Monday, December 8, 2014

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame and more...part 4

February 1996...

 The animation for The Hunchback of Notre Dame comes to a conclusion...

Then, in April 1996...

The company newsletter informs us there will be a Super Premier at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana for Hunchback.

May 1996...  The animation crew and their families are invited to the Big Easy for the Premier and other festivities...

June 1996...

The traditional cast and crew party was held here in Los Angeles...

(LaVonne and me with Quasimodo at the cast and crew party)

Three days later we boarded a chartered plane for New Orleans...

(Melissa, LaVonne and me as we are about to board the plane)

The crew and our families at LAX.

LaVonne, my daughter Melissa, and me as we boarded the plane. Melissa, back for the summer from her freshman year of college at Spelman, was the only one of our three kids still at home...

My sons; Jai, coming from Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA and Mikel, from Howard U in Washington, DC, met us in New Orleans.

(Me, Jai and Mikel in the hotel lobby)
Let the fun begin...

Above left, our day-to-day guidebook to the fun and festivities in New Orleans...And above right, anticipating the heat, a fan to cool off from the sweat worked up from the planned activities. 

First up, dinner at the Gallier Hall (old Mayors Mansion) with it's beautifully decorated rooms, and delicious food prepared by chef Paul Prudhomme.  And then...

(About to enter the Gallier Hall)
we walked, led by a small band, to the Spanish Plaza where we boarded  the Riverboat Cajun Queen for dessert as we floated on the Mississippi River.

(About to walk to the riverboat)

 The next day...

 We were bussed to Jackson Square for The Hunchback of Notre Dame Parade..

(Jai, Melissa, me and Mikel in the grandstands)

(Our point of view from the bleachers)

Finally, we were bussed to the Superdome to join 60,000 plus animation fans for the Pre-Show, Premier screening, and Reception.

The Bark spotlighted our time there.

The month of June ended with a news article focusing on the contributions of African-Americans in the making of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. To some it may not seem like anything to make a fuss over, but there is not a lot of exposure to art in general in the black community. Sports and entertainment (singing, dancing etc.) yes. The Arts, no. Even in the sports field the list is short in certain arenas. Can you name a black swimmer? A black golfer, chess, rodeo? One or two at the most.

Exposure is one way to get the word out that there are avenues to creative careers in the arts to diverse communities.

  Though we are all listed as animators in the headline, each one of us played a separate part in the production of the film.

 Lillian Chapman in the clean-up department working on my character Djali.

Serge Michaels painted backgrounds.

Marlon West is credited with visual effects and
Marshall Toomey was Lead Key in the clean-up drawings of Quasimodo.

The Bottom Line...

 After all of the fanfare ushering in the production, the focus then becomes, "How well will the feature do at the box office when released? Will it make back production costs? Will it turn a profit? Can the studio afford to make another animated feature?

 These are big questions that can only be answered by the public.  And the public did answer...

 Seven months later we all celebrated the worldwide success of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

 A job well done...

Everyone wants approval of what they do. Visual artists are no exception. We animators put our characters through an acting performance.  The question is, will the character's personality communicate to the audience and do so in an entertaining way as the story being told unfolds? We sure hope so...

Over the thirty years of animating at Disney I got my share of fan mail. This letter is from a family who attended the premier screening at the Superdome in New Orleans.

Regardless of the profession, one of the by products of a job well done is the positive effects it has on others.  I'm humbled and blessed to have had an opportunity to positively influence others via my art.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Hunchback of Notre Dame and more...part 3

February 1996...

   I visited a junior high school in Pomona, CA for a career day.  Like always I encouraged the students to follow their dreams and make the most of the educational opportunities that lay before them.

(Newspaper article of my visit to local jr. high school)

  Later that month I was whisked off to Planet Hollywood to plug Pocahontas which was being released on video after a summer run in the theaters. The facility had been rented out for the afternoon and a couple of bus loads of elementary school kids were my audience as I talked and demonstrated traditional animation on a animation desk they had set up for the occasion.

(Itinerary to my outing...)

(Planet Hollywood re-decorated for the occasion.)

 March 1996...

The animation staff who had worked on Oliver and Company were invited to a reunion luncheon to celebrate it's re-release.

(Official invite to lunch...)

April 1996...

  The crew worked into spring/early summer. The Twilight Bark announced the trailer for Hunchback...  meaning the production, though not fully finished, was coming to an end.

   In the months leading up to this point the screen time on Djali had doubled. Every time there was a test screening for executives or test audiences, there was a call for 'more goat'. Seems Djali was getting laughs and the writers found scenes to put her in that were natural and not forced. Djali brought some levity to  heavy, dramatic story telling.

(to be continued)

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Hunchback of Notre Dame and more part 2...

Summer 1995...
  Animation for me starts with the thought process of analyzing each scene and asking questions: What story point(s) do I wish to accomplish with this scene, Why is the scene placed here, What is the scene's  purpose in the telling of the story, What insights can be given to advance knowledge of the character or the plot?...These and other questions need to be asked to justify the scenes purpose in the film and give reasons for animating it.

   The first scene I animated in The Hunchback of Notre Dame was Djali's introduction in the film.  The camera pans over from Phoebus, follows a lady and her young daughter (also animated by me). Then the camera stops on the action of Esmeralda who plays a tambourine and Djali as he skips around a hat that is on the ground to collect any coin tips given by the crowd in appreciation of their performance.

(Story sketch for scene introducing Djali)

  The story sketch is plain and to the point. It is up to the animator to bring entertainment to the scene.
My question:  "What could I do to make Djali more entertaining than just hopping around a hat? How far could I push the animation and still maintain believability in the character?


Thumbnails are an animators best friend, at least they seem to be to me :-)
I thumbnailed out possibilities...

Not shown in the story sketch was a water fountain the layout person had drawn in. Why not put that fountain to use.

I thumbnailed out the action.

Djali's path of action would take her around the hat, with a jump up on the fountain, a twirl around the edge of the fountain, another jump down and a back flip back over the hat (diagrammed on the bottom of the thumbnail page)...all this action completed in the time allotted for the scene; being careful not upstage any other action that is happening, and remembering there are other characters in the scene too.

(Thumbnail sketches of Djali's action and path of action on bottom)

 The Plausible Impossible...

   Since goats cannot physically do a backflip, I had to convince the directors of what Walt Disney referred to as the plausible impossible.  In other words, if it could be done, this is the way it would be done by this character. These thumbnails helped sell the back flip idea to directors Kirk and Gary. Though it is impossible, it is plausible. Djali got to do the plausible impossible.

(Back flip action worked out in thumbnails)

 Thumbnails also helped work out the business of the hat and coins.

(Djali's run with hat and coins)

 Thumbnails can also reveal what is not working...

  After working out some business with Djali at the Hunchback's work table, I was about to show the thumbnails to the directors. Will Finn, the head of story on the production was passing my office. I called him in to look over the thumbnails. He said, "no... Djali wouldn't do that, just not her personality". Well, as they say, 'back to the drawing board'.

(Thumbnails as to what not to do)

(Thumbnails of action used)

(Refinement of action used before ruff animation )

(Final cel: clean-up drawing and painted as it would appear in the film)

Interaction with other characters..

(Esmeralda and Djali disguise)

(Djali head butting soldier)
(Djali with Esmeralda looking down, reacting to height))

(My only scene of Clopin as his hands reach for the gallows pull.)

  I had my friend and outstanding animator T. Dan Hofstedt act out Phoebus being butted in the rear end by Djali. Though not the same camera angle, TDan's acting helped me pull off a believable action.

(Quick sketches of TDan as he acted out action)

 An 'actor with a pencil'...

This is what animators have been called. It is what the animator brings out of  the character in a scene (acting performance) that makes that scene entertaining. The animator/actor uses all the body language, props, dialogue, music, layout, lighting and anything else available to bring out the entertainment in a scene.

 Here is an example.

(Story sketch for scene)
  This story sketch explains the action- Hunchback, Esmeralda and Djali escaping from the guards down from the rooftop of Notre Dame. As you can see, the three are on an overhang to the left of the screen(1) next Esmeralda is screen right with Djali in arm about to slide down rope held by the Hunchback (2) then Esmeralda is on ground with Djali in arm(3) - all  this action in one sketch:-)

  Back at my desk - time is given to think about the scene. Early on in my training in animation it was drummed into my head, "half your time should be spent thinking about the scene (working out the business through thumbnails) and the other half animating the scene".  If a scene took five days to complete, two and a half days should be spent thinking and thumb nailing and the rest of the time animating the scene.

These thumbnails are what I came up with before my half of animating started...

The story sketch gave me Esmeralda and Djali's starting location (1) from there to the other side of a roof top (2) down the rope to the ground (3).

What can I do to plus the scene, make it more entertaining?
Without dialogue this has to be done with body language and timing of the action.

(Thumbnails of action in scene...)
(more thumb nails further clarifying the action)

Esmeralda jumps across to the roof, reaches out with her arms to catch Djali who jumps into her arms. She grabs the rope and instead of sliding straight down, swings around the rope. Putting the  prop of the tub to use, she lands on it as Djali jumps out of her arms.  She then jumps off the tub to exit screen right. Djali allows Esmeralda to pass her, not knowing in what direction she is going and then catches up, and the two run out screen right.

This approach is not unique to me, all animators go through a similar process of thinking out a scene before animating it.

To be continued...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Hunchback of Notre Dame and more...part 1.


 The animation department had been working on overlapping features. While Pocahontas was finishing up in our Glendale studio/warehouse, preliminary animation had been started on The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which would be completed in the new Hat building.

  As Pocahontas neared completion, the weekly screening of Pocahontas 'dailies' (scenes that had been approved to be added to the movie)  started to include animation from Hunchback....

  Hunchback had been in development for some time, as the artists worked out the story points, character design, color styling etc.

  Having finished my assignment on Pocahontas, I had no idea where my next adventure in animation would lead to. As usual, I was waiting for the next production to call and add me to their staff of artists.

  Then came the call...

 Producer Don Hahn, and directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale had made the decision to ask me to be the lead animator on Djali the goat, heroine Esmeralda's sidekick.   Lead animators were the first to do preliminary animation on their characters and set the style and character direction for the other animators in their unit to follow.

 Wow, what an opportunity. Animators dream of being a character lead and I have had my share of dreams in this area, but didn't loose any sleep as this title eluded me over the years. I had been told by management early in my trainee period that I would never animate at Disney. After I had been promoted to an animator I was told, again by management that I would be assigned nothing but crowd scenes.

 This promotion was the second time Disney studio history was made on my doorsteps. I was the first African-American to work my way through the inbetween, breakdown and assistant stages to be promoted to animator and now Disney's first black to be named a lead animator. In a few years there would be another link in this chain, I'll talk about that at another time.

  It can be noted I was not Kirk and Gary's first choice to be the lead on Djali.  Veteran animator and multitalented  Ellen Woodbury  was originally given the assignment. After animating a few scenes, she left Hunchback to take the lead on Pegasus in Hercules. This move on Ellen's part opened the door for me, a door I readily walked through.

  Joining the production, one of the first things I did was read the script. There was not much Djali screen time (could this be the reason Ellen left?, I thought). Next I read the novel by Victor Hugo. Heavy, dramatic material with plenty of adult themes, and not the usual  Disney feature animation material. Animation Magazine ran an article subtitled 'How Disney Made Its Most Adult  Animated Feature' (June/July' 96).

  It is the story department's responsibility to iron out all the details and have an entertaining story to tell through movement and music. My job was to bring forth a believable animation performance through my character, Djali. To do this I had to know the character anatomically and mentally.

 The design for Djali had already been approved and as stated, some animation had already been done. I still needed to acquaint myself with goat anatomy and behavior. Research began at the studio and public libraries, and a few trips to the LA Zoo and then...

  I took a day away from the studio and drove to Disneyland. Not to ride Pirates of the Caribbean, but to see, touch and sketch their goats. Just north of Big Thunder Mountain there is a Bar-B-Que dining area which is adjacent to a small petting zoo.

  I made a call to the park, explained who I was and what my intentions were. Arrangements were made for me to arrive early before the park opened, enter through the employee gate and begin my observations. A few hours later, another step towards my goat education completed, I headed to the studio.

  Working from the designs already done, sketches made from my visits to view live animals, viewing filmed footage of the Royal Lippazon Stallions and some early rough tests by Ellen, I prepared to give a lecture to animators, rough inbetweers and the cleanup artists who would be working on Djali.

(Notes to be used in my lecture...)

(...notes on body construction...)

(...notes on head construction...)

(...notes on leg construction...)

(...notes on front leg movement.)

I did many pages of thumbnail sketches to familiarize myself with goat action...


(to be continued...)