May 10, 2008

Marc Davis Lecture/Celebration #12: Influences and mentoring

Last Friday friend Sharon Colman (see below) and I made the breakneck drive from the Valley to Beverly Hills for this year's Marc Davis Lecture on Animation, the 12th year the Motion Picture Academy has presented it. It's been redubbed a "celebration", and that certainly fit the evening.

It was a full house(predictably so, given the impressive lineup of pros on the dais). Andreas Deja, Pete Docter, James Baxter and Eric Goldberg were scheduled to speak on "Mentorship In Animation". Each of them gave prepared remarks before screening a clip from one of the Disney animators that had influenced their work, then showing a clip of their own that reflected that influence. Andreas was first. His remarks were entertaining and charming, which didn't surprise me as I'd heard from friends over the years how effortlessly Andreas shares his love for and analysis of Disney character animation. Even so I was impressed with the ease he displayed standing in front of an enormous theatre filled with film folk and afficonados of all kinds. And he's got great comic timing-actually, all of the artists did, most notably Eric Goldberg. Eric's not only a great raconteur but he's got to be one of the best mimics I know(his impression of Dick Williams killed).

In keeping with the man whose name was on the program, Andreas showed a clip that featured Marc Davis' last feature assignment-Maleficent's introduction in "Sleeping Beauty", then a clip of his own character from "Aladdin", Jafar.
Funny how stimulating it is to hear someone who knows what they're talking about describe animation you think you know almost too well-you can't help but look at it anew. He described his pondering how to handle Jafar; he could have gone any number of ways with the character, but as the rest of "Aladdin"'s cast was so "bouncy and happy" he determined--with an eye to Davis' handling of the regally restrained threat of Maleficent--to underplay Jafar as much as possible. The clip showed his success with that approach to great effect.

Pete showed how the warm, very real(and tactile)relationship between Mowgli and Baloo in "Jungle Book" had a hand in inspiring his handling of the bond between enormous Sully and toddler Boo in "Monsters Inc.". I actually teared up a little watching the clip. It wasn't just that it was a beautifully judged scene-the characters saying goodbye to each other-but the added impact of seeing a movie projected on a real, large movie screen can't be underestimated-which was true of all of the presenters' clips.

James recounted his trip to the ARL(Disney's animation research library)to flip Milt Kahl's animation of King Louie in preparation for his animation of Rafiki in "Lion King". He stressed that he wanted only to be inspired and informed, to learn what Milt might have done in planning and executing scenes with an ape, not to copy (which he certainly has never done). But he did cop to one thing being "stolen"-the use of the elbow hair on Louie's arms. James is nothing if not scrupulous in attributing credit! He also made a point of giving credit to the story artist who worked on the scene he animated, that was shown. As a story artist I beamed from my seat at James' generosity in acknowledging the contributions of the boards--in his case done by Lorna Cook. Eric also mentioned a slew of names that were involved in his sequence ether boarding or animating(In my experience a likely reason board artists sometimes go unmentioned is because the path from boards to animation is such a twisty one. Very often a sequence-especially one as complicated and elaborate as a musical number-is the result of many different story hands. A sequence going directly from a single story artist to one animator is the exception rather than the rule, especially now in the days of CG).

Eric Goldberg-always a joyfully puckish personality-showed the "Three Caballeros" title song in tandem with his own "Friend Like Me" number from "Aladdin". [For a more detailed description of the actual presentation-which would take me more time to write up than I have during my lunch break here-see Kevin Koch's post about the evening here.]

After the four had shown their individual clips, Andreas retook the podium and an overhead projector while the rest-accompanied by moderator Charles Solomon-settled into armchairs placed in front of the screen. As they twisted in their chairs to look behind them, Andreas projected a truly mouth-watering selection of his (mostly) rough, original and rarely-seen animation drawings done by all of the "nine old men" of Disney--plus Fred Moore.
A regular reader of this blog can imagine my happiness at the lovely tribute Andreas paid to Moore's work(with accompanying original drawings) as the first true example of a Disney style of character appeal which had undeniable impact on all the nine. This part of the evening was really different and very was like listening to a good DVD audio commentary-with the added bonus of the speakers being all informed, enthusiastic, intelligent and there in real time. For that segment audience and panelists alike were firmly in the same boat: all of us--whether pros, students, retired filmmakers or casual attendees--were fans of the work being displayed. Having Andreas, Pete, James and Eric point out various things in the drawings and expound on them was pure gold.

All in all it was an inspiring, warmly enjoyable night that I think Marc Davis would have approved of and been happy to be associated with. His wife Alice was there and surely felt the affection and gratitude her husband and partner's work engendered; likewise Milt Kahl's daughter and other family members. These Academy programs are really wonderful.

I should add that in the Academy lobby there's an incredibly neat display of all kinds of animation art and ephemera-model sheets, studio scrap, cels and story sketches. We only got a glimpse and it hadn't yet officially opened so I'll be back to see it again. Anyone in the area should make a point to get out to Beverly Hills and see it.


mark kennedy said...

wow, sound cool! Thanks for talking about it - I never hear about this stuff in advance.

Very inspiring!!!

Bob Cowan said...

Jenny- I enjoy reading your personal accounts. What an event "means" to someone provides a great perspective!

Anonymous said...

I was fortunate enough to Meet Mr Davis back in 92 at CalArts when some friends and I were working on a proposal for a new Nemo attraction. We visited him at his home and I marveled at his rarely seen artwork and art collection from around the globe. He dispensed with some very important advice that I take with me through my own artistic journeys. Thanks for posting these blogs.