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.