Back in 1956 when a group of young animation apprentices struggled to prove themselves, the Walt Disney Studios was home to hundreds of talented artists. Artists who were awesome talents in their own right. Many of these artists would eventually leave their animation desks to become impressive designers, illustrators and movie art directors. Until that opportunity came their way, many talented men and women needed a day job. Thankfully, the Disney Animation Department provided work for young artists even though the work was often tedious and uninspiring.
Animation in the fifties was a hand made product. There has always been a technological component to filmmaking, but animation filmmakers made movies in a truly unusual way. Every frame of film was drawn by hand. Consider this for a moment. Cartoon movie makers animated their stories using nothing but pencil and paper. It’s difficult enough filming a movie. Imagine drawing every frame of your motion picture. No wonder we think animators are crazy. Crazy or not, the skills required of an animator are not easily acquired. First of all, you’ll need the ability to draw and draw well. You’ll be required to convey ideas using nothing but a pencil and paper. Design skills will be required because you’ll continually be editing your sketches as you search for the most effective image. Finally, the performance given by your character will determine how gifted you are as an actor.
The Disney Studios break time was 10:00 in the morning and 3:00 in the afternoon. Most headed out of the wing for coffee, but a few of us eager to learn more stayed in the wing and wandered down the hallways. We were hoping to get a glance at the drawing boards of the Disney veterans. Keep in mind this was the nineteen fifties when all animated filmmaking was done by hand. Where every frame of film was drawn by talented artists. I was in the group that wandered through the offices of B-Wing checking out the work of our talented peers. The animation sketches often appeared different depending on the animator or the key who was assisting the animator. Some of sketches were roughed with a Blackwing pencil while others liked the soft thickness of an orange Prismacolor. Of course, the refillable mechanical pencil and Magenta lead seemed popular with others. Whatever the choice, the drawings were a wonder to behold. The hand drawn animation process is what most of us found special. The pencil drawings seemed to resonate life and energy. The pencil on paper process was organic, tactile and most of all, human. What was even more impressive was the fact we were not even in a feature film unit. The artwork we observed was simply for shorts and television. Work most Disney artists would hardly deem special. Even so, we returned to our drawing boards inspired by what we had seen during our short morning break.
I miss the amazing simplicity of the animation drawing. The pencil sketch that seems to have been drawn effortlessly. I miss the sketchy underdrawing, the clean-up line and the spontaneous life the animator would breathe into a drawing using only a stick of graphite. Much like this marvelous sketch by Master Animator, Freddy Moore, the art remains a wonder. Call me old fashioned, I still miss the animation notes and the timing chart on the right of the page. The field guide and the inking notes clutter the page, but I gotta admit, it’s a marvelous clutter. It has been many years since my early morning breaks when I moved from office to office absorbing the impressive work of my peers. Hoping that one day I would qualify to work on their level and bring animated life to a host of Disney cartoon characters not yet imagined. Eventually, a goodly number of animation artists did move on to do other things, but I decided to stay. I was hooked on animation art and the special vibe I always felt when I looked at an animation sketch by Freddy, Milt, Ward or Frank. I don’t feel that vibe so much these days. I wonder why?