Meta: Why Do We Need An Animation Archive?

Several people have emailed me to ask for copies of the speech I gave at the ASIFA Lion King Reunion event where we announced the establishment of this project several years ago. Here it is… Please feel free to print it out and share it with your friends.


Hello… My name is Steve Worth and my passion is the art of hand drawn animation.

For the past ten or fifteen years, I’ve been a member of the Board of Directors of ASIFA-Hollywood, and I’m currently serving as the Director of the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive Project.

Before we get started, I’d like to give you a little background on the archive project, and let you know how it relates to the panel discussion you’re about to hear tonight. Most of all, I’d like to share with you why this particular project is so important… perhaps more important now than at any other time in the history of animation.

Sir Isaac Newton was quoted as saying, “If I have seen further, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants.” It’s all too easy to become so involved with what we’re doing “here and now”, that we forget what came before us. Los Angeles is often spoken of as “a town with no history”. Compared with cities like Athens, London or Paris, that may seem to be the case. But in its short period of existence, Los Angeles was the place that nurtured and developed one of the greatest artistic achievements of the 20th century, the art of cinema… and most importantly to the people gathered together in this room tonight, the art of animated filmmaking.

This sketch was given to me by an artist who knew that I was interested in the history of animation…

Cartoonist

He found it in the trash dumpster at FilmRoman, obviously thrown out when someone cleared his desk. The animator that gave this to me had no idea who this was. No one else he showed it to at the studio knew either. In fact, 99.9% of the general public wouldn’t even recognize his name, much less his image.

This is a self caricature of Ub Iwerks, the man who designed and animated Mickey Mouse… The man who invented process photography, enabling live action and animation to co-exist side by side… The man who revolutionized the industry with the invention of the multiplane camera and animation xerography. There are few people in the history of animation who have done more for us as animators than Ub Iwerks did. Yet his picture ended up in a trash can… completely unrecognized… at one of the most important TV animation studios in town. I’m not picking on FilmRoman when I point this out. The same could have happened at any studio, even the one this man made billions of dollars for over the years.

Think about that for a second and let it soak in.

How can we as artists “see further” like Isaac Newton if our collective memory is so short, we don’t even recognize the pioneers who made everything we do possible? This is the sort of shortsightedness that’s led to stories in the press announcing that hand drawn animation is obsolete. Hand drawn animation is no more replaceable by computer graphics than drawing and painting are replaced by photography. Cartooning is an irreplaceable artform, not an expendable technique.

Tonight, we’re here to honor the creative achievements of a team of artists who pulled together to make one of the most successful hand drawn animated films of all time. I would bet that just about all of us here tonight have pretty much the same question on our minds… How can the art of hand drawn animation return to the creative peak it enjoyed just a few short years ago?

Again, I’m going to give you a second to think about that question and let it soak in.

I’ve been thinking long and hard about that question. It’s time for me to build something that ASIFA-Hollywood’s founders, Bill Scott, June Foray and Bill Littlejohn envisioned as a goal for our organization nearly forty years ago… a museum, library and archive devoted to the art of animation… an institution dedicated to documenting, preserving and promoting those broad shoulders we all stand upon.

The first step in achieving this goal is the establishment of something the founders of ASIFA could never have imagined… a “virtual archive”… A computer database containing hundreds of thousands of digital files representing animation drawings, model sheets, pencil tests, background paintings, book and magazine illustrations, cartoons, voice over reels, interviews, information and movies… all searchable by keyword. In short, the ultimate artist’s clip file. We all know that the major studios in town maintain their own archives to preserve the documents related to their particular productions, this digital archive will be unique, because it will be dedicated to documenting and serving the people who actually make animated films… the artists. We is in an unique position to be able to pull together a wide range of material for its archive… a much broader scope than any corporate archive could ever hope to encompass.

Tonight, the Animation Archive is just a concept with only a few presentation boards here to represent it… but next time we gather together for an event like this, you’ll see equipment and material on display… a functioning archive, instead of just presentation boards.

We realize that this is a lean time for animators. Money is tight. But we aren’t asking for a great deal from any one person. What we are asking for is for the animation community to pull together to do something of great value for the artform. ASIFA has always been all about recognizing the achievements of individuals… whether through its screenings, events like this, or the Annie Awards. The Animation Archive will be no different. It will be a resource that documents the history of people like Ub Iwerks, and the people who will be speaking to you in a few moments. Best of all, the archive will provide inspiration and education to a new generation of animators, acting as the shoulders for them to stand upon. This is *exactly* the sort of project that will prove conclusively to the world that hand drawn animation isn’t dead.

If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

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