Saturday, October 11, 2014

Drawing Help from Kahl

The Peter Pan scene pictured above was animated by Eric Cleworth. But since Milt Kahl was the supervising animator on the character, he gave Cleworth this one key drawing, which shows Pan being goofy as he interacts with Captain Hook during the Skull Rock sequence.
This kind of drawing help was a big part of Milt’s job at Disney. Since he was the authority on quality drawing, other animators frequently asked him for drawings that would help make their scenes look better.
Milt resented this to a point, because it slowed him down as an animator, but he also knew that this process was necessary to ensure a high level of drawing throughout the picture.

As a result you find many characters and scenes that Milt never animated, but they do benefit from that Milt touch. Then there are animators like Frank Thomas who on occasion wasn’t happy with what Milt came up with, because he felt that the re-drawn poses had lost the essence of Frank’s acting.
You can see how this could become a problematic issue, but in the end I believe Milt’s “quality control” was a good thing that helped to establish visual consistency in the Disney films. 

What beautiful clarity in these broad expressions of a pirate.

Milt's early version of of Mr. Smee, which animator Ollie Johnston used as a visual springboard, but then greatly improved upon.


  1. Since you supervised a lot of characters, was providing drawn examples for key poses something you practised? And if you did, did you do it out of your own impetus or only if animators specifically asked for it? Also, were there scenes you didn't animate but had a clear mental picture of, and then the animator came up with something different, but notably better?

  2. Andreas,
    I know that Milt wanted so badly to animate Captain Hook. I've seen drawings but are there any pencil tests on his approach to the character?

  3. Milt Kahl's clarity, capacity for synthesis and just plain confidence in his linework is nothing short of incredible. Both inspiring but almost disheartening for an artist (will I, will ANYONE ever be as good?).
    I like Milt's rendition of the pranking Peter Pan better than the final cel. Even though Cleworth follows the suggestion quite ad litteram, something feels missing in the final cleanup.
    I wonder if this is the reason behind the chosen style of Mushka.
    While I understand why Walt wanted his pictures cleaned up as they were, the vitality of pencil drawings is greater.
    It make me think of Greek marble sculptures. The artist (Phidias, Myron) would leave much of the actual carving to the assistants and he would enter just for the last inch (even quarter of an inch) of sculpting. That is why roman copies (albeit of great importance) are not really valuable as a testimony of the original artist’s craftsmanship. Because a copy would never replicate exactly the last bit of sculpting to the millimeter, and right in that millimeter would lie the artist’s hand.
    In the same way I wonder if the greatness of a given artist also lies in these fine gestures (in how hard or soft a line would be pressured for instance).
    That said, I understand that what a great animator or supervising animator has to deliver is an interesting, believable and consistent performance and that this is too small a matter to be bothered with when producing a FEATURE FILM!

  4. Hi Mr. Deja,
    I attended your demo/Q&A with Virtual Animators this past Saturday, and I just wanted to give you a huge thank you! It was fascinating to hear your insights and experiences, and seeing you draw (Lilo, Hercules) was fabulous! Also, being able to get a look at your beautiful drawings for Mushka, and the sheets from so so many Disney movies-I really don't know the right words for how awesome it was. I hope you do another, I'll be the first to sign up!
    Also, thank you for being beyond generous with your time-I know I speak for all the attendees when I say we are extremely appreciative!
    Barb Laub

  5. First, i want to thank about that great Virtual Animators lecture! It was like meeting a rockstar. :) You gave so much great tips and hopefully there would be sometimes samekind of lecture from you.

    And to the post, wow, what drawings! I understand Frank Thomas opinion. Animation isn´t just great drawings, but also (maybe bigger part of it) it´s about acting.