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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Hearts of the Art

Animation is one of my passions, even if I'm not currently doing anything with my degree in it. Needless to say it's all around us in commercials, TV shows, movies and web videos. It touches young and old in all corners of the world. But how often do you really think about who's making Bender tell people to bite his shiny metal ass?

That's what I'm here for. To help toss out a few names of the people who have made the genre of animation what it is today. This is where Shannon will be rolling his eyes and saying "great she's gonna go on about Tim Burton and John Lasseter again." Which I will, but not right away. I don't want to be that predictable right from the get go. Besides there's a long list of animation greats out there. I'll be bringing to light some names you may already know and several you may not. Heck some of them I only know about because of my beginning animation class back in the day. One thing will be for sure the men and women I choose to cover will have something in common.

They are at the heart of their art.

Glen Keane working on Tangled

Glen Keane is a favorite among myself and several of my fellow animation students. With good reason. The man has been a part of some major mile stones over the years.

Quick history, he was born on April 13, 1954 in Philadelphia, PA and grew up in Paradise Valley, AZ. His father, Bil Keane created the comic strip series "The Family Circus". I was never a big fan of that series but I still remember reading it in the Sunday funny pages. Glen attended CalArts (California Institute of the Arts), where he was accidentally enrolled in the animation department, when his portfolio found it's way there. He graduated in 1974 and joined Disney the same year. At 20 he was beginning his career as a Disney animator.

I have a very love-hate relationship with Disney. I love almost every movie they put out, but some of their choices make me want to cry out in frustration. Keane was a part of what many people refer to as the Renaissance Period of Disney animation. It started with "The Little Mermaid" and started to fizzle out at the end of the 90's. The movies in that time period pushed the boundaries of animation beyond where they had gone in years. I dare you to point out a theatrical release that wasn't good. But we'll get to those films in a bit.

Early in his career Keane worked on Disney's "The Rescuers", "Pete's Dragon", "The Fox and the Hound", and "Mickey's Christmas Carol" (which is a holiday favorite of mine). He also worked on Christmas and Easter animated specials for "The Family Circus." In 1982, after being inspired by "Tron" (don't laugh it was innovative for it's time), Keane worked on an experimental project with John Lasseter. See I told you he'd be brought up again. At the time Disney owned the wrights to "Where the Wild Things Are" and the inspired duo use it to work on a test that combined traditional 2D animation with the new 3D medium. In the long run nothing came of it other than Lasseter finding a love for the new medium and leaving Disney.


Keane left Disney as a contract employee in 1983 and worked as a freelance artist. During this time he still worked on Disney's "The Great Mouse Detective" but he also had a hand in one of my favorite non-Disney animated movies, "The Chipmunk Adventure." This was actually new information to me, that I fell across while researching for this blog.  He did story boards and animated two of my favorite scenes from the film. The first being the "Boys and Girls of Rock N' Roll" song where Alvin and Brittany face off over who's better. It's one of the more memorable scenes as the two factions have a rock face off in Athens, Greece. Check out the video below.
The second is the "Gettin' Lucky" song were Brittany and Janette have to charm a room full of snakes to get their team's dolls back so they can continue the race. It is a little creepy though thinking about them singing about "getting lucky" to a bunch of snakes.  If you never watched this movie growing up I highly recommend checking it out some time. It's beautifully animated, has catchy songs, and is rather funny. Or if nothing else just watch it cause it's classic Chipmunk goodness back from their glory days before they started belting out Lady Gaga on tropical islands.

 Keane returned to Disney as a supervising animator on "Oliver and Company." I was so exited about this movie as a little kid. I remember my mom making me chose between it and "The Land Before Time" because I was only allowed to go see one in the theater. The other would have to wait for the VHS release. Yes I am from the analog age, bite me. Being a huge Disney fan at a early age I chose the retelling of Oliver Twist with cats and dogs over the Don Bluth dinosaur story. Keane worked on two of the main human characters, Sykes and Fagin as well as one of my favorites, the over dramatic pampered poodle Georgette. While Oliver the kitten and the gang of dogs he falls in with are all strays, Georgette has the high life of being the pet to a rich girl in New York City. Add to that the the voice of Bette Midler and how can you not have something fun to animate? I love the mini "Cinderella" tribute in her character song. "Oliver and Company" was the last Disney film before the 'Renaissance' or new golden age would begin.

I'm pretty sure this is from the "Part of your World" sequence
 Keane designed and animated the little red haired mermaid that would steal a generation's heart. I remember watching "The Little Mermaid" in theaters. My cousins and I were completely mesmerized by the film, and it remained one of my favorites for a long time. Plans for production of "The Little Mermaid" actually started back in the late 1930's but do to strikes and war it got put on the back burner until the 1980's. The production crew looked at the old materials and were surprised to find that a lot of the changes Walt Disney had planned were similar to their own ideas. It was the first time that a large portion of an animated film took place under water. The animators had to account for all the little things like bubbles and the fact that nothing truly stays still under water. It was a large task to take on, but the end results were truly amazing. With the success of "The Little Mermaid" the Disney company decided they wanted to start releasing a feature film every year. This meant that multiple project would be going on at once and the talents would be split up on projects. "Beauty and the Beast" would be the only other film to be in the hands of all of Disney's top artists of the time.

Design work on the Beast
Keane had the job of designing the Beast. He had to make him terrifying and yet it still had to be believable that a young woman could fall in love with him. I'll let him tell you about the character's design with the clip below. I did have the chance during college to meet one of the animators who worked under Keane on the Beast. Broose Johnson, besides sharing stories of our teacher being a casualty during a stress relief rubber band war, also talked about working on "Beauty and the Beast." Johnson said that at times Keane would get so into his drawings that it would be hard to figure out which lines to follow from the thick layers of dark pencil on the key drawings.

One of Glen Keane's most memorable scenes would have the be the Beast's transformation at the end of the film. After "Beauty and the Beast" he went on to be a supervising animator on "Aladdin", "Pocahontas" and "Tarzan". In Each he was in charge of the title character, and was a part of  story development for "Pocahontas" and "Tarzan". With Pocahontas he also played a role in the over all visual development of the film. 

 In 1992 he received the Annie Award for character animation. Then in 2007 he received the Winsor McCay Award for lifetime contribute to the animation field. 

The faces of Flynn Rider
Most recently he worked on "Tangled." I LOVE TANGLED. I originally had my doubts when I heard the latest princess tale was going to be in CG. What can I say, I'm a traditional animation kind of girl. I like knowing that someone's hand was actually holding a pencil in this digital age. My mind was set a bit more at ease when I learned that Glen Keane was not only producing the film, but was also do a large amount of design and story work and directing the animators. Needless to say they hit a home run. In a time when I take everything new from Disney with a grain of salt they had me enjoying a film like I was a little kid again. I laughed, I cried, I went out and bought a freakin' plush lizard I loved it so much. "Tangled" came with a major hurdle of it's own to over come. If there's one thing current animators will tell you it's that hair is a bitch to animate. And Rapunzel has 70 feet of it to deal with. They actually created new software just so they could handle all those golden magic filled locks. I added the video below, first cause it's neat to listen to his thought process on character design. Second there is an awesome shoujo manga style drawing of Rapunzel and Pascal in the background just to the right of Glen's head. Check it out!

This past March, Keane left Disney after a little over 37 years of work to further the animation world in his own new ways. Most recently he was awarded the Tex Avery Award which honors the legacy of animators. I leave you with his interview from it. I look forward to seeing where he will take the animation world in the future. Dare to dream and who knows what we can accomplish. That's all for this installment of Hearts of the Art.

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