Jun 29, 2006

A nod to the Union brethren's blog

from the collection of the Animation Guild: Warners animators and others locked out at Leon Schlesinger's studio(the supplier of Bugs Bunny, et al)circa 1941. To find out who's here, go read the post that accompanies this photo

After many years of passing like ships in the night I finally had a very interesting chat with our animation union business manager, Steve Hulett; we mainly talked about his friend, the late Niven Busch, a legendary writer and screenwriter he knew pretty well--and so should all of us, as Busch was a hell of a guy. Steve's been posting reminiscences and stories about him.
Which brings me to the subject of this post: Steve did me way too much honor the other day by referring to the Animation Guild's blog as a "poor man's Blackwing Diaries". He was being a bit (a lot!) facetious, I'm sure--but he meant that he was starting to post more of the fascinating, historical ephemera that I love to cram this space with too. Joking or not, it was a nice nod, and I really owe him one right back at him.

I'm overdue to mention their blog in any event(where he shares posting duties with our president, Kevin Koch--always a literate and thoughtful writer).
I demurred before as I figured theirs was likely of most interest to we daily toilers and our 401K concerns--but not so any longer(if it ever was): what Steve's been posting are some terrific historic materials--drawings by Ward Kimball, Milt Kahl--need I go on? Along with first-person tales of Disney feature animation from the early 1970s onward. This is great stuff, and the resulting comments often make even better reading.
Obvious to anyone who'd read more than one page of this blog of mine is my belief that if you're interested in animation, if you love cartoons and especially if you want to make them (assuming you don't already) you should also immerse yourself in as much of its history as you can.
Believe me: everything they say about it repeating itself, about those who ignore it being doomed to repeat it, and so on and so forth, is absolutely true. I remember every so often this or that pal at work bemoaning the fact that school doesn't prepare us for the real-life travails of the studio system(or any other kind of system). Well, there's a great way to gird yourself, and that's by finding out what those who went before us went through.

It wasn't all hijinks and laughs and parties, working on great films and a mutual admiration society...it was...well, pretty much just like it is now, absent a few obvious key players.
But those men and women have been supplanted by us, and we relive much of the struggles and drama--and fun--that they lived through. And they literally gave us our union, with it's attendant local benefits, pay scales and one of the very best health plans in the US(it really must be--the medical types keep telling me so whenever I flash my Motion Picture card at them).

So go and give The Animation Blog a perusal every couple of days at least, and check out the past, present and future of animation from two other perspectives.

Jun 28, 2006

Pickford was a great actress...and director, and producer, and studio head...

I'm waiting for a friend to go to Hollywood and see a rare 1914 Mary Pickford film, "Behind the Scenes"...doodling on the cintiq as I wait. Pickford, as most of you know, was a huge film star back when the concept of being internationally famous was still a new idea. There's actually a great deal to learn from watching her onscreen that's helpful to animators and story people. When I get back, I'll write a little bit more about it. But in the meantime--Pickford's great, she's subtle--not what you'd think(if you're thinking "Baby Jane" that is).

Jun 26, 2006

From one artist to another of another...

I loaned my friend Patrick Mate the hefty tome on Bill Tytla I bought last year(a memoir and compendium of every scrap of stuff Tytla's widow saved on him throughout their years together; $160), and he spent the weekend starting to devour it.
He absolutely loves Tytla; he used Stromboli as a test model for a lip synch assignment at his school, the great Gobelins in Paris, and waxes rhapsodic when talking about him. He's so eloquent I really wish I could get his enthusiasm across here--his astute appraisal of what makes Tytla's character animation special to him. On his own blog Patrick's always doing great caricatures of his friends, himself, and various figures he likes, from Margaret Rutherford to french comedians I've never seen...so I asked him to draw Tytla and Fred Moore for me. He did! Merci!

Jun 23, 2006

More Disney Foxes

The first is an animation rough by Glen Keane; the others are unidentified. Anyone?
I'd hazard a guess and say that the second page, the drawings of Tod expressions just under Keane's, is Phil Nibbelink's. It reminds me strongly of drawings I've seen of his...but that's just a guess.

Again, these are posted artificially small here on the page; click them to open them and really see them at a better size.

Jun 21, 2006

Disney Ephemera/rough drawings by Glen Keane

Ratigan, the villain voiced by Vincent Price and animated by Glen Keane, in the originally titled "Basil of Baker Street"

I'm happy to be able to share a few drawings that might offer a glimpse of the unseen work that such artists as Glen Keane did, when animated features were animated on 16 field paper, and characters were drawn with Blaisdell Layout pencils. Be sure and click each image to open a larger size.

Tod, one of the title characters of "The Fox and the Hound", was animated by Keane; these are a page of studies probably done for another artist's benefit; unfortunately awkwardly split here as the 16 field paper can't fit on the scanner

An extreme extreme of the fox, again by Glen Keane.

It's hard to add any accompanying text to a post of drawings by Glen Keane; fortunately, his work doesn't need it. The epitome of an animator's character work is that without sound--in this case even without movement, it speaks for itself. What would I pay to have seen the rough tests done in this period, by this artist and others? Plenty.

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Jun 20, 2006

J. Robertson can draw

James Robertson is a young animation artist with a lovely, perceptive style. His blog has the dread title of The Iron Scythe, but the drawings(and it's worth going back into his archives to have a look at as many as possible)are anything but grim. He draws women and men in fast, gestural lines and captures both equally well--but I think his women in particular have an extra dimension of personality--always a treat to see. His animals ain't bad either. He's working on a short of his own at the moment.

Check him out.

Jun 17, 2006

"Perfect Happiness"; a few elegiac thoughts on Fred Moore's legacy

At the end of the work week yesterday a good friend dropped into my office and pointed at this image, framed on the wall:

...which I've posted before here.
He's now primarily a designer in visual development on our films, but he spent a good deal of his career as an animator. Spontaneously, he launched into how he felt when, as a kid and before he'd had any notion of animating for a living, he first saw "All The Cats Join In", the Benny Goodman segment of "Make Mine Music" this image is from.
"this--when I saw this...it was--pure happiness!" he said, making an expansive and quintessentially gallic gesture with his hands. He went on to describe the effect of the marriage of movement to music; the girl getting dressed, the kids dancing--and I was kicking myself that I'm no stenographer, as how he expressed the allure of Fred Moore's designs and animation was about the most eloquent way I've heard it put, and I wanted to post it here for you. My memory can't do justice to his words, unfortunately. I know he talked of having a book--which title he couldn't recall--open on his desk with a page of Fred Moore drawings, and how he'd be inspired by the rhythm and fluidity of them. "Pure happiness!" he said again, and I wasn't quite sure if he meant his feelings or the animation itself--I guessed it was both.

I've only been able to post the static drawings of Fred Moore here, and his style was such that they stand on their own. But his name was made as an animator, not a graphic artist, and rightly so. His innovative redesign of everything the Disney studio built upon for their characters and for the way those characters moved and by moving, acted, can't be emphasized strongly enough. He really did remake the studio's style in his own, highly distinctive, personal image.

There's no question that there were other artists whose influences were strongly felt (if not credited) in the heady time of the 1930s, but this mainly self-taught artist gave most of his colleagues a whole new way of looking at forms on paper and making them appealing and alive.

Even though it's been cited so often it must have some basis in fact, I think the whole idea that "Fred was a total 'natural'--he didn't think about it, it just came out of him" is somewhat overblown. As Michael Barrier points out in his book Hollywood Cartoons, Fred worked for years after being hired at Disney before he was even promoted to animator; so much for the "boy wonder". James Walker spoke to a colleague of Fred's who described him as having a terrible struggle with drawing the Ub Iwerks Mickey Mouse, with his hard-edged, somewhat stiff and unforgiving design. This colleague suggested Fred try goofing around with how he would draw Mickey if it were up to him to design him, and he did--just as a personal exercise, initially. His sketches were noticed and encouraged, and he suddenly blossomed. The story seems as if it might have a lot of truth in it, given the operating style of the Hyperion studio and the fact that until '32 Fred was given little of consequence to do.

He wasn't a childish man, if he was a puckish one, and if he was no intellectual, he was far from naive or dumb. Much is made of his inarticulateness, yet he gave a pretty detailed and extremely perceptive lecture to the staff on the subject of animating Mickey Mouse, which he presumably wrote himself. The old quote: "Don Graham can give you the rule; I just say it looks better" could be repeated by most of my talented coworkers today--all artists are more often than not famously unable to describe exactly how they achieve a certain effect or style. Especially when, as with Moore's work, there's no calculated, forced feeling. Yet animation is famously tedious to do, and this man, along with his more schooled, sophisticated colleagues, hammered out his scenes just as they did--not blindfolded, but with planning and the aim of a performance.
I hope everyone's enjoyed looking over this guy's shoulder as much as I have these last couple of weeks. There's more, but I'll give everyone a breather while I reorganize the material I have and that our patron here, James Walker, would like to share with us. It's been a terrific privilege.
Pure happiness!


A short rant on mediocrity

NOT mediocre

I don't watch much television on a regularly scheduled basis, and almost no animated television at all.
Just a moment ago I happened to channel surf past an apparently new cartoon show. It looked astonishingly ugly, but art direction aside, what really struck me and had me zap the TV off in disgust was the scenario I was presented with: a dinner table scene. Yes, another one. Mom, Dad and sons are sitting at the table, having that sort of family time that makes me wonder who the writers and "creators" are. Did they grow up in the 1930s? Because the idea of presenting a modern "dad" in a tie at dinner, and "mom" in a flowery dress, batting her eyelashes, sporting a hairdo from approximately 1953 is so old it's dead, edges molding and about as funny as current events in the middle east.

When Brad Bird spoofed the nuclear family in the early 1980s with his "Family Dog", it was fresh and inventive, and most importantly it was funny. The audience--mere laymen along with we, the animation folk of the world, cheered and laughed our keesters off because it was so well observed. I'm not saying that it's impossible to continue to make comedy-animation hay out of the old paradigm of The American Family, but man, by now, 2006, it's got to be clever, it's got to be good--it's got to be real on some level. These aren't real in any way, shape or form, and they don't supply anything to fill the resulting gaps; no flights of weirdness that stems from anything approaching originality. Only a retread of a fantasy of a family experience that none of the creators actually had.

These shows, dozens of them, repeat and recycle the same dull old stereotypes, barely tweaking the "edgy" and utterly superficial design of the ciphers that stand in for characters. Watching it makes me feel faintly queasy--for the wasted talent I know is involved on the roster; for the disposability of such fare, filling up commercial time on the airwaves, all with a feeling of the old linguini-on-the-wall approach: let's see what sticks. Virtually none of it does.

Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis knows I love good design and ideas, just like everyone else---and I'm no snob when it comes to where and how it presents itself. I've always believed a good show could be achieved with tongue depressors--those flat wooden sticks--as characters, with the right story and execution.
But why do so few animated TV shows of the last 3 decades have any staying power? Why has our generation so far produced not a single inarguable classic along the lines of those that crowded the holiday schedules of the early-to-mid 1960s? "The Grinch", "A Charlie Brown Christmas", "Rudolph", any of the Rankin-Bass output in 2D and 3D--hell, even the original "Fat Albert", which I remember watching with my mouth hanging open. That was something else again.

And in the last 25 years we've seen...."Family Dog". One producer took a chance on a relatively unknown team of artists...Spielberg. It was a cause celebre.

With the range of talent that's now at the peak of their game and experience there's really no excuse for yet more shows that reflect a supposed "parody" of a never-never land of 1950s family life. It's OVER. Dead! We're ALL hep to it now, people! Even the tiny little kids! It's lame, it doesn't reflect anyone's real lives and it's meaningless.

I don't blame artists for this. They don't wield the checkbook. I simply feel sad and(obviously) a little perturbed that there aren't people in charge with...different tastes. Perhaps it's the overall corporatization of all media that makes taking a flying chance on an individual's unique idea for a show impossible.

still aired and loved after 40 years

I did see a HBO special made for the holiday season some years back--a compilation of short musical pieces done by animation studios all over the world(it may have been titled "'Twas the Night")...it was beautiful, funny in the right places, and honest. There's one segment that has a rabbit sailing a boat in side a snowglobe, gorgeous animation done to the old soundtrack of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"; the damn thing made me cry. Obviously all shows can't be like that, certainly not all series television, but my god, let's please try for some change. Things have sailed so far over the edge of genuine, heartfelt, new ideas that it'll require a herculean effort to pull them back.

And someone with lots of cash.

Jun 14, 2006

Moore--and Benedict

This Ed Benedict concept drawing, a study for "The Flinstones"(presumably Wilma) was posted today on Cartoon Brew; it was reprinted along with many other choice illustrations and an interview with the great Hanna-Barbera TV designer, Benedict, in the laserdisc booklet that was packaged with the Flinstones set of discs some year ago. I was struck by the close resemblance to one of Fred Moore's girls. One specifically, although it has very specific attributes of many of Moore's girls. There were two other Flinstones ideas for the same woman that were very different, much more stylized in a 50s sense.
A quick browse found the Moore head I was thinking of, from the oft-reproduced model sheet of centaurettes designed by Fred Moore. Here they are side by side. Surely Benedict was a Fred Moore fan.

"Which twin has the Toni?"

Not by, but of...

A gag drawing that I think was drawn by the guy on the right, David "Bud" Swift(or as Ward Kimball called him in later years, "David 'don't call me Bud!' Swift"), an assistant at Disney's in Fred Moore's unit from 1940-41.
The "Hal" is Hal Adelquist, a kind of Don Hahn, or studio operations/production manager of the period. "Mary Lou" was something of a running gag between Fred, Bud and Ward; she was apparently a studio secretary. I love drawings like this; they really capture the mood of the moment at a workplace. Plenty of them are still being done at animation studios all over the world, though we might have to wait 60 years until we see them.

Here's a different view of Fred, by Alex Ignatien, probably done in the last year of his life. At age 41 or so, he's changed quite a bit from the boyish figure of scarely ten years earlier, but he's still viewed affectionately.

Jun 9, 2006

Another Lampwick

be sure to click this one, the better to see the detail

A little bit more of Fred's work...

It's been a busy week. I owe this blog a few more posts of Fred Moore material, so without too much philosophizing or context(for now, anyway), here they are: some of Fred's rough animation for "Snow White" and "Pinocchio", along with a page of Dopey poses. I'm looking forward to reconvening with James Walker(the owner of all the recently posted Moore artwork)to select more rare items to share here. Enjoy!

Jun 7, 2006

Yet another of the "centaurette" studies for "Fantasia.

Moore's Pluto

A. Film L.A.: Action Analysis Class - Jan. 30th, 1936

A. Film L.A.: Action Analysis Class - Jan. 30th, 1936

So, my animation friends and colleagues--ever wondered what it would have been like if you had made it into Disney's in the halcyon days of the Hyperion studio, when Ward and Frank, Milt and Marc were new hires--and Fred Moore and Fergy ruled the roost as new stars of the Disney studio, the most prestigious and famous animation workplace in history?

Sure you have. But daydreaming can only take you so far...so how about dropping into a 7-9 pm class arranged by Walt to critique one of the recent shorts(pre-release), pick it apart scene by scene--and sometimes action by action--and vote on what works and why?

Hans Perk has spent a lot of effort and made a considerable financial outlay to find these "Action Analysis" class notes from the mid-thirties, and has posted a few of them. The link above is for the 1936 film "Orphan's Picnic". It's an education to read this and realize just how much these guys were pushing themselves...and this was management's idea! It's a great one, too. Hans' blog is a treasure trove of this kind of material. Take a look at all of it--it's terrific.

Jun 4, 2006

Practical Pig(s) again

Drawings from "The Practical Pig" (1939)

drawings courtesy of James Walker

image courtesy of Mark Mayerson

Here are the three characters that changed Fred Moore's working life at Disney's--and Disney's working life, period: the Three Little Pigs. I have an admission to make, which is that due to my real life and real job, I've not had the time I wish I'd had recently to determine whether these pigs are from the first short, the seminal "Three Little Pigs" of 1933 which won an Academy award, or one of the later sequels. James Walker, who owns these original drawings, could tell me--and so can most of you, no doubt!
UPDATE: Mark Mayerson has written in with postiive identification of these drawings as being from the 1939 sequel "The Practical Pig"; he's gone to the trouble of including some matching frames from the finished film. Many thanks are due to Mark for providing this terrific supplement.

I've scanned as much of the original page as possible to allow you animators a look at the charts on the right. There's plenty more pigs where these came from, but I have to trot off at the moment. Check back soon for more updates.

Don't forget to click on any of these scans to open the artwork in a larger window!

More Centaurette studies

These lovely studies for the Centaurettes from "Fantasia" were named "Melinda and Suzanne" in animation descriptions and on the model sheets--after Fred Moore's two daughters (who were much younger than these teenaged sirens at the time).

Jun 3, 2006

Moore to come

Well, how many ways can you use "Moore"?

Perhaps we'll all find out; I've got enough artwork for several more posts at least, so the Fred Moore extravaganza will continue into next week. In addition, there's more rare material not yet organized from the father of this visual feast, animator and collector James Walker. So when he's ready and we can get together--up it goes.

An as-yet unpublished shot of Moore enjoying himself in the usual way, circa 1943. The woman barely seen at left is identified on the reverse of this photograph as "Arline"; if any historians know of an animation professional of that name, let us all know!
Thanks to everyone who's expressed such enthusiasm for this series of posts. I've yet to meet anyone who wasn't delighted by the work of Freddy Moore, whether on the screen or on paper. It touches a chord in people that's pure and perfectly on pitch; that's a rare quality for an artist to produce, and judging from the comments and email I've received, Fred's talents resonate as strongly now as in the so-called "golden age" of animation. Frank Thomas Ollie Johnston--and to a lesser extent Ward Kimball, Milt Kahl and others--have had the latter-day opportunity to provide a face and voice for the work that entertained literally millions of filmgoers, via books, appearances on television and supplements to videos and DVDs. Aside from the nods he's received from those quarters (as well he should, having trained and helped those men), Fred's early death at age 41 robbed him of the chance to enjoy our thanks and appreciation. The next-best thing we can do is share it amongst ourselves, and give him the credit he's owed. He'd no doubt have been a bit embarrassed and demurring about it all--but I'd also bet he'd love it.

Speaking of filmmaking...

John Ford, upper left, directing his part of the 1963 Cinerama film "How the West Was Won"

The casual visitor to this blog could be forgiven for thinking that the only thing in my life and head is the work of Fred Moore, given both the recent James Walker collection posts and many of my other entries, and that's fine--I'm proud to be associated in any way with an artist of that talent, even if it's the most gossamer thread of fandom and employment that connects me. But as a film buff of many decades' standing I've got a lot of pet directors, actors, writers, and other that I hope to share my enthusiasm for here...and obviously in that I'm far from alone.

Off the top of my head, I'd mention that Mark Kennedy, Michael Sporn, Jeff Pidgeon and Jaime Weinman all write about film and other areas of popular culture and history, each of them managing to be both entertaining and eye-opening in their observations.

So, today I caught up with Jaime Weinman's latest, a short essay about John Ford's filmmaking style that's a must, so read it now!.
I don't know anything about Jaime--where he comes from, how he came by his extensive knowledge of the best(and worst)of pop culture, but this guy should be writing for Slate or Vanity Fair or the New York Times, as far as I'm concerned. He puts the lie to the mainstream media dismissal of bloggers as guys sitting in pajamas at their keyboards, ranting on about things no one wants to hear.

from "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon"(1949)
And Ford is so important, such a seminal influence on film, on the art of storytelling of any kind, that he really can't be overrated or over-discussed--or watched. He's a puzzle to me, as I'm damned if I can understand how he developed the eye for composition and action that he did--virtually out of the box. Yes, he started in silent film(a much misunderstood and undersung area for most animation folks), but so did many of his generation. He just got better--at everything. He deserves to be called an auteur, as even his earliest films have an incredibly strong personal style: you can see it, you can feel it(in the timing and overall pacing), and you can hear it.

Anyway, for a jumpstart, read Jaime's entry, and see if your interest in adding a Ford film to your Netflix queue isn't piqued.

Jun 2, 2006


More studies for "Fantasia".

Moore Girls

From "Fantasia": animation drawings by Fred; click them to make them open much larger(it's worth it):

From "All The Cats Join In"-a segment from "Melody Time":

Seeing drawings such as these convinced me that Fred was still well able to produce great work, although the Animation Board at Disney let him go not long after..I'm sure the situation was complicated. At any rate, unlike most other artists who were let go over the years(in fact, almost exceptionally) he was rehired in 1948, and continued there until he died in 1952.

detail from an earlier post

To all who drop by for the first time top have a look at these Fred Moore gems from the James Walker collection--welcome!
I have a sheaf of new drawings to post today, from Snow White, Fantasia, Pinocchio, and more; it'll be up by 12:30 PST.
This week is all Fred Moore, but just so you know, there are other posts I've written over the past several months relevent to Fred Moore here:

One sketch--long caption: Fred Moore musings

Fred Moore, Art Babbitt and Larry Clemmons at the Disney Hyperion studio, 1932

Fred Moore-snapshots from life

Reluctant Dragon, part one

Thanks for visiting--and enjoy!

Jun 1, 2006

Fred Moore:Character designs for an unmade project

All these can be clicked and enlarged
I'd love to have more information on these designs of a "Littler Panchito"; I've read brief mentions here and there of a proposed sequel to "Three Caballeros" which was never made, and that must be what these were for, but how long was this worked on? Exactly when? When and why was it shelved? Did it get into boards at all? If the questions are answered somewhere(for instance, in Charles Solomon's "The Disney That Never Was"), unfortuately it's among the several hundred volumes I still haven't unpacked at home. Anyone who's got that helpful info off the top of their heads, feel free to comment!
Typically great, fun, appealing Moore designs. A scan of a ascan doesn't do them total justice, but it gives you a pretty good idea of how vibrant the originals are.

I think it's too bad Fred wasn't on that 1941 junket to South America, by the way; imagine what he could have done, sketching from the local sights.