Let’s talk about animation, shall we? It’s a fun subject and there are many stories surrounding this wacky occupation. Stories especially about traditional hand drawn animation. People tell me hand drawn animation is alive and well and there’s too much lamenting over its passing. While I’ll admit traditional hand drawn animation is still being created by inspired individuals - let’s be honest. How many main stream studios have traditional films on their production slates. Not many, I’d say. So, like it or not, I still lament the sad passing of this amazing art form.
The wonderful sketch of Milt Kahl below was drawn by Richard Williams. I’m sure all of you already know a good deal about the legendary animator. I still remember Milt Kahl holding court in his large office in D-wing back in the seventies. Glen Keane, Andreas Deja and other young animators would seek Milt’s counsel at break time. I never joined any of these sessions because I had already spent a fair share of time with Milt during the production of “The Sword in the Stone.” I confess, I was impressed by Kahl’s enthusiasm and wide-eye wonder at a job he had already been doing for a lifetime. Whenever a pencil test was returned from camera, Milt would thread up the Moviola with the same eagerness of a tyro animator many years his junior. In a way you could say that Milt was the biggest Milt Kahl fan. The master animator would roar with laughter as we watched a scene he had animated spool through the Moviola. One might have thought that the artist with so many years under his belt would have become cynical and jaded. Yet, Kahl managed to retained a boundless enthusiasm for this amazing medium.
In the world of traditional hand drawn animation there’s no place to hide. Remember, we’re working with pencil and paper without the benefit of technology. Those are your drawings onscreen, and you can bet you’ll quickly be discovered…or exposed. I remember a sweatbox session many years ago that proved to be somewhat embarrassing. This is the Walt Disney Studio in the sixties and you’re working with the masters. Your scene will be cut into the reel along with the work of guys such as Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston and Milt Kahl. You gotta admit, that’s pretty tough company in anybody’s book. We were slowly moving toward the end of production and completing animation on this Walt Disney classic. Though only pencil tests with a rough sound track the scenes were impressive. After all, they were animated by Disney’s finest. Suddenly, we cut to a scene and we all blinked in amazement. Was this a mistake, we wondered? It’s not that the animation was terrible - it simply wasn’t very good. Worse, the scenes were cut in along with the stellar work of Thomas and Kahl, and that didn’t help things any. Lucky for the poor animator, the director was merciful and simply said there were some scenes in the sequence that need additional work. The lights came up and we all shuffled out of the second floor sweatbox without saying a word. Once downstairs, the key assistants broke out in embarrassed laughter concerning what we had witnessed in the sweatbox session. Though the scenes have since been revised, whenever I watch the Walt Disney movie today I’m always reminded of that sweatbox session many years ago.
That’s what life was like back in the days when we drew on paper. I wonder what stories our CGI animators will have to tell us in the future and will they be as wacky as our tales from years past? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Finally, don’t you dare ask me the name of the animator who did the - let’s call them, “marginal scenes” in the Disney classic motion picture. The guy who embarrassed himself in the sweatbox with Milt Kahl and Frank Thomas - Because this animator ain’t talking.