Animating Robin Hood

I’ve had a number of requests for this color sketch of Robin Hood and Maid Marion. I initially chose this particular pose because of its energy. It’s clear that Robin and Marion have been startled by something. I began painting the couple because it had more life than the usual static poses I had been doing. Naturally, this image has been taken from the Disney motion picture. The same film I worked on back in the early seventies. I had never planned to work on Robin Hood but I soon found myself animating on the film. Let me tell you how it all began.

With the sad and unexpected passing of Walt Disney I left the studio to launch my own production company. This was not a snap decision. In truth, I had been planning my departure from the Walt Disney Studios for some time. Still, I was hesitant to leave the creative facility that had been my home for at least a decade. However, the passing of The Old Maestro clearly signaled it was time to move on. With Walt Disney no longer guiding the company I knew we would soon be following a different path. I had little interest in what would soon become the “post Walt Disney Studio,” so I handed in my resignation. I’ll admit it was pretty heady stuff being a part of my own company. Decisions could be made without reporting to a bunch of clueless hardheads in upper management. When I needed to be promoted to animator…I simply promoted myself. After all, I was the boss, or at least one of the bosses. We produced a number of educational films, developed a television pilot and devised movie and television titles and credits for various clients. Suddenly, the seventies were on us and the country experienced an economic downturn. I had recently married and my wife had given birth to twin daughters when I received a call from my old boss, Andy Engman at the Walt Disney Studios. Would I be willing to help out on their new feature, Andy inquired? I could even work at home should that be more convenient.

After a nearly five year absence, I returned to the Animation Building on the Walt Disney Studio lot. I remember walking down the hallway of B-wing and waving to my old pals. Here were, John Kimball, Chuck Williams, Al Stetter and Cliff Nordberg still at the drawing boards. I gotta tell you it felt good to be home again. I began work on the animated segment of “Bednobs and Broomsticks,” a musical that contained a good deal of the Disney talent but unfortunately none of the magic of “Mary Poppins.” Missing was one very important ingredient - and you can probably guess who that was. Soon, my assignment was wrapped, but before departing the Disney Studio, key assistant animator, Dale Oliver wanted to show me something. I made my way down to D-wing where I watched a number of scenes on the Moviola. Scenes animated by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. They were for the movie just beginning to ramp up. A new animated film entitled, “Robin Hood.” “We’d sure love to have you back on this film,” said Dale. “I’d love to return, Dale,” I replied. Several months passed before I returned, but late in 1971 I did make my return to the Walt Disney Studios to work on, “Robin Hood.”

I began working with Disney veteran, John Lounsbery, a mild mannered, soft spoken gentleman. I was mainly redoing scenes that had been completely changed by Milt Kahl. Unhappy with the initial designs, Kahl began redesigning the characters. Known for his skills as Disney’s finest draftsman, Kahl always got his way. John Lounsbery and the other animators pretty much let Milt do what he wanted. After all, who wanted to fight with Milt Kahl? As the film began to make progress, I was assigned to work with a talented young animator named, Dale Baer. Baer had been part of Disney’s training program and showed promise as an upcoming animator. The Disney Studio had been active in wooing young talent to be a part of this program and now it was beginning to pay off. One day, animator, Art Stevens stopped me in the hallway of B-wing and asked pointedly why I wasn’t in the animation program? “I’m too old, Art,” I replied. “Disney only wants young kids, and I’m way to old to qualify.” At the time, I was thirty eight years old.

My story has a happy ending, sort of. Thanks to Dale Baer I was able to animate on “Robin Hood” even though I never garnered a screen credit. In a way, I felt I had accomplished something. I was finally able to create animation on a Walt Disney feature animated film and that’s no small potatoes in my opinion. I was actually beginning to feel good about my return to the animation department of the Walt Disney Studios. Some wondered why this was such a big deal when I had already worked in Walt Disney’s coveted story department. It was a big deal because I had come to Disney many years ago with the dream of becoming a Disney animator. Now, I had finally become one. However, my Disney story takes another twist. One day my bosses, Ed Hansen and Don Duckwall (yes, that’s really his name) called me into the office and fired me. However, this is such a good story, I’ll have to save it for another time.

I enjoyed animating this character back in the seventies. Disney showed their appreciation by booting me out on my butt. You gotta love 'em, don't you?

I enjoyed animating this character back in the seventies. Disney showed their appreciation by booting me out on my butt. You gotta love 'em, don't you?