Its C for me

The well-known phrase of resignation. "You can't win!" was just coming into popularity. One effects animator shook his head and added a second thought. "It's not only that you can't win—you can't even get out of the game." 14

Animated Disney Graphics That MoveAnime Its Coming ForAnimated Disney Graphics That MoveJosh Richards Animator Disney

8. Burbank and The Nine Old Men

"You know, the only way I've found to make these pictures is with animators— you can't seem to do it with accountants and bookkeepers." Walt Disney

The isolation of the animator did not end with the move to Burbank, but it was the turning point. Except for one final picture, Sleeping Beauty, where color stylist Eyvind Earle had a last magnificent fling, there were no special new breakthroughs by any of the supporting functions. The war and economic factors had forced a cutback, and the day of the specialist was over. With a smaller staff, team effort was stressed to an even greater degree, and Walt began to rely more and more on animation to carry the films. The first evidence of the animators' breaking out of their isolation was the creation of the Animation Board, which had been established as early as 1940 to help with the management of the animation department. Its members advised on hiring, firing, assignments, moves, promotions, and training; but, bit by bit, they were also determining what an animator should be and how-he should be used most effectively. The personnel of this board changed according to the problems being considered, but by 1950 the board had settled down to a permanent group of nine supervising animators.

These key creators had an importance beyond their duties on the board and influenced the way pictures developed and the type of entertainment that was done. Although the supervising animators were still in their thirties, Walt joked about their responsibilities and

Les Clarks Work Disney Woolie Reitherman

their wisdom and affectionately referred to them as his] "Nine Old Men," after the nine justices of the Suprer Court. The board consisted of Les Clark, Woolie Reitherman. Eric Larson, Ward Kimball, Milt Kahl. John Lounsbery, Marc Davis,2 and. the authors of thisj book, Frank Thomas and 01 lie Johnston. We nev< thought of ourselves as some elite group, and the only time it even crossed our minds was when Walt madeal kidding remark about his Nine Old Men being over the] hill, or getting too decrepit to work, or losing all their old zip.

In later years, after Walt died, the press picked up] this group's colorful title and used it as a glamor way of linking these animators to him. The studio publicists kept it alive as symbolic of the old gua that had survived from the early days of animatic but their only requests of us were to pose for pictur and that happened only twice in twenty years.1

Under this leadership, a new and very significa method of casting the animators evolved: an animal was to animate all the characters in his scene. In the] first features, a different animator had handled ea character. Under that system, even with everyone cc erating, the possibilities of getting maximum enter ment out of a scene were remote at best. The first ma to animate on the scene usually had the lead character,] and the second animator often had to animate tosor thing he could not feel or quite understand. Of ne sity, the director was the arbitrator, but certain of his] decisions and compromises were sure to make the j< more difficult for at least one of the animators.

The new casting overcame many problems and. mc important, produced a major advancement in cartc entertainment: the character relationship. With man now animating every character in his scene, he] could feel all the vibrations and subtle nuances betwt his characters. No longer restricted by what some else did. he was free to try out his own ideas of how his characters felt about each other. Animators bed more observant of human behavior and built on rel; tionships they saw around them every day.

The Supervising Animator was given the flexibilit of making changes and improvements after the seer was on his board. Changes that come after the anir tor has had a chance to live with his scene are often th ones that make characters really come to life. Wit!

(Continued on page It

Disney Woolie Reitherman Artist

artist Ward Kimball.

Ward Kimball Robin Hood

artist Ward Kimball.

Ward Kimball seldom let his pencil rest: imaginative doodles done during an Animation Board meeting, circa 1957.

Les Clark Sketch

The second. and final. photo of the Nine Old Men. Front row, Woolie Reitherman. Les Clark, Ward Kimball. and John Lounsbery. Rear, Milt Kahl. Marc Davis. Frank Thomas. Eric I Air son. and Ollie Johnston.

Key personnel occasionally had to become actors in studio f Kahl. Marc Davis. Frank Thomas. Walt. and Wilfred Jackson s> Johnston's drawing during the making of a TV show promoting Beauty.

Walt Disney Art Frank ThomasFrank Thomas Animator

animator Frank Thomas— Bambi.

Bambi Animation Drawing

animator Frank Thomas— Bambi.

Three years earlier this scene might well have been divided between two different animators. Under that old casting method, it is doubtful this type of action could have been brought off at all.

much of the sequence under his control, the Supervising Animator can plan a more effective way of using the animation to put over the story points, by changing footages, shifting scenes, calling for long shots, close ups, expressions, actions—anything that makes a stronger statement and richer characterization.

One of the first examples of this was the sequence of Bambi and Thumper on ice. The concept of an animator taking an idea like this and developing it into a sequence really sprang from the "milking" of a situation in the earlier shorts to get everything out of it. Norm Ferguson's Pluto and the flypaper and Pluto on ice were two of the earliest and most outstanding pieces of entertainment built by an animator. Fred Spencer was successful with this type of improvisation on Donald in Moving Day. But the Bambi and Thumper sequence had something that the Pluto and Donald sections did not have. That was a character relationship with strong beginnings in the story department, where it was worked out by a man who had a feeling for animation.4 With this as a springboard, the animator continued developing this relationship, which only could have been done by one person handling both characters and completely controlling every single bit of action, timing, and cutting. Just how much we were really aware of the value of this type of casting then is hard to say.

Several years later, for whatever reasons, the mold was further broken on the three Uncle Remus sections of Song of the South, where all the supervising animators handled footage in large blocks. Bill Peet's great story work seemed to lend itself to this type of casting. Me had developed entertaining situations with strong character delineation, and the design of the characters inspired the animators to get a very loose handling in their work. But more important. Bill's business called for much personal contact between the bear, the fox. and the rabbit. Also, his relationships demanded split-second reactions between characters that would have been impossible to handle in co-animation.

This new way of working with character relationships encompassed the whole range of relations between two or more characters—from the broadest to the most delicate. It involved expression scenes that often registered the most secret thoughts and inner emotions of the characters, which as they became more subtle were also more revealing. With money in shorter supply, we cut out the frills and put our energies to work in a new direction, doing the most with what we had, making up for what had been lost in one area by concentrating on outstanding characters in entertaining situations. It was a new dimension in animation and the key breakthrough in reaching the audience.

Just as the concept of "life in a single drawing" had not been recognized as a dominant factor in animation that seemed to live, character relationship was not understood as a major contribution for many years. The Grasshopper and the Ants had brief moments of exciting relationships, and this could explain why it was so successful. The seven dwarfs had strong relationships. but these existed more because of story than animation. The animators at that point could not have developed this by themselves.

The Nine Old Men eventually were able to do it because they incorporated all of their own experiences (along with what they had learned from the top animators) into this new way of working—not just good animation, not just good drawings that moved in a

Milt Kahl Sher Kahn Sketches
animator Milt Kohl—The Jungle Book
Walt Disney Jungle Book Sheet

animator: Frank Thomas— Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad pleasing way, not just drawings that were funny, but drawings that moved the audience. As animation historian John Culhane said. "Moving drawings became ... Moving drawings!"5

Culhane says the Nine Old Men continued to attack the problems and meet the mounting challenges in animation—that Ichabod, with fear on his face, took the art a step up.6 that "Lounsbery's wolf in The Sword in the Stone, with its broad, comic, but terribly real frustration, and Milt's Shere Khan, a devastating caricature of the late George Sanders as a super stuffed-shirt tiger, were examples of acting by cartoon animals in the 60's that are considerably advanced from the cartoon animals in animation's so-called Golden Age in the 30's and 40's."7

Obviously, animation was communicating with the audience better than it had before. More than acting, more than story, more than character by itself, something had happened that was allowing the animators to express themselves more fully, and the viewers noticed. As Walt's interest turned to other things, the creative animator: Frank Thomas— Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

Sir Hiss Hypnosis

strength of the pictures shifted in favor of the animators. He had seen what they could do with material he might not have okayed in earlier years—they made it entertaining just through their skillful handling. Because of these skills, personality animation began to dominate the story material. However, we still needed strong stories, and these could not have been created without men such as Ken Anderson. Bill Peet, Erdman Penner and Don DaGradi who gave such a balance of talent and input of ideas with their different perspectives. Pictures were planned more with purely entertainment sequences—rich in personality and character —and these, in turn, helped the animator continually to develop his acting skills to higher levels.

John Culhane said that character relationships had gotten better and better. "In Robin Hood, there were so many vibrations passing back and forth between Prince John, the vain and mangy lion, and his gap-toothed snake sycophant, Sir Hiss, that it amounted to animated Sensaround."s And Culhane added this in a personal letter to the animator of these scenes:

I really did feel hypnotized in my theatre seat. In fact I felt the way that that long-ago radio producer must have felt who auditioned Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, and was disgusted with Bergen for stumbling over his lines until McCarthy snapped: 'Here, let me have a look at that' . . . and the producer thrust the script into the dummy's inanimate hands.

All of the Nine Old Men either had learned their art directly from the top animators of the thirties or been strongly influenced by their work. Les Clark had started

Golden Age Animators Grim Natwick Disney Eric Larson

Ward takes a friendly jibe at his aging fellow animators, Frank and 01 lie.

artist: Ward Kimball.

artist: Ward Kimball.

Ward takes a friendly jibe at his aging fellow animators, Frank and 01 lie.

with Ub Iwerks back in 1927, and he studied continuously from then on. Eric Larson. Ward Kimball, and Milt Kahl had all learned under Ham Luske; Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston had been with Fred Moore, but they were strongly influenced by Ham and Bill Tytla. Johnny Lounsbery trained under Norm Ferguson, Marc Davis under Grim Natwick, but both of them studied the work of all of the top men. Woolie Reither-man was probably influenced more by Fergy than anyone else.

While no two of us were alike, we still had many traits in common. Foremost among these was the desire to put the finest possible entertainment on the screen. There were many arguments and disagreements among all of us on every conceivable issue. Still, no matter how exasperated we were with someone, it never entered our minds to question his motives. We knew that he wanted the picture to be just as good as we did.

For over twenty-five years this remarkable team worked together, dedicated to Walt and the medium and its constant improvement. Then Marc Davis was moved over to WED, our sister organization, to put his special abilities to work on the rides and shows for Disneyland, Woolie Reitherman began directing in , Eric Larson eventually took over the all-important training program (to insure that new talent would reach its potential quickly), and in the mid-seventies both Ward Kimball and Les Clark retired.

In 1975, author John Canemaker paid tribute to the remaining four animators of the original nine. "Thomas, Kahl. Johnston and Lounsbery are a tiny but dazzling repertory' company of 'actors with a pencil!'9 With each new film, they change roles, but still retain their individual specialties, their star qualities, if you will."

Johnny Lounsbery died suddenly in 1976; Milt retired in 1977; and, in January of 1978, we, Frank and Ollie, left the studio to write this book. A new era was beginning just as the one that had spanned nearly forty-five years of animation came to an end. Here is a closer look at these men in the order of their arrival at the Disney Studios.

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