Sunday, April 13, 2014



One of the the things I have appreciated over my years at Disney is the emphasis the department placed on preparation before pencil met paper.  It is important for the producer, director, art director etc. to have insights into the environment and personality traits of what and who we were about to bring to the screen. The animators also must have these same insights in order to bring believability to the personality of the characters we bring to life.

This concept goes back the early years of the Disney studio with Walt's desire to have his artist continually growing in their knowledge of all the aspects of animation as entertainment.

 "It wouldn't be bad if you made a up a list of qualifications of an animator in order of importance. Then all these men could see what it takes to be an animator, and could check on themselves to see how nearly they approach the desired perfection.

 The list would start with the animators ability to draw: then, ability to visualize action, breaking it down into drawings and analyze the movement, the mechanics of the action. From this point, we would come to is ability to caricature action- to take a natural human action and see the exaggerated funny side of it- to anticipate the effect or illusion created in the mind of the person viewing that sensation and to feel the force behind sensation, in order to project that sensation and feel the force behind sensation, in order to project that sensation. Along with this, the animator should know what creates laughter- why do things appeal to people as being funny.

In other words, a good animator combines all these qualities:
    Good draftsmanship
   Knowledge of caricature, of action as well as features.
   Knowledge and appreciation of acting
  Ability to think  up gags and put over gags
  Knowledge of story construction and audience values
  Knowledge and understanding of all the mechanical and detailed routine involved in his other
abilities without becoming tied up in a knot by lack of technique along these lines."

 - Excerpt from a memo from Walt Disney to Don Graham in 1935 discussing his ideas for Don to put together training sessions for his animators.

  As part of the training, representative teams of Disney artist were sent on location to get a first hand look and feel for the environment, colors and people. If not first hand knowledge, the reference library filled in the blanks.This thoroughness to detail helped tell the story in a believable way and continues on today.
  This concept is not unique to Disney.  All studios, live action as well as animation utilize this. For me, in 1975, with only a few months at the studio, it was new to my thinking, not having a film/storytelling background. Through the years I have come to appreciate time spent in the researching characters and environments.

  I got my first lesson of how important research is to the animator by observing Glen Keane. We shared a room, not really shared, it was two rooms at the end of  hallway. You had to pass through my room to get to his:)
 Glen was animating the climatic scene in The Fox and the Hound of Tod (fox) fighting the bear. Day after day I watched him immerse himself in bear anatomy and bear stories. One morning passing through my room he says "Huz...listen to this" . He starts telling me about this article he read about bear attacks (on people).
  With research done, Glen started to animate a sequence of scenes that will long be remembered for the action, staging, timing and the believability he brought to the screen through his talent as a great animator and the time spent getting to know his characters.  And that brings me to...

 In keeping with the theme of preparation...the animation team was treated to a workshop conducted by the late Al Hirschfeld. Eric Goldberg's genie was influenced by Mr.Hirschfeld's line work.
  Al (87 years young at the time) visited our department on Flower St. to conduct a workshop on what he had done for the last 60 plus years of his life...caricatures.

  He laid out photographs of famous people with the instructions to "pick one and caricature it". I preferred to use a live model.

Group shot with Al Hirschfeld, some of us holding up our caricatures done in his workshop...

We all got the opportunity to have one-on one tutoring from the master...

The day after the workshop the department gathered in the theatre to say goodbye to Al and hear any final words from him followed by a question and answer session.

He was asked if he had ever seen any (good) caricatures of himself, he named a few people and ended by saying,"and that guy yesterday".

(So much for preparation, Aladdin was released the next month,)

Part 1


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Edinboro University Pa...

Edinboro, Pa....
  At the 2013 CTN Expo I met up with Mike Genz whom I had not seen since our days at Disney some twenty years ago. He is now an Associate Professor at Edinboro University in Pa.

He had brought some of his animation students to the festival. In conversation, Mike brought up the idea of me coming to EU.

 This past week the invitation became a reality.
After a long, smooth flight I arrived Wednesday April 2nd. Fortunately for me  nothing was scheduled and I took the opportunity to rest at the Seasons Inn, a first rate, family owned Bed and Breakfast. I was greeted and made to feel welcome by Mary Anne who made sure all guests were well taken care of.
The Seasons Inn...

Mary Anne in the lobby of the Seasons Inn..
Thursday morning I sat in on Brad Pattullo's animation class. One of the students, Dani K. said she had written a song for me and asked the teacher if she could sing it, right then and there. 'No, maybe after class', as he rolled his eyes:) class end I was treated to a song written especially for me, a rap song no less.
In very animated body language she belted out
"R to the O to the N Husband
                Carryin 'round your sketchbook again 
                                              Some say he is the O.G. of a Company called Disney 
(Super awesome beatboxing)
Can we get a selfie?
pretty pretty please
I'll do the duck face if you do the PEACE" 
She also makes a tasty homemade cupcake, thank you Dani.

That night I spoke to 106 students and faculty on campus.

Mike Genz introduced me as I prepare to lecture.

The attendees from my view point of view.

I had the marvelous opportunity to speak...
   do some drawing to illustrate a point...
and answer some questions.

At the end of the lecture I greeted a long line wanting to take a selfie, shake hands, get an autograph or sign my book.

Friday afternoon I spoke again to about 40 students off campus.  That night, more than 60 braved the cold weather to come out and hear what I had to say about storytelling and the process of animation.
Saturday about 15 students met me, Mike and assistant professor Jeremy Galante, at the mall for a hands on  quick sketching session that lasted about two hours. The students (and teachers:) put into practice some of the concepts I had been lecturing about.
We met afterward, pulled some tables together, and had class/critique in the food court.
Thanks again to Mike Genz,the Incubator group, the dedicated faculty and the talented students of Edinboro University for making this a memorable visit for me. 
The youthful enthusiasm and creativity of the Edinboro animation students has encouraged me to continue sharing my passion for art and animation!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Thumbnails for Beauty...

 My last post dealt with Beauty and the Beast and before I leave that feature, I'll share a few more thumbnail drawings.
 Looking through my piles of 'stuff' in boxes out in the garage, I came across more thumbnail drawings from Beauty...drawings that visually help get the point across as to how important thumb nailing is in the planning out of a scene. 
I usually execute these small drawings on a 8 1/2x11 paper, using pen or pencil. These little drawings helped me work out the action (below) on the boys in the tavern lifting Gaston and chair. Even rough timing  is evidence by the numbers  under the drawings.
I get to see in miniature approximately what the scene will look like and if it is pleasing to the eye.

More thumbnails (below) take the action and other characters into the mix. I work out the steps of each character in this format, later to be transferred to rough animation.

Gaston (below) delivering dialogue. This gives me a chance to figure out mouth shapes and the action that will take place as he throws his beer mugs.

Gaston (below) on the roof walking over to pull off a piece of the building he can use as a weapon against the Beast. These small drawings give me a look at poses and approximate timing.

 The choreography of Gaston and the Beast fighting (below) was worked out prior to any animating. Closer fielding and the rain effects were used to increase the drama, but you still have to have the characters grounded for believability and thumb nailing provided that.

 Thumbnailing for me is an offshoot of my quick sketching. The silhouette value, balance, proportion, perspective, recognizable (who is it), conveying an action or emotion are what I'm after when I quick sketch. Theses same values should be reflected in thumbs.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Beauty and the Beast

Next up was Beauty and the Beast... 

Here are some of the major players (right) who made Beauty and the Beast a classic: top far right is Glen Keane who designed and animated the the left below Glen are directors, Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. Time would tell what a monumental achievement these guys pulled off. Middle left is producer Don Hahn who pulled it all together. To his right is Gaston, animated by Andreas Deja (I was a part of his unit). The bottom left is Lumiere, animated by Nik Ranieri and bottom right is James Baxter who brought movement to Belle.

Above is the Gaston unit gathered outside our quarters- a trailer on Flower Street in Glendale.

My thumbnails (right) of Gaston posing and firing his

more thumbnails of Glen's Beast and Andreas' Gaston (top left and bottom right) helped choreograph my the fight scenes between the two.

Once again thumbnails to the rescue as I animated the special effects of the spoons in the Be Our Guest song, patterned after the Busby Berkeley choreography of the 1930's musicals.

We got to see the movie with our families in the theater on Flower St. The premier  was held a few weeks earlier at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood...

followed by the wrap party at The Sheraton Universal.

Accolades began to come in for the film...

Best Picture at the Golden Globe Awards plus best song and score...

Then came the Academy Award nomination for best picture of the year. This is the monumental achievement that I mentioned earlier that Kirk and Gary pulled off . At the time there was no separate category for animated features. The B&B nomination was a first for an animated feature as it's competition was against live action films.

Big news headlines, Beauty and the Beast makes movie history. This historic moment was not well received by actors and movie purists who thought little of our craft.

The study of acting is a must by actor and animator as a convincing acting performance is sought by both.There are other similarities between what an actor does in his or her role and what an animator does with his character. 

Live action actors depend on make-up, voice overs, stunt doubles, special effects etc. to help them before the camera.

The actor puts on an act. The Beast is not acting the Beast, he is the Beast, Belle is Belle. The acting performances that were achieved by the animators on Beauty and the Beast were done with pencil on paper.The animator acts with his pencil.

The award that year went to Silence of the Lambs, but animation made history that will never be repeated.

A good caricature is always in proper taste? by Glen Keane

Glen and I did a lot of caricaturing of each other. It started when, together, we were moved from the second floor animation training rooms. Glen had come into the program about six months earlier and was already working on the Rescuers doing inbetweens and animating scenes for Ollie Johnston. I had just joined the ranks of Glen, Tad Stones, Randy Cartwright and a few others as permanent employees.
Glen and I were paired together in a corner office and the caricatures started to carom back and forth as we animated through the days,weeks, months and years.
I've got a stack that proper human beings should not have to lay eyes upon.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Further into the 90's...

I learned early about the value of thumbnails in the planning of a scene.  This prevented a lot of headaches (my own) by working a scene or scenes out in these small rough drawings first, then showing them to the lead animator or director before starting to animate. By doing this I was able to animate with confidence knowing my superiors knew what direction I was headed.

(Thumbnails of Amos running from Fox and the Hound.)

(My thumbnails of Cody from Rescuers Down Under - pre-animation action studies.)

(And animation of Cody (Rescuers Down Under) running, is based on this cycle.) 

   Also during this time, my pen and ink artwork was on display at Azusa Pacific University art gallery in Azusa, Ca. Whenever my artwork was displayed, I was asked if it was for sale. It was not originally my intention to execute art work for sale. I did it just for my pleasure and to improve my pen and ink style. I got the idea to have some prints made of the work, so I could keep my originals and others could have a copy for themselves.

I collaborated with John Greco of Josephine Press in Santa Monica to do a limited (50) run of hand pulled prints which would be signed and numbered.

Concurrently, I had the opportunity to speak at Biola University in La Habra, Ca. It was a great opportunity to share with those students what we were doing in animation over at Disney. 

   I enjoyed those teaching moments and when the opportunity came, I agreed to accept a teaching position at a local junior college. The class was  Cartooning and Humorous Illustration. This laid the foundation for me in years to come to teach other classes in figure drawing, quick sketch and animation. Also to lecture and conduct workshops.
 I had been introduced to the late great, Mr.Bil Keane through his son Glen.  I wrote him asking his professional advice about cartooning and humorous illustration work. He kindly responded (right) with a wealth of other information and an original Family Circus panel.

  Word of wisdom: Seek advice and direction from those in the occupation you wish to enter. The higher up the 'food chain' the better the advice. My advice came from the very top.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Super Bowl XLVIII Gathering at Ron's...

Congratulations to the Super Bowl champions Seattle Seahawks! And also to the Denver Broncos who happen to be the second best team in the NFL. I, like millions of people worldwide watched this spectacle with friends...old friends.

(Early flyer to Super Bowl gathering)

  I grew up in the small, southern California town of Monrovia. In 1950-60's era, the African-American community of my town extended only from the railroad tracks on Duarte Road twelve blocks north to Walnut St., and east-west four blocks from Shamrock Ave. to Ivy Ave. With such a small community of people, where literally everybody knew one another, close knit friendships were forged. Before I attended kindergarten I knew the neighbor kids. I went to elementary school with these same kids, played with them after school and had the chance to meet others youngsters from a few blocks away...On to junior and senior high, expanding the range of friends in the circle to an even larger group; which brings me to my point...

The Super Bowl has been a focus of gathering together for my friends from Monrovia and the adjoining city, Duarte. These guys I grew up with, played sports with, hung out with, partied with, laughed and joked with... and come to think of it, never fought with.

Usually we see old friends at funeral services or accidentally run into them and the conversation is mostly surface stuff. The thought of gathering together in a more relaxed atmosphere seemed more appealing to me.  So, a Super Bowl Gathering ensued at "Ron's Place".

(Flyer for 2008 Super Bowl)


About twenty five years ago (or more) Jackie Adams,  who I had known since kindergarten, watched the USC-UCLA rivalry game at my house. We did so for several years. For some unknown reason we missed a game; I think Jackie had to work that day... To make up for missing the game that year, we got together a few months later at my place, to watch the Super Bowl. Meeting other old friends accidentally or at a funeral, I'd invited them to join us to watch the game. One by one the group grew. This once a year gathering of friends did not start out to be the tradition it has turned into, thus, I can not point to a specific start date; it just evolved over time.

These guys (all from Monrovia/Duarte, some, from as far back as pre-school) watching the game in my living room,  have careers in education, public utilities, law enforcement, entrepreneurship, corrections, and even an NFL coach. All with families and obligations, yet they take time once a year to come from near and far to see each other and catch up on each others lives.

At half time we form a circle, holding hands. The guys have an opportunity to express what is on their hearts. Thankfulness that we have another opportunity to fellowship with each other is the reigning sentiment.  We  thank God in prayer for another fruitful year to be together with old friends and blessing of the food. We often get a call during this time from one or two of the guys from the old neighborhood who now lives out of state. They too are sent an invitation and the phone is passed around to say 'hi'.
This year's menu: B-B-Q ribs, tri-tip, potato salad, green salad, home made carrot cake and peach cobbler along with assorted sodas.

Like most of our gatherings, the third quarter of the game is missed as we chat and chew, catching up on each others lives and joking about old times. Often times, we'd laugh over  my old scrap books with pictures of us all in little league uniforms, or team pictures of our high school track, basketball, baseball and football teams. It is truly more about the fellowship than the game.

And, we don't take next year's gathering for granted. In 2004, a member of our group, Calvin Bourne, who I had known for 45 years passed away. The next year Charlie Graves passed and the following year Jackie Adams, both whom I had known fifty and fifty one years respectively. Three years in a row the group was shortened which makes each gathering truly special.
Call up a friend, send them an email or better yet a hand written letter and keep in touch with the friends you have.

(This years invitation below: 45 to 59 years of friendship here...The three on the stairs are Calvin, Charlie and Jackie)

Monday, January 20, 2014

My Animation Trainee experience (part 3)

Eight weeks come to an end...
Grasping the basics of animation in a few weeks is only the tip of the iceberg. The steps to becoming an animator are not automatic. From this point, I could become a career inbetweener, breakdown or assistant animator. I went through all these phases and learned what I could from each and moved on. There are those who found their comfort zone in one of these steps. I would soon learn the importance of each.

(example: rough animation drawing from Disney Fox and the Hound)

  I was being trained to be a 'rough' animator. The rough animator draws the character(s) on model, with proper volume, proportions and with enough structure that a clean-up artist could 'follow' and make a clean version of the drawings in your scene.  The animator would be concerned with the 'key' drawings in a scene leaving the 'inbetween' drawing to be done by an inbetweener to complete the action.

(example: clean-up animation drawing from Disney Fox and the Hound)

 The lead clean-up artist is concerned with the same key drawings as the animator. Checking with the animator  to make sure the drawings are 'on model' etc. Other clean-up artists fill in the drawings between the main keys to complete the action.

In the weeks that followed I was doing inbetweens for the animators working on The Rescuers. I was eventually assigned to a room downstairs and given a desk. I took that desk with me wherever the department went. I drew at that same desk for the thirty years I was in animation.

My knowledge of  the history and mechanics of animation started my first day on the studio lot. Now it continued as I became a part of the process in making an animated feature.

  It was not all serious business as we continued to have rubber band fights and do caricatures of each other and ourselves as this (below) attests to. Randy Cook's caricature of himself on animation paper (notice the peg holes).

The feature I was assigned to was being done the "Disney Way". What is it that made Disney so unique at the time? (and not just the peg holes:) :The Rescuers released in 1977 was only the 22nd feature released since Snow White in 1937, forty years earlier. That averages about one feature every two years.

For every second of film seen, it takes 24 separate cels. Hand drawn and color painted. A 90 minute film has about 250,000 hand drawn cels. At the time one of the Saturday morning animation studios turned out about 7,000 feet of animation per week. Disney did about 6,500 feet in four years.

Costing millions of dollars with a staff of hundreds of people from the various departments, it took over 4 years to complete. Forty animators contributed about 330,000 drawings. I remember reading that, laid end to end, the drawings would extend about 40 miles and it would take one animator 16 years averaging 8 feet of animation a week to accomplish all this.

This is the "Disney Way" of animation I was about to be taught.

I was assigned to do inbetweens for animation legend, Frank Thomas. There are a thousand and one questions I wish I'd have asked him back then, but I was so inexperienced and I just wanted to do a good job of inbetweening. To do the job assignment properly you have to keep track of the scene, all the drawings in the scene, draw on model, capture the arc between the extreme drawings, read the exposure sheet properly, listen to the dialogue track (on the moviola track or 78 rpm record), send the scene out to camera, thread it up on the moviola for viewing when it comes back and more.

In time Frank gained trust in my inbetweening abilities. Wanting to see me advance he entrusted me with scenes from the production. This accomplished two goals, it helped Frank with the amount of scenes he was expected to do and it accelerated my learning. Frank's inbetweens were my priority so lunch breaks, after hours and weekends were spent in animation. I did about fifty feet of animation for Rescuers. In those days it took a hundred feet of animation to get screen credit. I was not disappointed, I knew the rules going in.

I listened to Frank as he flipped my inbetweens between his extremes and explained why this worked and this did not work. or his critique of the scenes I animated. These experiences were invaluable to me as a young animation hopeful.

Training continued through my early years: Lectures( Tex Avery among others), films sessions followed by discussions, sculpting (taught by Blain Gibson), classes in acting, action analysis ( taught by Ward Kimball), drawing classes (taught by Mark Davis, Walt Stanchfield, Glen Vilppu and others) and more.

(Updated animation recruitment brochure)
After about a year on the job, we were handed a three inch thick notebook called, The Disney School of Animation. Divided into sections it contained a wealth of information and blank pages to take notes. Everything from Thoughts on the Unit System, Orientation, Terminology, Materials, Standard Procedures, Production Planning, Music Room, Layout/Background, Scene Planning, X-Sheet, Camera, Simplification, Life Drawing, Animation, Clean-Up, Effects, Ink and Paint. The Animation Enrichment Program section contained a memo from Walt Disney to Don Graham outlining the formation of a training program on which this training program was patterned.

My trainee experience continues to this day.

(All images are shown for encouragement and inspiration only.)