Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Milt Kahl Talks Casting on Peter Pan

This rare TV footage was filmed when Milt had already finished Madame Medusa for The Rescuers.
It was his last assignment at Disney, he left the studio soon after.
At that time he felt that the "post Walt" animated features weren't nearly as good as when his boss was around. Milt was very critical of the story as well as the craftsmanship that had gone into Rescuers.
Within this frame of mind he talks about animator casting on Peter Pan, many years earlier.

This is vintage Milt Kahl, listen to not only what he says, but how he says it.
You'll agree that Milt was a pretty entertaining character himself…and perhaps that's an understatement!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Wilhelm M. Busch 1960

These glorious Busch illustrations from 1960 were published in the German book "Ein Mensch", humorous verses by Eugen Roth.
I picked out just a few, the ones that show rich attitudes. They remind me of great animation key drawings, when you can tell what the character is thinking and how he is feeling.

Just look at the first one. How could you depict a simple situation like this one any better?
A restaurant guest is being served a meal. The waiter's pose says: Here you are, mein Herr!
Perfect pose! The guest looks like he might have been waiting for a little while, he is so looking forward to this meal. Human behavior beautifully observed in real life.

Another favorite is the scene in the shoe store. The way the customer straightens out, then looks down on to this new pair of shoes. The sales person's attitude is typical and priceless.
This stuff is graphic gold!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Granny Squirrel

As most of you know Frank Thomas animated the squirrel sequence in The Sword in the Stone.
Bill Peet's storyboards provided rich situations for Wart as well as Merlin, who go through great lengths to fend off female admirers. 
At first Merlin advises Wart on how to deal with the love struck girl squirrel, then he finds himself in the same predicament with Granny.
Contrasting attitudes, fantastic acting business and of course masterful animation made this one of Disney Animation's most entertaining sequences.
Even the ever so critical Milt Kahl was impressed. "Wasn't that a rich thing Frank did?" he confessed enthusiastically to me, when we were talking about Sword in the Stone.

I want to briefly stress the importance of animation business here. This sequence has tons of it.
If there are any secrets about Disney Animation, this is one of them.
When you have personalities interacting like this, the animation benefits so much when a character doesn't succeed the first time around in his or her intended action. Simple example:
Merlin pushes Granny Squirrel away, but her weight causes her to bounce right back. So Merlin pushes her again, trying a little harder or just doing it differently. 
Another one: 
Merlin explaines to Wart how to prepare before jumping safely from one branch to another. Then he fails and almost falls down. 
FAILING in character animation is a good thing, because it gives the acting a human touch.

An example not from the movie: a character jumps over an obstacle. He doesn't land firmly on his feet like a gymnast, he might fall and then get up. Or at least after the big jump he needs to take a few small steps to regain balance. Stuff like that adds life!
If all your animated actions always suceed, you might be serving the storyboard but not the character.
Remember Chuck Jones' One Froggy Evening? When the frog lands after a leap, one leg slips down, because it missed the right contact to the ground.

Below are some of Frank's beautiful design sketches for Granny.

A rare workbook sheet. Frank plans out scene continuity and acting business.

This is an animation rough from that very section. Merlin thinks he can avoid this uncomfortable situation by just walking away. Fat chance!

The search for animatable facial forms and shapes.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Watch Frank Thomas Animate!

Frank Thomas animated a few beautiful scenes during the Rescue Aid Society meeting at the beginning of The Rescuers.
Janitor Bernard retrieved a written note from a bottle, then Bianca and the Chairman try to decipher the washed out writing on the piece of paper.
I find the acting here very real, the way Bianca holds on to the Chairman's arm as she moves cautiously across the sheet. One could argue that the motion is more human than mouse-like, but that's a discussion for some other time.

The sketches above are staging ideas for the moment when the two leading mice meet for the first time.
Below are a few expressive key drawings of the Chairman.

The video clip is from a 1977 UK TV show. I knocked down the color, which was overly saturated.
A big Thanks to Hans Perk, who got me a copy of the show.
A little window into a time when Frank was working on one of his last animation assignments.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Jessica Rabbit

Jessica's supervising animator was the incredibly gifted Russell Hall. 
Russell had been working for Richard Williams for quite some time, and it was decided early on that in order to ensure Jessica's consistency in the animation, one animator should focus just on her.
I remember it took Russell a little while to get a hold of the character, the issue being how realistic or cartoony the design and the animation should be.
In the end he created this Femme Fatale, who left male viewers all over the world sort of stunned and surprised, since they found themselves very much attracted to this animated character…in an obvious way.
Just look at these fantastic animation roughs above!

Here is a group photo with a few members of the Roger Rabbit animation team.
Russell is the one with a white shirt  on the right.

A Christmas card from Russell Hall's studio in London, sent after we had finished Roger Rabbit.
It shows a variety of characters from commercials he animated over the years. All of them great!

Check out this mid 80ies advert Russell animated for Listerine;

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Amazing Artistic Range of Marc Davis

Marc Davis was the most prolific and versatile artist I have ever met.
He never saw himself as only an animator, he was an artist first. And to him that meant exploring art in many different ways. His Fine Art alone shows such variety that I often thought, how can one man  master all these styles and approaches? There wasn't a medium Marc didn't enjoy.
Painting in oil, watercolor, or gouache. He drew with pen and ink, charcoal and pastels. 
Realistic depictions or abstract experiments, his range was breathtaking. 
He subjects were animals, portraits of women, dancers, bullfight scenes and Greek Mythology among others.
I remember him telling the story that as an art student he dreamt of painting Sistine Chapels, but  during the Depression nobody was ordering any.
One day Marc found out that Walt Disney was looking for artists, so he stopped by the Hyperion Studio, and the rest is history.

Here is a very small sampling of Marc's Fine art.

Marc said that when he applied at Disney, Walt was impressed with his ability to draw animals.
We are impressed, too. 
Thoroughly observed these poses read very clearly and already showcase a certain charm.

Most of you know about Marc's enormous contributions to the art of character animation.
Early on when Walt Disney saw his design work for Bambi, he asked Milt Kahl and Frank Thomas to make an animator out of Marc, because he wanted to see his drawings on the screen.
I still wonder what kind of animation we would have seen from Marc, had he not moved over to Imagineering after finishing work on Cruella DeVil.

"I intended to bring more humor to Disneyland" Marc said. He was referring to his ideas and concepts for rides like The jungle Cruise, The Haunted Mansion and The Pirates of the Caribbean.
Look at the way Marc staged these pirates. The final audio animatronic situations HAD to read very clearly, because visitors only have a few seconds to observe what is in front of them.