When Animation was Real

Umpteen years ago I was a young animation artist learning the ropes at the Walt Disney Studio. When break time rolled around we could grab a cup of coffee or maybe stroll the hallways of the Animation Building. Our little group of trainees made 1B-1 our home but boni fide Disney artists actually worked in the offices all around us. Since the workers often left their door open, we thought it might be cool to venture in and have a look around.

It's funny, really. That was over fifty years ago but I remember it as though it was yesterday. My pals and I moved from desk to desk looking at the cool Disney drawings on the artist's animation drawing table. The drawings were beautiful and full of zest and energy. Many of the animators chose to animate their scenes with an orange Prismacolor pencil before handing off the sketches to an assistant. The inspired sketches were cleaned up by the assistant but you could still see the rough orange lines under the pencil. I still remember seeing those sketches and how much they were imbued with energy, life and vitality.

While browsing through some folders this morning I came across this awesome original animation sketch by Freddy Moore. As I studied the rough Freddy drawing I was immediately reminded of a day at the Walt Disney Studio back in 1956. There's still something about a rough animation drawing that resonates with me. I love rough sketches and I never seem to get enough of them. Back then animation was all about drawing. Not so much today, I'm afraid. The Disney Company seems to have left drawing behind in favor of other stuff. Today, there’s a new generation of animators out there and trust me, they’re darn good. However, stellar as their animation might be, I wonder how cool their scenes would be had they been created with pencil and paper? I’m speaking as an old traditional animator who began his scenes with a empty exposure sheet and a blank sheet of paper. Trust me, it’s a rather daunting task when you start with nothing but your own drawing skill and creative imagination. Being an animator - or attempting to become one was truly a trial by fire. Why, you ask? It’s because there was no place to hide. There was absolutely nothing on your sheet of paper until you touched it with your pencil.

I’m not saying animating today is a breeze because it’s clearly not. Each new scene is a challenge and the animator, whoever he or she may be, is expected to give an effective performance. Bringing a character to life on the big screen or small is what gives animation its special charm and it’s no wonder our marvelous medium still attracts young men and women today. However difficult their task may be, I doubt they’ll ever experience that special twinge we felt in the pit of our stomach when picking up our first scene. The moment when you placed a blank sheet of paper on your animation pegs and stared at that vast, empty, white space. There was no rig, no virtual character, no nothing at all except you and your talent. You can imagine how we felt that day in B-wing as we stared slack-jawed at those amazing drawings. We all returned to our office that day determined to work on our drawing skills. After all, if you couldn’t draw - how the heck could you ever hope to be an animator? We lost Freddy Moore back in the fifties, yet his amazing work is still being discussed today. I can’t help but wonder how many CGI scenes we’ll be talking about fifty years from now?

This original Fred Moore animation sketch from "Casey's Daughters" is one of my Disney treasures.

This original Fred Moore animation sketch from "Casey's Daughters" is one of my Disney treasures.