Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sketching the New Buffalo Soldiers...

September 14, 2014...

   This past Sunday afternoon after church I drove three blocks north to the Monrovia Recreation Park.  I would have walked, but it was too hot... over 100 degrees.

My destination was the Monrovia Historical Museum.

There were a few connections that drew me to this location.
When I was a kid growing up in the 'Gem City', this building was the entrance to the swimming pool.  It has now been converted to house memorabilia of the city's past and they are hosting a one day special exhibit  I wanted to see.


  I could not pass up the opportunity to sketch men on horseback dressed as Buffalo Soldiers of the late 1800's/early 1900's. The New Buffalo Soldiers, as they are called, are a staple on New Years Day as they proudly ride their steeds in the Rose Parade in Pasadena, CA. They brought with them displays of rifles, tents, slave purchase documents and other artifacts of that era. They also offered verbal history to anybody who would listen to the stories of  these unique soldiers of the United States Cavalry and I was listening.

(New Buffalo Soldier John gave me a verbal history of the original and new Soldiers)

(Filing a horse's hoof)
These men owned and took care of their own horses...



(Blacksmith of the group)

  The Blacksmith of the group 'posed' for me, sitting on a stump as he waited for another of the group so he could show him how to shoe a horse.

    I was not completely ignorant of exploits of Buffalo Soldiers. As a lead animator on 'Atlantis:The Lost Empire,' I'd studied them as part of the backstory for my character,  Dr. Joshua Sweet who had been a Buffalo Soldier before the story picks up.

This research gave me some insight into this aspect of Dr. Sweet's life and helped me bring vitality and believability to the animation of this character.

    Another reason why I was interested in visiting the Museum was the occasion of this event, "Monrovia, California Honors Colonel Allen Allensworth. 100 years - A Visionary" read the headline of one newspaper.

  Born a slave, through a fascinating series of events, Allensworth rose to be chaplain of the 24th Infantry Buffalo Soldiers and retired as Lt. Colonel Allen Allensworth, the highest ranking African American serviceman of his era.

  Allensworth also founded the town that goes by his name Allensworth in Tulare County, CA. It was the first town in California founded, financed and governed by Black Americans.  (There is more information online about Lt. Colonel Allensworth and the town of Allensworth- please do yourself a favor and look it up. and lt.col.allensworth)

  To commemorate this date, the mayor of Monrovia, city council members, representatives from the Friends of Allensworth, Second Baptist Church, the city historian, the New Buffalo Soldiers and residents of the city all gathered to hear local TV host Ralph Walker and others talk about this extraordinary man.
 Lastly, a special connection for me was that Lt. Colonel Allen Allensworth was the first pastor of the Second Baptist Church here in Monrovia, my church, three blocks away.  And, on this date, 100 years ago, September 14th, 1914, the Reverend Allen Allensworth was struck by a motorcycle and killed as he walked from the train station to the church.

Neat opportunity to encounter history in  my own community and be able to capture in my sketchbook.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A New Building and Pocahontas (Part 2)



February of this year marked my twentieth year in animation, all with Walt Disney Feature Animation.

My formative training under Eric Larsen had been a life changing, eye opening experience for me in all aspects of my artistic career. From the first day in the animation community to now, his words and thoughts still ring loudly in my mind. These are some of the nuggets of wisdom from notes I took in his lectures and from his handouts.

He brought to our attention, "Our responsibility is to a team effort, but also to ourselves. If we do not hold ourselves accountable for doing our very best, our contribution to the team effort becomes nil. Our talents have to be nourished every day through observation, analysis, discussion, application and doing.

Eric passed on a quote from legendary animator/director/imagineer Ham Luske: "We must make our action stronger than it would be in real life - or we are not taking advantage of our medium."

Eric challenged us to consider: "Animation, action wise is a pantomime medium and pantomime may be our greatest challenge - every thought, attitude, expression, action, reaction, etc. has to be told in drawings expressing charm and appeal, and sans dialogue".

Eric taught us to think about, in his words: "In the challenge to entertain people we have to have something to say. In animation we say it, hopefully in a way the audience will fully understand and enjoy."

This is the thinking I brought into my 20th year.

The Disney Service Awards Banquet (recognizing years of service with the company) was held at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, CA. My twenty paled in comparison to John Hench (50) and Carmen Sanderson's (45) years of service that were highlighted that night.

(Page from The Walt Disney Distinguished Service Awards Banquet booklet.)

LaVonne and I at the awards ceremony (didn't quite get the sketchbook behind my back.)
(LaVonne, Mickey and me)

Additionally, my pen and ink illustration work was getting noticed. I had a showing of my work in the city of Duarte, CA at the Historical Museum that May.

(This picture of was taken by fellow animator Ruben Aquino.)

Since 1991, I had been a featured speaker at the Black Film Makers Hall of Fame in Oakland, CA.
Marshall Toomey, who headed up the clean-up department on many features, was also on program on this occasion.

(Marshall and me lecturing in Oakland, CA.)
The beginning of the year brought recognition of my years of service to the WDC by the studio. In addition to the WDC studio service award recognition in February (my month of hire), the animation department acknowledged those of us who had put serious time behind an animation desk that following November:
The year for me began and ended in awards and the release of a feature Pocahontas sandwiched in between. The future looked bright at this point in time, but the train was gradually slowing down.

(Invitation to the Animation Department service awards)

    The year for me began and ended in awards with the release of Pocahontas sandwiched in between. The future looked bright at this point in time, but the train was gradually slowing down.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A New Building and Pocahontas (Part 1)...

Into the Hat...

  The ending month of 1994 brought the animation department home after a ten year absence. In that time span I had animated in a trailer and three converted warehouses located on three different blocks in the city of Glendale, CA.

  The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver and Company, The Little Mermaid, Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Pocahontas were completed at these locations and had out performed our live action movies at the box office.

  With some of the profits from these blockbusters, a building to house the growing animation staff was constructed to bring us home. Not back home as in 'back to the studio lot', but across the street, south of the lot, adjacent to the 134 Freeway. 

  The New Animation Building (also known as the Hat Building because of the iconic Mickey Mouse Sorcerer's Apprentice Hat tower on the building) opened amid much fanfare... at least from the animation executives. I guess they were trying to make sure that we, the animation staff, were happy campers.

 On opening night we were treated to food, drink, a model of the building, a badge, wristwatch and a board directing us on a walk through the three upper floors and lower level of the building.

(Certificate on the bottom of the model of the building)
(The give-a-ways of that night, a wristwatch, model of the building and a badge.))

(Board/map navigating us through the building)

    I was one of the first to sign up for the fitness center located in the lower level of the building:-)
(I could officially work out 24/7)

 Animating on Pocahontas...

    I worked under Andreas Deja on several features before Pocahontas. What a talent he is and his passion and love for animation is infectious. He has had a positive influence on the way I view character animation.

   Eric, Frank, Ollie, Art Stephens, Gary Goldman, Don Bluth, Glen Keane, Mark Henn are other  animators that I could point to as also having influenced me in some way in their unique approaches to animation. Another positive influence for me was the outstanding animator, John Pomeroy.

 On Pocahontas he was the lead animator of the John Smith unit of which I was assigned. John was animating at the studio when I arrived in 1975. He left a few years later with the Don Bluth exit and now he was back to work his animation genius with us.

While working on this production, I had many in-depth, personal and artistic conversations with John. I gleaned a tremendous amount of his knowledge of animation which helped me tremendously in the next steps of my animation career.

  Prior to the end of the year move, the animation on Pocahontas was completed in our Glendale location. We character animators worked at times from live-action reference photostats as the some the scenes were shot using actors in the major character roles.  This technique was nothing new. This technique had been used by the studio on Snow White, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, etc. Anytime human type characters are animated, live-action reference help bring a sense of believability to the drawings and performance.

  Nik Ranieri's raccoon Meeko and Dave Pruiksma's Flit, the humming bird and some of the other characters that did not need the live-action reference.

  There were some scenes I animated that had no live-action reference and had to be worked out the old fashioned way; via thumbnails.

 Below are my thumbnails from the underwater scene with Pocahontas and John Smith and John and shadow during the 'Colors of the Wind ' song sequence.

(Key drawings and timing)
   The business is worked out in thumbnails prior to any animating with key drawings, notes and approximate timing.

(John Smith reacting as the eagle's shadow crosses over his upper torso.)

 We put the finishing touches on Pocahontas and proceeded to move into our new home...

  June brought in the cast and crew screening/wrap party shortly followed by the premier and national release.

Pocahontas premiered a few weeks later at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, CA.

(Brochure announcing the exclusive engagement of Pocahontas.)

(to be continued...)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Starting a Pen and Ink Illustration (part 3)...

Inking and Additions...

 In my pieces, I try to include as much stuff/business as possible to present different levels of entertainment for the eye. After all, who wants to look at a boring illustration?

  At this point, in my latest project, I'm looking for places to add some thing or some one but not to detract from the main theme and focus of the piece.  Silhouette, value, texture and composition are the criteria for their inclusion. With all the activity going on, these added forms are designed not to stand out but to contribute to the whole.

  If you had not noticed, in part 2, I added a little boy (far right corner between Cracker Jack salesman and boy reaching) and a tree (right side, middle).

(added tree and darks...)

Now I'm working the darks. This will give the illusion of depth to the illustration. As you can see at this stage the areas that are not inked stand out in the foreground.
(more darks...)

  From a distance this line of guys (lower left corner) is leading the eye into the illustration...
(texture on clothing but not on hats at this point...)

 I'm still looking for areas to darken and to go darker in places already darkened.

And I've spent a lot of time squinting my eyes and looking at the piece from a distance. Making sure the piece works from a distance as well as up close.

(about half finished at this point)

I mentioned the hats on the men along the left corner leading to the center. These hats, when inked, will be important later, as they will be a visual buffer when the playing field is inked.


Additionally, this illustration served as the backdrop for the film team of Michael Fiore and Eric Sharkey (Drew:  The Man Behind The Poster) as they filmed and interviewed me at my desk for the piece they are doing on the life of Disney Legend and animation pioneer Floyd Norman. (I do not have any details to a release date at this point) 

(preparing my office, at my home in San Dimas, for filming)

(Michael, checking for camera focus and lighting where I will eventually be seated)

(the sound operator setting up his equipment)

I'll keep you posted as the illustration progresses towards completion:-)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Interview with Tammy Turner...


  A few months ago I had a great conversation with Disney enthusiast Tammy Turner of The Tiara Talk Show. She is re-airing our chat.
  Here is the link:

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Starting a Pen and Ink Illustration (part 2)...

  I promised to keep you posted on the progress of my latest piece. If you need to catch up, the first steps are in the 'Starting a Pen and Ink Illustration...' dated 7/12/14.

Ink work...
(Fully inked pencil lines on 23"x29" illustration board)

   Starting to add detail to ink work...

Cross hatching more detail and darks in ink...

  I'll keep you posted on further progress.

Space Raider Trailer...
 My son Jai is animating a series for the company he is working for, here is a link that will appear on U-Tube.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Xavier and The Lion King...

 My trip to Xavier...

Between the release of Aladdin and start of The Lion King, I took a trip to Xavier University in New Orleans, LA.  Bill Matthews was leading the animation trainee department at Disney during this time and was always on the lookout for the next Frank, Ollie or Milt. He traveled around the country interviewing talent and selling the Disney brand of animated film making. In his many travels he had made friends with Charles Graves, the art department chairman at Xavier.  (For those of you who may not know, Xavier is an HBCU/Historically Black College and University. The HBCU's were started in the east and southern United States in the 1800's to afford blacks the opportunity to further their education during a time when blacks were not admitted elsewhere.)

With the growing success of Disney animation in the 1990's, we and other studios got our share of portfolios from hopefuls wanting be a part of this form of entertainment.  Student portfolios which came from schools like Cal Arts and Long Beach State who taught animation had a decisive advantage on schools with talented students but with no formal instruction in the art of animation.

  Bill saw an opportunity to share some animation knowledge to those intuitions which had limited or no knowledge at all. He approached me with a proposition: Would I be willing to teach a series of workshops geared toward sharing the knowledge of animated film making and bringing the students up to speed as to what it would take to become a Disney animator, telling story through line and music?

"Yes, of course!" was my answer.

 I and several others had been representing animation through Disney for a number of years, traveling to elementary, junior high, high schools and colleges. The studio even had an animation lecture kit with examples of the various steps it takes to make an animated film. These kits made our presentations visually easier to follow.

 Instead of the usual twenty minute presentation followed by a short Q&A session, this visit to New Orleans would last two weeks...10 days of intense training and dispensed information on my part.

 My first objective was to develop an outline to present to Bill so he in turn could make a presentation to management to justify the expense.

 First I needed some film clips from the great "vault". They were much easier to take along than a bulky lecture kit that measured at least 30"x40" and weighted a ton.

I chose the following animated film clips for the workshops...

These short snippets of animation were going to help me explain to the students how important each section (color, music, dialogue, etc.) contributed to the whole of the animated film making process.

My outline would consist of:
  -A general talk on animation
  -Introduction to the various kinds and purposes of animation
  -Getting Specific (the process of Disney animation)
  -Drawing Board Exercise
  -The Objective
  -Teamwork for Results
  -Action Analysis
  -Class Project
  -Life Drawing Classes
  -Open Class Discussion (after all sessions)

Armed with this proposal, Bill had no resistance in getting the OK for the trip.

  I stayed in the French Quarter of town in a hotel across from the canal. My only automobile driving was back and forth to the school which was about ten minutes away by freeway. The narrow, one way streets were enough to discourage me from driving. Walking was far better to see the many sights to be seen there.

  The food in New Orleans is magnificent, whether a hole-in-the-wall or five star restaurant, the food was good. I indulged at a different restaurant every night after classes and on the weekends took a trolley to the outskirts of town to sample the eats.

 Itinerary for my time at Xavier.
(Me with student from their campus newspaper.) 
  The workshops went great. The students were enthusiastic and I already mentioned the food...

The students and faculty were appreciative of my contribution to the Xavier experience and I made new friends in the Big Easy and got to spread the word about animation...old school.

Two weeks later I was back to Glendale and onto our next production The Lion King...

  Going into the next production The Lion King, I got the opportunity to be assigned to the Andreas Deja led crew animating the dramatic villain character Scar. I finished the film animating the comedic Pumbaa and Timon led by Tony Bancroft and Mike Surrey.

 Thumbnails always a leaning post of mine...
(Scar thumbnails for scene from song Be Prepared

(Scar thumbnails from song Be Prepared)

(Scar Clean-Up drawings by Johan did I know it was Johan after all these years?, the CL artists would sign their names in the far right hand corner of  the 'ruff' drawings they Cleaned-Up:-)

  One of the highlights of animation (for me) is the time spent in preparation, observation and the study of what is about to be animated. This has always been a strong point in Disney's history going back to the early days of feature work. Having a basis of reality to launch out from brings believability to what is being animated.

  Everybody could not be sent to Kenya, Africa like the art directors.  So, the studio did the next best thing...we animators boarded a bus for a trip to the San Diego Wild Animal Park. From the flat bed trucks we got to see the animals we would be drawing up close and personal.

  From there we visited the San Diego Zoo and got behind the scenes tours of the animals, spent the night in San Diego, and then back to Glendale for more in depth African animal research before we picked up a pencil to animate.

  Live African animals were brought to the studio for us to observe and draw.
(Me at one of the many 'live' drawing sessions.) 

( Some of the animators with male lion and trainer.)

A star-studded cast and crew screening was held at the Disney owned El Capitan in Hollywood, CA...

followed by the Wrap Party held at the Arden Estate in Pasadena, CA.


As a thank you, Management reminded us of the opening of the film with this communication and presented us with a book, The Art of the Lion King, one of a series of "Art of"  books chronicling our productions...

Disney animation had hit it's stride and unfortunately it's ceiling where the only place to go is down...

  On another note, Quick Sketching with Ron Husband continues to make waves on the international scene, along with the Japanese translation, a Chinese version is being negotiated for the summer of 2016!

 Thank you everyone who reads this blog, I really do appreciate you taking the time to do so. My readership increases daily.