Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Archive Series: Animation

This book, the second in the archive series after Story, is a collection of animation drawings from the entire history of the Disney animation studio. Except for the introduction by John Lasseter, there is no text to speak of in the book beyond the captions identifying the drawings, which are the real stars of this book.

A book like this is at once both a revelation and a frustration. The revelation has to do with the craft and beauty of the drawings. Animation drawings generally have more life than the image that results from them on screen. The evidence of the human hand is all over them, where that evidence tends to get lost by the time the drawings are pushed through the production pipeline to arrive at the final image.

The frustration comes from the drawings that aren't in this book. Every drawing is a reminder of other scenes from the same film that one wishes to see.

There is no credited editor, so it's impossible to know how these particular drawings were selected and if there was an agenda behind the selection. The period up until The Rescuers is represented by a much wider selection of animators than I would have suspected. Besides multiple images from the nine old men (and somebody really likes John Lounsbery, not that I'm complaining), there are drawings by Ub Iwerks, Dick Lundy, Jack Campbell, Fred Moore, Norm Ferguson, Art Babbitt, Dick Huemer, Frenchy de Tremaudan, Ham Luske, Robert Stokes, Bill Tytla, Grim Natwick, John Sibley, Marvin Woodward, Bill Justice, Hal Ambro, Jerry Hathcock, Blaine Gibson, and Ted Berman.

It's the post-Rescuers films that present a much narrower selection. There are drawings by Glen Keane, Andreas Deja, Mark Henn, Eric Goldberg, Nik Ranieri, Pres Romanillos, Anthony DeRosa, Bolhem Bouchiba, Randy Haycock and Bruce Smith. There are, for instance, no drawings by James Baxter, Tony Fucile, Ruben Aquino, Chris Buck, Ken Duncan, Darlie Brewster, Will Finn, Dale Baer, etc. It's also interesting to see what features have been ignored. There's nothing from The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Atlantis, Brother Bear and Home on the Range. Of course, there are multiple pages devoted to The Princess and the Frog. Disney never misses an opportunity to plug their latest product.

Some of the drawings are clearly animator roughs while others are clean-ups. It may be impossible to identify the assistant animators at this point, but they deserve a great deal of credit for some of the drawings in this book. Similarly, there are some drawings that include effects, and the effects animator is uncredited.

There are a few errors in the book. A Mickey drawing from The Little Whirlwind is credited to James Moore instead of Fred Moore. Some drawings from The Three Caballeros by Ward Kimball are credited to Gerry Geronimi, who had most certainly stopped animating by the time of that film.

There are some mysteries here, too. There are two drawings from Duck Pimples credited to Fred Moore, though he's not on the credits of that cartoon. Credits are rarely complete and I'd dearly like to see the animator draft for that cartoon to know who did what on it. It is one of the most interesting Disney shorts of the 1940s, both in terms of story and animation.

There's also a pair of King Louie drawings from The Jungle Book by Frank Thomas that are extremely rough. They are from a song sequence when Louie is bouncing to the beat and it may be that the drawings are there to refer to earlier drawings in the bounce cycle. However, whoever included them didn't do Thomas any favours as they are unquestionably the worst drawings in the book and don't leave a good impression of Thomas.

This book will provide pleasure to anyone who enjoys looking at Disney art, whether a fan or an artist. The artist will also benefit from the draftsmanship and technique on display. This book isn't a guide on how to animate, but it most certainly is a guide on how to draw for animation.

I'm always interested in showcasing the work of lesser-known Disney artists, mainly because the famous ones had no monopoly on talent. Here are some images from the book (click to enlarge them). Above is Wendy as drawn by Hal Ambro. The beautiful linework in her face -- the soft thicks and thins -- adds a genuinely delicate quality to her appearance.

Below are two Goofys drawn by Bill Justice. Both poses are vigorous, with strong lines of action and the straights in the arms and right leg contrasting with the curves in the spine, the left leg and the golf club. Plus, if you haven't noticed, they're funny!

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