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:
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.
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,)