An Art Form Is Born

"Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive." Walt Disney

Man always has had a compelling urge to make representations of the things he sees in the world around him. As he looks at the creatures that share his daily activities, he first tries to draw or sculpt or mold their forms in recognizable fashion. Then, when he becomes more skillful, he attempts to capture something of a creature's movements—a look, a leap, a struggle. And ultimately, he seeks to portray the very spirit of his subject. For some presumptuous reason, man feels the need to create something of his own that appears to be living, that has an inner strength, a vitality, a separate identity—something that speaks out with authority—a creation that gives the illusion of life.

Twenty-five thousand years ago. in the caves of southwestern Europe, Cro-Magnon man made astounding drawings of the animals he hunted. His representations are not only accurate and beautifully drawn, but many seem to have an inner life combined with a suggestion of movement. Since that time, we have been inundated with artists' attempts to shape something in clay or stone or paint that has a life of its own.

Certain artists have achieved marvelous results: sculptures that are bursting with energy, paintings that speak with strong inner forces, carv ings and drawings and prints that have captured a living moment in time. But none can do more than suggest what happened just before, or what will happen after that particular moment has passed. Yet, through all the centuries, artists continued to search for a medium of expression that would permit them to capture that elusive spark of life, and in the late 1800s new inventions seemed at last to make this possible. Along with improvements in the motion picture camera and the development of a roll film capable of surviving the harsh mechanisms for projecting its images, a new art form was born: animation. By making sequential drawings of a continuing action

Drawings Sequential Movement

From the earliest days, man has tried to capture in drawings the living quality of the creatures around him

Animal Sketches Animation Disney

mators: John SewelL Eric won—Bambi.

wimation, powerful movent comes from the draw-s in series more than the llful handling of any sin-figure.

Disney Drawings Bambi Characters

and projecting their photographs onto a screen at a constant rate, an artist now could create all of the movement and inner life he was capable of.

An artist could represent the actual figure, if he chose, meticulously capturing its movements and actions. Or he could caricature it. satirize it. ridicule it. And he was not limited to mere actions; he could show emotions, feelings, even innermost fears. He could give reality to the dreams of the visionary. He could create a character on the screen that not only appeared to be living but thinking and making decisions all by himself. Most of all. to everyone's surprise, this new art of animation had the power to make the audience actually feel the emotions of a cartoon figure.

What an amazing art form! It is astonishing that so few professionals have investigated its possibilities, for where else does the artist have such opportunities for self expression? There is a new excitement to the familiar elements of drawing and design when they are shown heroic size on a large screen, but. more than that, the addition of movement opens the way to almost unlimited new relationships in all areas. And the wonders continue on into color.

Hvcn the brightest pigments on a painting can reflect back to the viewer only a limited amount of light. Their apparent brightness is relative to itself, a range from dark to light of about 20 to 1. But with the light intensity of the projection lamp and a highly reflective screen, this brightness factor increases to an exciting 200 to I—ten times as great! Just as the stained glass window had brought dazzling brilliance after centuries of relatively dull frescoes, the introduction of light behind the film made w hole new ranges of color available to the artist. Add to this the potential for building color relationships in sequence for stronger emotional response, and the artist has before him an incredible medium for self expression. But rewarding as anima tion is, it is also extremely difficult. Still, once an artist sees his drawings come to life on the screen, he will never again be quite satisfied with any other type of expression.

The unique challenge of this art form was aptly described by Vladimir (Bill) Tytla, first animator to bring true emotions to the cartoon screen.1 "It was mentioned that the possibilities of animation are infinite. It is all that, and yet very simple—but try and do it! There isn't a thing you can't do in it as far as composition is concerned. There isn't a caricaturist in this country who has as much liberty as an animator here of twisting and weaving his lines in and out. . . . But I can't tell you how to do it—I wish I could."

Bill was speaking to a group of young animators who had been asking how he achieved his wonderful results on the screen. He answered simply, "To me it's just as much a mystery as ever before—sometimes I get it—sometimes I don't. I wish I knew, then I'd do it more often.

"The problem is not a single track one. Animation is not just timing, or just a well-draw n character, it is the sum of all the factors named. No matter what the devil one talks about—whether force or form, or well-drawn characters, timing, or spacing—animation is all these things—not any one. What you as an animator are interested in is conveying a certain feeling you happen to have at that particular time. You do all sorts of things in order to gel it. Whether you have to rub out a thousand times in order to get it is immaterial."

Conveying a certain feeling is the essence of communication in any art form. The response of the viewer is an emotional one. because art speaks to the heart. This gives animation an almost magical ability to reach inside any audience and communicate with all peoples everywhere, regardless of language barriers. It is one of animation's greatest strengths and certainly one of the most important aspects of this art for the young animator to study and master. As artists, we now have new responsibilities in addition to those of draftsman and designer: we (lave added the disciplines of the actor and the theater. Our tools of communication are the symbols that all men understand because they go back before man developed speech.

Scientist and author Jane Goodall reports that even lesser primates, such as the chimpanzee, have a whole "complex nonverbal communication based on touch, posture, and gesture. ..." These actions vary from an exchange of greetings when meeting to acts of submission, often with the arm extended and the palm turned down. When a top-ranking male arrives in any

Chimpanzee Disney

group, "the other chimps invariably hurry to pay their respects, touching him with outstretched hands or bowing, just as courtiers once bowed before their king." Miss Goodall describes how a lone male passing a mother and her family responded to her greeting with a touch, "as^himp etiquette demands, then greeted her infant, patting it gently on the head while it looked up at him with big staring eyes."2

Some two hundred more signs that clearly display chimpanzee emotions include preening, embracing, charging, kissing, and pounding. Chimps are apt to fling their arms around each other for reassurance, throw things in anger, steal objects furtively, and scream wildly with excitement.3 Most of these ex-

Chimps PreeningChimps Preening

pressions of feelings and language symbols are well known to man. whether they are buried deep in his subconscious or still actively used in his own communicative behavior.

Dogs. too. have a whole pattern of actions not only clearly understood by other dogs but by man as well. Even without using sounds, clogs can convey all of the broad spectrum of emotions and feelings. There is no doubt when a dog is ashamed, or proud, or playful, or sad (or belligerent, sleepy, disgusted, indignant). He speaks with his whole body in both attitude and movement.

The actor is trained to know these symbols of communication because they are his tools in trade. Basically. the animator is the actor in animated films. He is many other things as well: however, in his efforts to communicate his ideas, acting becomes his most important device. But the animator has a special problem. On the stage, all of the foregoing symbols are accompanied by some kind of personal magnetism that can communicate the feelings and attitudes equally as well as the action itself. There is a spirit in this kind of communication that is extremely alive and vital. However. wonderful as the world of animation is. it is too crude to capture completely that kind of subtlety.

If in animation we are trying to show that a character is sad, we droop the shoulders, slump the body, drop the head, add a long face, and drag the feet. Yet those same symbols also can mean that the character is tired, or discouraged, or even listless. We can add a tear and pinpoint our attitude a little better, but that is the extent of our capabilities.

The live actor has another advantage in that he can interrelate with others in the cast. In fact, the producer relies heavily on this. When he begins a live action picture, he starts with two actors of proven ability who will generate something special just by being together. There will be a chemistry at work that will create charisma, a special excitement that will elicit an immediate response from the audience. The actors will each project a unique energy simply because they are real people.

By contrast, in animation we start with a blank piece of paper! Out of nowhere we have to come up with characters that are real, that live, that interrelate. We have to work up the chemistry between them (if any is to exist), find ways to create the counterpart of charisma. have the characters move in a believable manner. and do it all with mere pencil drawings. That is enough challenge for anybody.

These problems would seem to create considerable difficulties for achieving the communication claimed for animation. How can it work so wonderfully? It does it in a very simple way through what we call "audience involvement." In our own lives, we find that as we get to know people we share their experiences—we sympathize, we empathize, we enjoy. If we love them, we become deeply concerned about their welfare. We become involved in their lives.

We involve the audiences in our films the same way. We start with something they know and like. This can be either an idea or a character, as long as it is familiar and appealing. It can be a situation everyone has experienced, an emotional reaction universally shared, a facet of someone's personality easily recognized, or any combination of these. But there must be something that is known and understood if the film is to achieve audience involvement.

In the great days of radio, there were many programs presented in such a special, intimate way that they drew the listening audience into their stories completely. The mystery programs were particularly good at this, using voices that reached out to you—and good sound effects: heavy breathing up close to the microphone, echoing footsteps, a creaky, door; you were held spellbound. The broadcasts were projected through symbols into your imagination, and you made the situation real. It was not just what you heard, it was what the sounds made you believe and feel. It was not the actor's emotions you were sensing anymore. They were your emotions.

Fortunately, animation works in the same way. It is capable of getting inside the heads of its audiences, into their imaginations. The audiences will make our little cartoon character sad—actually, far sadder than we could ever draw him—because in their minds that character is real. He lives in their imaginations. Once the audience has become involved with your characters and your story, almost anything is possible.

For a character to be that real. he must have a per-

Www Firstanimator Images

TIME CHART 1923 to 1933

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