Thursday, March 29, 2012

Hal Ambro

I never met Hal Ambro, but I sure know his work, and I ilke it a lot.
He started to work for Disney in 1946. Even though he never reached the status of supervising animator there, his animation can often be found in sequences that were lead by such animators like Ollie Johnston (the opening section of Johnny Appleseed) and Milt Kahl (Ambro animated almost half of the footage of The Fairy Godmother in Cinderella).

I am quoting John Canemaker from his book "The Animated Raggedy Ann & Andy" from 1977:
Hal Ambro, in his early sixties, stops by the studio to pick up and deliver some Babette scenes. Ambro, a gentle Santa Claus look-alike, started at Disney and remained there until 1966. He decided to free-lance because "there is only so much room at the top of the ladder at Disney", and he wasn't going to reach those rarefied heights occupied by a select corps of Disney animators.
"I've had a lot of training in the human area in Disney films. Humans are most difficult in the sense that you have to elaborate- exaggerate is a better word- in their actions. But not too much. You don't make a face look like Jell-O, but you can do an action that reflects a stretch in the whole posture."

Ambro animated the character of Babette in that film, which was directed by Richard Williams.
During the years past Disney he also worked for Hanna Barbera and Chuck Jones.
He passed away in 1990.

Hal Ambro could draw. Look at this gorgeous drawing from one of his scenes in Lady and the Tramp. You can tell, this was drawn by somebody who loved what he was doing.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Animation Master Class in Montreal

I will be in Montreal for a couple days of classes on June 2 and 3.  It will be fun to share my "animated experiences" and cover all aspects of character animation, technical as well as artistic.
Thanks to Samantha Youssef for inviting me.

If you are interested in attending, here is the official link:

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Other Milt

That would be animator Milt Neil, who worked at Disney Studios as a character animator from 1935 to 1944. You can see his work in features like Snow White, Fantasia and Dumbo. 
Milt also did terrific animation on Donald Duck. During the war the studio produced quite a few short films with Donald including "Der Fuehrer's Face". 
I really like his animation in this short, acting as well as drawing are fantastic. Very gutsy and confident.

Milt died in 1997.

Here are a few beautiful rough drawings of Donald by Milt Neil, followed by an interview with him that I found on youtube.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

TS Sullivant 4

For your viewing pleasure, a short story illustrated by Sullivant. The humor is charming, but beware, there is a cruel ending. As usual, every pose of the animals is a gem. Look at the pushed smile of the elephant, the tiger dancing and the giraffe standing on her head. Cartoony poses with real anatomy.
A feast for the eyes !

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My First Scene on "Roger Rabbit"

I had just flown over to London to join the crew who produced the animation for "Who Framed Roger Rabbit". A taxi took me from Heathrow right to the studio in Camden, the north of London.
I left my luggage in the lobby, and was shown around the new studio set up.
By the time I got to say Hello to Dick Williams, there was little time for small talk.
He had a scene for me to get started on, right then and there. So forget about your jet lag and dive in.
Most everybody was animating on the Maroon Cartoon for the opening of the film. 
But Dick wanted me to do the scene with Bob Hoskins walking out of an office, passing a Fantasia ostrich as he moves downstairs. Dick said something like: "You're the Disney guy, it'll be great."
"Great" I thought, for Pete's sake, I had never done animation combined with live action before, what if it turns out awful? 

I was given a huge box with photo stats of the whole scene. When I studied them I noticed of course that the camera was in constant motion. 
HOW ON EARTH AM I GOING TO PUT THE BIRD INTO THIS?? I remember my mind started to panic.
Then, a bit of relief, I noticed that you wouldn't see the ostrich's legs, they were covered up in the live action. That meant potential foot slippage wasn't an issue here. Sigh….

Anyway, after analyzing the ostrich from old model sheets and thumb nailing the action, I just animated the character straight ahead on two's. I based it on the camera move and the perspective as best as I could.
Dick Williams liked the rough animation and thought the little attitude gesture on top of the stairs was fun. He only suggested a small change. The ostrich should look screen right at the start, then screen left, it would make it more interesting. An easy fix. I added the jumping frog with more confidence, and the scene was sold!!
I was so relieved, I felt like a million bucks.

Later on this turned out to be the first animation/live action scene in color that got sent from ILM, after they did the final compositing, including highlights, shadows etc.
It looked sooo cool, everybody was thrilled.
But we had a long road ahead of us to finish the movie.

Here are a few character studies and thumbnails, done before animation.

This is a cel set on a photo print, no tones on the character here.

The final scene.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

King Louie

There's no way this is going to be a brief post, I have too much good material of this character to share with you. The "King Louie" sequence in Jungle Book is one of my favorites.
I love the opening Multiplane truck toward the Ancient Ruins accompanied by atmospheric jungle rythms. The first handful of scenes with King Louie were animated by Eric Cleworth, who in my opinion did stronger work on the elephants.
Milt Kahl's comes in when Louie picks up Mowgli from the floor. As the song begins Frank Thomas takes over. Both animators go back and forth throughout the sequence, until the end when John Lounsbery animates the dance number with Baloo and Louie.
Louis Prima's slightly hoarse voice is just perfect for the character. The Sherman Brothers' song "I wanna be like You" gave Milt and Frank a lot of material to create his eccentric personality.
One thing I've been wondering about is why one detail, very typical of male Orangutans, is missing in the character design. They do have these unique skin flaps for cheeks, and neither Bill Peet, Ken Anderson nor Milt Kahl ever played with drawing those on Louie's face, during the design stage.
I assume that they considered them an unappealing feature and therefor left them out.
This is what I am talking about.

Here is how Bill Peet envisioned King Louie early on in production.

Milt Kahl finalized the character design 

Milt's sense for personality and inventive expressions is off the charts. There is something unique in every key drawing. The second one, looking up inside the mouth  leaves me speechless.
And the acting is really good, too.

Here he is animating the scene where Louie is about to "feed" Mowgli a banana.

I wished I had a photo of Frank Thomas working on King Louie. 
Frank's drawings aren't nearly as refined as Milt's, but the animation is sensational. There is amazing rhythm going through the character's body with beautiful overlapping action of his belly and fur.
I have most drawings from the following two scenes, and I promise to pencil test them soon.