Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Moment of Truth

I left Walt Disney Animation exactly five years ago.
This moment makes me reflect on my early days at the studio, which was then called Walt Disney Productions. You can't tell from the photo (taken by Hans Bacher), but I was thrilled beyond belief that Disney had actually hired me. We were still working in Walt's original Burbank Studio, and even though retired, most of the Nine Old Men were still around. They would come in for the occasional lecture, Eric Larson still worked on a daily basis as head of the training program.
Believe me, I knew I was one lucky guy. I remember Christmas time at the studio. Before our holiday break, there was an impromptu eggnog gathering in layout artist Don Griffith's office. Woolie Reitherman stopped by, as well as Art Stevens and other senior artists.

The photo shows a guy who really didn't know what he was doing at the time. But as I mentioned, I was super excited.

That's my buddy Phil Nibbelink, who along with layout artist Guy Vasilovich created one of the best sequences in the film, when the Gwythaint monsters kidnap the pig Hen Wen.

The movie did have some fantastic special effects. That particular unit did not show the inexperience evident in the the work by the character animators.

So here it is, the final footage chart. I had been on the film longer than most animators and ended up doing a chunk of work. No wonder management was kind to me. 
So whatever you don't like about The Black Cauldron, I probably have something to do with. All I can say is that this was my "learning" project, I made a lot of mistakes, but by the end of production I felt like I was able to take baby steps as far as animating. 

The numbers indicate feet of film. One foot and a half is ONE second of film.


  1. A magical experience. Thanks for sharing, Mr. Deja.

  2. I know Black Cauldron has some flaws, but it has many good points as well. I really enjoy it. And Fflewddur & Gurgi are among my favourite characters. I wish it got more recognition.

  3. I thought it must be strange for the few hand-drawn animators they have now- to go from spitting out footage, to having bits and pieces of animation to do. I'm not sure the studios are getting their best use out of Eric Goldberg, Mark Henn, James Baxter, etc. who are all known for being fast (and exceptionally good).
    I've got to assume you're doing a lot of Mushka footage, though. As well as wanting to have authorship of the film, I think you mentioned that you are funding it yourself, so you can't have the production drag on and on

    1. Regarding Black Cauldron- it's very cool and exciting to see those 80's Disney films get better and better. I think there's a lot to be learned from biting off more than you can chew, and chewing it anyway. Although who knows if you learned more from doing simpler characters in the second half of the 80's, building up to more complex characters in the 90's

  4. I'm not sure if that picture of the Horned King being sucked into the Black Cauldron (in a different version) was either drawn by Hans Bacher or Mel Shaw. Because I know that Mel Shaw did a lot of beautiful concept work for the film that I think wasn't used much, sadly.

  5. Thank you for sharing! I love hearing about what went on behind the scenes.