Monday, October 2, 2017

Golden Poses ?

A little while ago I had an interesting conversation with Frank Thomas' son Ted.
He brought something up that I had given some thought to for a while. Ted pointed out that his father's character  animation seldom included what today is referred to as "golden poses", "super poses" or "storytelling poses".
The kind of all important drawings in a scene that by themselves define the character's business or thoughts. I heard someone mentioning those terms years ago at Disney...from an animation intern, who most likely picked them up at his animation school.

Ted and I both agree that Milt Kahl's animation showcases exactly that: one golden pose after another, timed in a way that the audience registers them very clearly. When I study Frank's animation, most of the time I can't find that golden pose. It is usually a series of drawings that stand in for the ONE all important pose. Look at these two key drawings from Pecos Bill by Milt. They are practically illustrations that give you all the information about the scenes in one drawing.
Slue Foot Sue is in control as she embraces Pecos bill for a kiss. Phenomenal design, staging etc.
The same goes for the next scene. Pecos reacts to seeing Slue Foot Sue for the first time. Look at the directional force. Pecos becomes one forward pointing arrow.

Milt's first animation from Mickey's Circus already shows extraordinary dynamic staging. I'd call this one of his early super poses.

Peter Pan is warning Wendy and the Lost Boys that once you leave Never Land, you can not return.
Everything is perfect here. His lowered head shows that he is serious in what he is saying, as he points one finger at the group. What great clarity!

I would say that Edgar's poses 1, 3 and 4 qualify as super poses. First he anticipates throwing a kiss, then he gleefully hops up and down because of some good news and then the change in attitude as he overhears that the news might not be as good after all.
Ridiculously strong drawings give away Edgar's emotional state.

Great clarity again in this action/reaction situation. One vulture pushes the other three down a branch.
His straightened out wing is in stark contrast to the wings of the other two, who try to maintain balance. One drawing says it all.

King Louie teases Mowgli as he dances to the Jungle rhythm. Every key drawing in the scene is beautifully designed within a clear silhouette. 

Let's get to Frank Thomas. This is one of his drawings for a scene in which Mowgli is reacting to Baloo's loud roaring. He is practically up against a storm breeze.
No superior design here, and perhaps a little out of proportions. BUT seen in motion this piece of animation looks incredible because Mowgli's motion feels utterly real and convincing. Every step has proper weight. You really forget you are looking at drawings and accept this kid as a real person.

An almost dull close up drawing of Baloo, as he argues with Bagheera. Again, in motion this scene showcases the kind of life very few animators ever achieve.

A few drawings by Frank from a scene where Mowgli is reacting to Kaa's grip on his arm.
You couldn't' pick any golden drawings out of the whole scene. Somehow they all matter the same and were drawn with the conviction that the movement supersedes any single carefully designed pose.

Frank often declared that he had to fight to make his drawings look good, and looked at the draughtsmanship of colleagues like Milt and Marc Davis with envy. But he also felt that as far as personality and acting he dug deeper than other animators.
I love this little sketch of Bambi Frank drew for a fan decades after the film's release. There is a soul behind those rough lines, and isn't that the whole thing about animation? Giving your characters a soul?

This just in from Ted Thomas:

 I find a compelling part of Frank's method and thinking was that he was not necessarily opposed to golden poses, but he felt that they must be an integrated part of the scene and be supportive of the overall idea of the scene.  I think that's one of the reasons he thumbnailed scenes so extensively, until he felt comfortable and confident with the business.  In some ways I think Frank's self-proclaimed struggles with drawing were not as much draughtsmanship-related as they were feeling "right" in his gut... and he felt it when a series of drawings worked together.  As such, he'd throw out a "good" drawing if it didn't support his overall goal for the scene.  In contrast, Milt argued with him that you can always use a "good" drawing, and when you're lucky enough to get one, that should be the tent pole for the rest of the scene, even if it meant retooling the scene to build in and out of that pose.  Frank, of course, differed, feeling that clarity of design was not always the same as clarity of character.  I think part of Walt's genius was getting their push and pull collaborating together, because when I see Milt's beautiful work I always know what I'm watching, and with Frank's I always know who I am watching. 


  1. This is super interesting. I've always thought that Frank's animation felt a bit different (more "alive") than most other scenes, even before I knew who he was.
    Maybe that's another reason why he was harder to inbetween for.
    I've seen a video of Glen Keane before, talking about "Golden Poses" in Ollie Johnston's work- maybe the term comes from him?

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  3. When Glen Keane spoke to, I believe it was Clay Kaytis, about Frank Thomas, he mentioned Thomas advised him to find his Golden Poses and then - *spend time around them*.
    So maybe therein lies the difference. While animators like Kahl put their Golden Poses into stronger and sharper contrast than secondary keys, maybe Frank Thomas divided these leading poses, or ideas, up more evenly over a variety of keys and with that a duration of time.

  4. Something tells me this will be one of the posts I will revisit several times. It has given me a lot to notice and look for.

  5. If Frank is the kind of person that animates from the gut then it's apparent in his animation. It looks like it from came from within which is what makes it so great. I hope I can animate like that someday.

  6. Great post on individual artists approach and execution. Great to have Ted Thomas weigh in on the subject. Wonderful objective critiques of two master draftsmen!

  7. Great Post Andreas. Quick question, Milt would really take his key drawings this far with the final line it looks like? This is all him and it did not go to clean-up? Gorgeous super poses!

  8. Andreas Deja, when are you going to post Marc Davis's sketches of an un-developed Disneyland attraction based of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale the Snow Queen? Would like to see it on your blog

  9. man, really inspirational and interesting analysis! I love your blog!

  10. Dear Andrea, I translate some of your posts into russian for Dorogov's students (I've heard that you worked together before). And I don't know about student's opinion, but I know for myself - your blog is really a TREASURE BOX. I'm not kidding.
    I also study to draw, and want to work in animation someday. And translating your articles - is always an inspiration. I did this one in high gear, like if I had a wings!
    What I want to say - your business has incredible power of knowledge and inspiration. Please, never stop this :))
    I'm grateful for your blog very very much.
    Thank you!!

    Yours respectfully,

  11. Ted's contrast of design vs character and "what" vs "who" is marvelously apt.

  12. I feel like Frank's work was always about "Golden Movement" rather than pose. As you noted, Mowgli reacts to Bagheera's roar utterly perfectly in the sequence with every weight falling perfectly as he physically and psychologically processes the moment. This is why Frank's work seems more real and genuine rather than caricatured--the character isn't hopping from pose to pose necessarily, but is constantly working through all kinds of factors in his environment.