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.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Starting a Pen and Ink Illustration...

 Pen and Ink...

 About five years ago I got serious about writing 'Quick Sketching with Ron Husband'. This meant all other art related activities would have to take a back seat so I could dedicate my 'spare time' to the book project which, at the time I called 'What's in a Line'( my editor suggested the name change and a couple of chapter re-namings).

  At that time I was working full time in Disney's publication department, teaching figure drawing at Gnomon School one night a week, and had taken on various freelance projects. I'd produced a string of pen and ink illustrations in the past, and from about 2006 and leading up to my hiatus from extra curricular art activities and projects in 2009, I had committed myself to complete one 23" x 29" pen and ink project a year. Working a couple hours a night and on weekends, four illustrations were completed in that time frame.

  For the last four and a half years writing my book swallowed up all my spare time. Now I am back to my committed goal of an illustration a year.

My subject matter...

     I chose to focus my research on African American subjects in the 1930's United States south for these particular projects. Black ink on white illustration board for me was as natural as a nod to the black and white photographs of that era.

   Here are examples of my use of pen and ink, cross hatching style, and subject matter from my 2006 'Baptism' and 2007 'Juke Joint Saturday Night'.

(Baptism- portion of the original 23"x 29")

(Juke Joint Saturday Night- portion of the original 23" x 29")

  Each successive illustration got more challenging, complicated and fun as the years unfolded.

  My years in animation have left the lasting impression on me to know the real so that it (the real) can be caricatured. Thus I am constantly in search for that jumping off point, something I can point to as my point of departure into the fantastic, yet grounded in reality. Consequently I am always on the lookout for a photograph that will jump start my imagination. Sometimes I will find a photo I like and keep it for years before the proper motivation and circumstances bring it to the forefront of my thought processes.

 Years ago I came across a photograph of a baseball park and saw the potential in what it could become. I filed it away for future reference and the future is here, my jumping off point.

  Again from my animation days, research comes into focus. Since I have been in this genre for some time, I had some knowledge of the clothing being worn. Today we dress casually for sporting events, but in the thirties and even into the 1950's a ballgame was a dressy affair and this aspect of the spectators at the game had to be depicted realistically to add credibility to the piece.

  The uniforms of the players and umpire were easy to research. There are numerous photographs of that era in circulation and a lot of good reading on the history of Negro League Baseball before Jackie Robinson made it into the major leagues.

Thumbnails in my sketchbook...
  Thumbnailing is a must to get an overall view of the artwork and to work out any business. Thumbs also help one visualize the placement of characters so that they do not overlap in such a way that their individuality gets lost. It is important that every action reads and that each character is clearly defined in silhouette. (Sounds like discussing a scene handout with the director.)

(Thumbnails from a page in my sketchbook..)

(...more thumbnails from my sketchbook)


  My sketchbook is constantly by my side. Not only to quick sketch what I observe (basketball players) but whenever I get an inspiration (for my next illustration), I can jot down images so I'll have a permanent record of that particular thought. I think of the work in the pages of my sketchbooks as practicing/preparation for the real stuff.

The ingredients...

  I start out with Strathmore 500 Bristol 2-ply illustration board...

  an HB pencil works best for me at this point...

  blown up/down to the size I want, the photograph reference is pencilled in.
  Then, just add people.

  Keeping in mind one definition of a good gesture of a figure is one in which the figure is about to do something or just finished doing something...and let the fun begin.
(Pencil image, adding people...)

(...more people...)

(...and more people.)

( Final pencil image, ruler used for straight lines in ink.)
  After the pencil work is completed, I'll ink all pencil lines and add the cross hatching style using a mechanical pen.

  My goal is to have the finished piece stand up from a distance and up close with each individual section contributing to the whole piece of artwork and it must be fun to look at, a piece of eye candy as the old saying goes.

  We'll see in a couple of months if all this comes about.

I'll keep you posted...

Thursday, June 26, 2014

'Quick Sketching with Ron Husband' goes International...

Quick Sketching with Ron Husband...

I wrote this book to inspire and encourage artists to draw more. There is no secret formula to "follow in ten easy lessons" to get better.
  Take the talent you were born with and develop that talent through the discipline of daily sketching, but with the one ingredient that I guarantee will lead to improvement.  That ingredient is learning to sketch with a purpose. I set out in my writing to navigate a course that will lead to territory that the artist is already familiar with. It was not my intention to reinvent the wheel, (there are enough anatomy for the artist, assorted sketchbooks, how to... etc. already on the market) just make the artist aware of the principles they already know.
  The artist is to take advantage of  the many drawing classes they have taken over the years and refocus on what was learned in those classes and to ask the question, what makes a good drawing? and setting out to answer that question through the sketchbook. What I call sketching with a purpose.

 This challenge will take you beyond sketching for the sake of sketching. By understanding what makes a good drawing the artist is able to sketch with  purpose as he/she puts lines on paper. Lines which answer the who, what, when, why, where and how questions.

Want to know more?...consult Quick Sketching with Ron Husband
Which brings me to the main reason of writing this blog.
 A few days ago my editor at Focal Press wrote in part "...the fact that we're moving to translations even before your book is a year old means that it's gaining traction and is quite a success."

Quick Sketching with Ron Husband is going to be translated to Japanese having been picked up by a publisher in Japan. Proving the basics of sketching are universal.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Happy Birthday to my son Jai...

Jai has been blessed with the tons of creativity- from childhood to manhood he has exhibited this talent in writing, directing and acting in plays. He directed an animated feature in which he received an award for outstanding children's programming from The Image Awards. Author of and is directing an animated series. Authored a series of books, preached and is an apologist of the Word. Exercise fanatic, workaholic and the list goes on and on...may you have many more years of creativity.

(Jai from my pencil in about 1973)
(Jai's creativity in elementary school)

(Jai on his way to the NAACP Image Awards in 2013- in which he received an award for Outstanding Children's Programming)



Friday, June 13, 2014

Preparation...(part 2)

(Part 2)

November 1992 brought in Aladdin...

The Lamp and the Genie...

I worked on animation for the character Jafar (below) with the unit headed by Andreas Deja.

 I cannot emphasize enough the value of thumbnailing a scene to work out the business/action before doing any animation.

Here are some of my thumbnails as an example:

(thumbnails of Jafar head turn)

I also had the opportunity to animate a few characters in the parade (below)...

( thumbnails to work out action of marcher twirling sword)

and a few Aladdin scenes (below) with the lamp...

(in cave with lamp-top and left, effects shooting out of the lamp would be added later)

and Aladdin on carpet (below).

The Aladdin crew...
When animation is mentioned, some people immediately associate the animator as the star of the show, but it takes more than animators to get a feature to the screen.

 The Directors harness all the talent to bring their vision to fruition...

(Producers, Directors and screenplay by John Musker and Ron Clements)

Another important ingredient: the people who make up the story department...

Aladdin lead animators...
(l to r Randy Cartwright, Phil Young, Glen Keane, Dave Pruiksma, Eric Goldberg, Duncan Marjoribanks, Andreas Deja and Will Finn.  Mark Henn not pictured)

Aladdin animators (right)...

Aladdin layout and background artists (below)...

Aladdin clean-up artists (below)...

Aladdin effects and CGI artists (below)...

These and many more were responsible for the animated feature that made it to the screen.

  As usual the cast and crew were treated to a screening at the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood followed by the now famous Disney Wrap Party.

  In the end it is the audiences who decide whether or not a film has been successful in it's attempt to entertain.

Five months later we gathered together as a group to celebrate Aladdin joining a handful of films that had surpassed $200,000,000 and the only animated film to do so at the time.

  At this time Disney animation was on a positive upward spiral. Check out Don Hahn's documentry 'Waking Sleeping Beauty' to get a behind the scenes look at this era.

(photos by WDP for inspiration and encouragement)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Creativa Fest 2014 Part 4...

Sunday May 4th...

  My last topic of discussion was a continuation of Planning a Scene ...


   Before I got started I stepped down from the stage to formally introduce myself to three young ladies who had attended every lecture and got there early so they could sit in the same seats up front.

Though there were other activities and booths going on at the same time, they chose to hear what I had to say. I thanked and told them I appreciated their choice.

The audience got a lesson on, Components of a "Good" drawing, Knowing your Character, human and animal anatomy, and dialogue with the director.
As a demonstration, I animated a four legged animal running and...

 had the opportunity to do some drawing.
Followed by our (by this time customary) question and answer session.
This last session of the day closed out the Epic Live Entertainment Creativa Fest: International Animation Festival 2014.  After a few more autographs and selfies,  I made my way through the exposition hall to taxi back to the hotel for a room service meal and to bed.

Monday May 5th ...

  After packing for home and getting a bit more rest in my hotel room awaiting my late flight, I got a call from my hosts inviting me out to see some more of Mexico, "See you in the lobby in a few minutes".

Group shot in the lobby...

(left to right, Fernando Garcia Calzada, me, Elizabeth Solis Graniel, Justo Nava Anaya, Gerardo Cacho Zorrilla) 

We all boarded a Cadillac SUV and headed toward downtown Mexico City. Elizabeth suggested we stop in Coyoacan before entering downtown.  This way I would get a feel and taste of real Mexico.
On our way we saw some real interesting characters.
When the cars stopped at the red light to let people cross, salesmen walked between the lines of autos selling their wares.

At another intersection a gentleman dressed in native south American costume danced between the line of cars and money was handed out the car windows to him.

What caught my eye when we stopped at another crosswalk was a guy in a suit pushing a small fish tank to the middle of the crossing area. He stopped, held up his empty hands, put them both in the water filled tank and swished the water around signaling there is nothing in there.
Then he removed his wet hands, thrusting them into the air showing them to be empty.
He then put them back into the tank, pulled his two hands out of the water holding a wet dove above his head and then separating his hands producing a dove in each hand...boy was I glad I had my sketchbook in hand.
Next stop: Coyoacan Park...
(Coyoacan Park)
(me at entrance of Coyoacan Park)
 These park musicians were about to end their music and I had to sketch quick enough to get the basic gestures of the four before we left.  (top sketches, below).
Later in another part of the park we saw them again and I got to 'flesh out' my earlier  sketch (below, bottom sketches).
We made our way through the park toward the Frida Kahlo Museum. Unfortunately the museum was closed that day but we passed an open air market which seemed like it took up a whole block.
There was everything one wanted to buy: meat,fish toys,candy,clothes,spices,fruit - you name it, you could find it.
(me at a candy booth)

(me and spices by the pound or ounce)
 My pen was able to capture some wonderful sketches of vendors, musicians and a man just relaxing and enjoying the calmness of the park.

  Our group decided to eat at an outdoor restaurant in the park (La Cerveceria de Barrio) before we headed to the airport.

 Over tacos I asked the group about the history of Creata Fest...this was their answer:

'Animation is in it's infancy here in Mexico and our university (Technology Institute of Monterey) is teaching us how to run a studio. We want to learn how to be animators in a studio and work our way up the ladder and then run the studio. It is our desire to open our own studio some day".

"It is more economical to bring in animation talent than for students (such as we) to go to festivals held in the United States and other places in the world".

"Our first year (2013) we invited and hosted two artists from Pixar Animation Studios (Andrew Gordon and Matthew Luhn) who conducted a master class at the Technology Institute of Monterey campus" this their second year, the venue Expo Bancomer welcomed over 1500 participants over five days to hear guest speakers, be exposed to video games, visual effects, voice acting and more.

The audiences were addressed by: Peter del Vecho, producer of 2013 Oscar winner for the  Best Animated Feature, Frozen...               

(article on  Peter del Vecho from Mexican newspaper)

Jeff  "Swampy" Marsh of Disney's "Phineas and Ferb"...

(article about "Swampy" Marsh from Mexican newspaper)

 Allison Abbate who brought along a display of stop motion puppets used in Tim Burton's productions of "Frankenweenie", Mars Attacks" and other features.

(article on Allison Abbate in Mexican newspaper)
Also in attendance and speaking or demonstrating were Dawn Rivera-Ernster (Director, Talent Development and Recruitment) from Disney, James Everett a game programmer from Canada, Eric Robles a series creator for nickelodeon, Chuck Piel from REELFX, Dan Cox a modeler from Canada and Marta Mekarska from Poland and many more, forty guests to be exact.

These are the 'kids' (below) who pulled this successful extravaganza off:

Left to right: Astrid Cortes Altamirano, Justo Nava Anaya (mastermind behind all this), Gerardo Cacho Zarrilla, me and Elizabeth Solis Graniel. All with two years to go before they graduate, except for Elizabeth who got her degree in Animation and Digital Arts this past December...
all I could say is " I impressed or what?".
( Fernando had to leave from the park to catch a flight back to northern Mexico...Enrique, Max and Gustavo also played their roles to make these few days memorable for me.)
Then, with only one minor hurdle at the airport and I was on my way back to California.
Never one to pass up an opportunity to sketch...
(Waiting to board the plane)

(On board the plane and waiting for luggage.)
I had a wonderful time in Mexico City and met a whole new set of friends south of the border.
One way I measure a successful presentation is, if what I said has a positive effect on others....As I left the exhibition hall on my last day,  I was given this note: 
 Looks like I accomplished what I came to do!