I was a kid growing up in Santa Barbara when the magazines arrived in the mail. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the publications my mother subscribed to back in the fifties. Those old enough might remember The Ladies Home Journal, The Saturday Evening Post, McCalls, and a few other publications. What was special about these monthly magazines, and what interest would a young kid have in what was usually referred to as, women’s magazines? Well, the articles were seldom of any interest but the magazines pages were filled with amazing illustrations by the cream of the crop of mid-century illustrators such as, Coby Whitmore, Al Parker, Jon Whitcomb, Joe DeMers and many others. These masterful illustrators were usually assigned to visualize stories dealing with love and romance, while the more masculine stories might have a beautiful painting by Robert Fawcett gracing the pages.

Most of my fellow students at Art Center College of Design were dreaming of careers as magazine illustrators and we were lucky enough to have a few of these masters on our teaching staff. Sadly, by the time many of my fellow students had graduated, the illustration field was beginning to dry up. It would appear that many publications were moving toward photography and the golden years of illustration were becoming a thing of the past. One of my fellow students, a talented artist named, Guy Deel took a position as a development artist at Disney Animation because the illustration field was no longer as robust in the seventies. Guy, continued with us for a number of years, but I know he probably would have preferred doing magazine illustration.

It’s not unlike what’s happened to traditional hand drawn animation in recent years. The film studios, much like the fifties publishing business decided they wanted a change. Photography replaced illustration in the fifties and the encroachment of digital production was able to totally marginalize hand drawn animation in the early 2000’s. Yet, one might ask, why can’t beautiful illustration co-exist with photography? And, why can’t hand drawn traditional animation share the screen with computer graphic imagery? Why does it have to be one or the other? The titans of the publishing world made a decision over fifty years ago and it pretty much ended a fabulous era of awesome magazine illustration. Likewise, the animation studios rallied together a few years ago to pronounce hand drawn animation dead - and the result is what we have today.

Naturally, we all know it doesn’t have to be this way. The advent of photography did not put an end to painting, and CGI production doesn’t spell the end for hand drawn. However, as long as the movie studios maintain this perception, I don’t see things changing anytime soon. The beautiful sketch down below was created by the gifted artist, Jon Whitcomb on a fifties visit to the Walt Disney Studios. It’s not even a full color completed illustration, but look how beautiful a rough sketch can be.

People often ask, when might beautiful hand drawn animation return to the screen? My answer, surprisingly enough is somewhat positive. “It will happen,” I say. “But, sadly, it won’t be anytime soon."

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AuthorFloyd Norman