Bad Behavior

Believe it or not there was a time when animators were regarded as “gods.” I'm talking about the Walt Disney Studios in the fifties when young animation trainees were seldom allowed to even speak to an animator. If you were presumptuous enough to have something to say, you would usually speak to his assistant.

Now, I'm well aware that sounds awfully strange today where the unique skills of the hand drawn animator has been regarded less and less. The truth is, being a good animator requires a whole set of special talents that include, draftsmanship, performance and storytelling. Plus, an apprenticeship that could last not months, but decades before one could even begin to animate on a level that could be considered marginal.

I was speaking to a particularly gifted animator last week and I reminded him how highly animators were regarded back when I came into the business. Animators today still have respect but that respect usually comes from their peers. Little respect comes from the general public and even less from the studios who have finally pushed hand drawn animation to the rear of the bus as digital puppetry moves forward as “today's animation.” Of course, remarkable work is being done with CG animation as a new generation of animators are rapidly maturing and becoming proficient with these new digital tools.

However, back in the day, you had to pay your dues and you labored at the drawing board cranking out a series of clean ups or in-betweens hoping you would one day sit in the animators chair. And, heaven help you should you dare turn in work that did not meet the high expectations of Walt Disney Studios. Most of us lowly assistants shared office space with other assistants and on occasion there would be a visit from an animator. Usually, the appearance of an animator in your doorway was not a good sign. I remember one such occasion when I was a Disney newbie back in 1956, and shared office space with a number of young colleagues. We glanced up from our boards to see a rather large animator filling the doorway and he did not look pleased. He expressed his displeasure by throwing the scene at his assistant and stormed off. As papers fluttered to the floor we all sat in stunned silence. As I said, the animators were gods and they were gods we needed to please.

Of course, such stories sound pretty silly and I suppose it would be difficult to even imagine such a thing happening today. But trust me, back in the good old days of Disney, artists were passionate about their work. I suppose some might think this wacky behavior is something best left in animation's past. But, I'll have to confess…I kinda miss it.