milt Kahl coud make a bad drawing. Is that possible or was he being humble? I always thought that Milt considered himself the best draughtsman.
    Ward Kimball's comments are hilarious! And well... it's interesting to know how those geniuses thought about each other.
    Great Post! Thank you Andreas.

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  23. Thanks for posting all these things that we enjoy to read all that we love the Disney world.

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  24. Marc Davis' drawings were great, But I've seen a whole bunch of Milt Kahl drawings over the years; many discarded exploratory sketches and they were always terrific. I don't ever recall seeing a bad Kahl drawing.

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  25. Hi Andreas :-) was always amazed at your subtle yet very emotional performances with Lilo. Hell, I am impressed with every performance you've done!! There were definitely some real shining animators at Disney! Very nice article, enjoyed reading it very much! I think I can remember every talk you gave at Disney while I was there, I learned soooo much from you and so did a lot of folks there. I'm doing hair and cloth cg supervising now, but I still draw and try to remember what you and the other greats taught me. Too bad about professional jealousy, it can ruin lives and careers, I've always thought real artists/people were above all that... You're one of the good ones! Hugs

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  26. Great insight, thank you Andreas!

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