Archive for the ‘history’ Category

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

Theory: A Few Thoughts On History

:History"

An Unique Point Of View

One of the things I’ve learned about animation history over the years is that you can’t count on general knowledge derived from books to understand the dynamics of the way people worked together. Each person had his own point of view, and you understand the situation better by putting yourself in the head of each participant and understanding their personal motivations and what they saw as the goal.

Likewise, you can’t trust general knowledge derived from books to know what is good and what is bad, or even what the strengths of a studio or artist were. You have to look at the films themselves and compare them and judge them according to a set of criteria designed to reveal the aspect you’re looking for.

When I was in college, I watched every animated film or TV show that I could get my hands on. I ran a VCR constantly. I didn’t judge or analyze, I just watched and absorbed. I tried to expose myself to as many different kinds of films as I could…. from Pluto and Underdog cartoons to Faith Hubley and Oskar Fischenger. After I had a fairly broad frame of reference, I started categorizing things in my head… impressive examples of effects animation, or dialogue driven cartoons, or snappy limited animation techniques. My head was full of all this stuff.

Then I went to work in an animation studio. I learned the dynamics of directors and their crew. I found out about working under deadlines. I began to understand what things were created by one individual and what ones were created by teams. I saw the complex watchworks of interpersonal relationships within a studio- competition, cooperation, personality conflicts. I realized that there isn’t just one point of view, there is a different point of view for every person involved.

Lastly, I started hanging out and talking with the old timers in the industry- picking their brains, getting them to be frank about the people they had known and the work they had done. I spoke to people on opposite sides of the battle lines, and I spoke to people who belonged to no camp other than the love of making animation. I learned a lot of things that will never be written down in books. It gave me the ability to judge and decide what was good and what was bad and where strengths lay.

A big problem with animation history books is they try to make it one unified story- the story of Bugs Bunny, or the story of the Disney Studios. That wasn’t the way the stuff we regard as history was lived though. It was lived by individuals with their own bias and goals and personalities. Some of these individuals really stand out from the rest. They were the catalysts and the ones who pushed the whole thing forward. Probably the most written about influencer in animation was Walt Disney.

I never met Disney. I waved at him once as a child as he drove down Main Street at Disneyland in a antique car. But I knew a lot of people who worked with him closely, and I asked them about him. Some of them loved him, some of them hated his guts, but all of them were talking about the same man. I don’t find that in books. Some books talk about a genius/saint who did everything himself. Others talk about an evil monster who exploited and abused the people working under him. I have no idea who these books are describing. It sure isn’t Walt Disney! Generally, the basic facts of names and dates are correct, but none of them seem to portray at him in the way I learned to see him- through the eyes of the people around him, friend and foe.

There is a biography of the low budget filmmaker Ed Wood called Nightmare of Ecstasy. It was later adapted by Tim Burton to make the film, Ed Wood. I mention it because it is the only book that I’ve ever seen that tells the story of an interesting person solely through bits of interviews from people who knew him. The book is organized into a chronology of events, but the description of the chronology is all from individual points of view cobbled together from a bunch of interviews. The image of Ed Wood projected is vivid and multifaceted and real… more real than anything I read in animation history books.

It’s too late to do that now for Walt Disney. Most everyone who worked with him is dead now. We’re stuck with the largely false image of Uncle Walt perched on the edge of his desk telling us about nature or outer space. I don’t think the average person will ever know who he was, regardless of how many books get written. But maybe the internet and social media will get preserved and someday future historians will cull through our comments on Facebook looking for nuggets of truth about all of US to stitch together into a narrative that is more true than the stuff that’s written in books.

Of course they’ll have to wade through a whole bunch of dumb memes and blather. I’ve been on the internet since the very dawn of the WWW. It’s weird to think that was over 20 years ago. I’ve been on usenet and chat boards and social media that whole time, trying to share things I think are important. Maybe someday it will provide something useful to an internet archaeologist somewhere. I think it’s important to take social media and interaction on the internet seriously. My life may someday be part of someone else’s history.

People often tell me that I should write a book… I think I’m doing something better than that. I’m throwing down breadcrumbs for future historians to follow each and every day of my life. Whether you realize it or not, so are you!

Stephen Worth
Animation Resources

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Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

Exhibit: Natwick on Iwerks

Ub Iwerks

Ub Iwerks Self Portrait

One of the principle goals of Animation Resources is to tell the history of animation, not by character or studio, but through the lives of the people who made the cartoons. No single animator’s life and career tell the history of animation better than Grim Natwick’s.

Grim started in the 20’s animating silent Krazy Kat cartoons at the Hearst Studio in New York. He ended up at Fleischer, where he created Betty Boop. He received an offer to move West to join Walt Disney, but friends advised him that Ub Iwerks, who had just left animationresources.org to form his own studio, was the real creative spark behind the Mickey Mouse pictures. So Grim joined Ub instead, and ended up running the studio. A few years later, Grim became excited with the prospect of a feature length cartoon, so he went to Disney, where he ended up animating the title character. He returned to the Fleischers in Florida for a spell, and ended up back in Hollywood working for Walter Lantz on the wartime Woody Woodpecker cartoons. At an age when most of his contemporaries were retiring, Grim jumped into the modern stylization of UPA with both feet, and was instrumental in setting up their New York offices. He worked with Culhane, Ward and Melendez; and in his 80s, animated on Richard Williams’ Theif and the Cobbler. Here is a life that spanned the entire history of animation.

Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks

Walt Disney & Ub Iwerks

I’m very proud to introduce the first bit of information into the biographical database… an interview done with Grim in the at Animafestival 1982 produced by Reg Hartt. Michael Gowling ran a tape of Grim’s comments. In the interview, he talks about his entire career… animating Snow White, experimenting with timing on commercials at UPA, and sharing insight on the various people he worked with over the years. One particularly interesting part of the interview deals with Ub Iwerks, and Grim answers a question that many animation historians have been puzzling over for years… in his own unique way.

NatwickOnIwerks.mp3

Thanks again to Reg Hartt and Craig Davison.

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

TheoryGrim Natwick

This posting is part of an online exhibit entitled Grim Natwick’s Scrapbook.
Animated CartoonsAnimated Cartoons

This posting is part of the online Encyclopedia of Cartooning under the subject heading, Animation.

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Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

Exhibit: Grim Natwick On Animation Design

Les Clark Hands

Mickey Mouse Hand Model Sheet by Les Clark ca. 1932

Grim Natwick was a remarkable artist. His career as an animator spanned the entire history of animation, from silent Mutt & Jeff cartoons all the way through Richard Williams’ The Thief and the Cobbler. I don’t know of anyone more qualified to answer the age-old question…

Who invented the three fingered hand?

Grim studied art in Vienna soon after the end of World War I. Included with this article are scans of Grim’s anatomy studies from a little after his studies there. Some of you may see a similarity with Bridgeman’s wonderful books on constructive anatomy. Grim was in New York when Bridgeman was teaching there, so it’s entirely possible that these drawings were done studying under Bridgeman himself.

Natwick Anatomy Studies

DESIGN FOR ANIMATION
By Grim Natwick

Who invented the three-fingered hand? Someone way back in the dark ages of animation got tired of drawing hands with four fingers and simply left one off, and cartoon hands have been much easier to animate ever since. It was a stroke of genius. The four fingered hand disappeared from animation until "Snow White" (1937). Somehow a pretty girl didn’t look right with only three fingers. But the Seven Dwarfs still had three fingered hands.

Natwick Anatomy Studies

Characters and drawing styles changed as animation became a popular form of entertainment. Straight lines were changed to curved lines- square shapes became round shapes. Curved figures moved better on the screen and eliminated what we used to call "strobe".

Natwick Anatomy Studies

Mickey Mouse was a good example of a character designed to eliminate the early problems of animation. His head was a ball with a rounded lump for a nose, a few circles for eyes, and two frisbees for ears. His body was shaped like a pear or gourd. Four pieces of garden hose were used for arms and legs. His hands were just two bunches of peeled bananas. Four old-fashioned donuts served as cuffs and anklets. He had a hair snake for a tail, and his shoes were two boxing gloves with the thumbs cut off. He animated perfectly. Mickey has changed through the years, but the formula is still the same.

Natwick Anatomy Studies

By 1930, special artists were assigned the job of designing characters for animation. Cartoon stories had become more sophisticated and so had the viewing audience. The characters became individuals- stars- a part of Hollywood. A whole galaxy of heros and heroines have become famous in distant corners of the globe. At a recent animation festival in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, several Chinese animators appeared wearing Betty Boop buttons. Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker and the Flintstones are as well known in Paris, London and even Gnosjo, Sweden, as they are in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. They have become world classics, and good design and good drawing have made them so.

Natwick Anatomy Studies

The great animators were almost always good draughtsmen. Milt Kahl, Marc Davis, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, John Lounsbery, Ward Kimball– These men drew exceptionally well. Among the animators who preceded them, those who could stay in the saddle when the wind was blowing were talents like Dick Huemer, Bill Tytla and the enigmatic Art Babbitt. Babbitt always said that he hated to draw, yet he animated the "most beautiful of all Queens" in Disney’s "Snow White". He drew the complicated Mushroom Dance in Fantasia, an animation masterpiece that required the mind of a ballet dancer and the patience of a Saint, which Babbitt is not. One could name a host of beautifully drawn characters that Art Babbitt "hated to draw".

Natwick Anatomy Studies

How vital a part does drawing play in animation? Is it more important than a dramatic sense, a delicate feeling for humor, spacing and timing?

While an animator may borrow craftsmanship from an actor, he is faced every day with playing a new role, acting out a new scene, breathing life into a new character. His tools are ordinary sheets of paper, and an ordinary lead pencil. If his drawings lack magic, a scene will be a failure.

Natwick Anatomy Studies

Can one compare animation with the more dignified art of easel painting? Is a Ward Kimball any less talented than Seurat? Or is Bill Tytla less gifted than Raol Dufy? If we transpose the question to a more familiar area of the culinary arts- the Art of Cookery- one could say that one chef prepares a meal of barbecued spare ribs with Spanish sauce and chilled beer; while the other serves wild pheasant under glass with Rhone River wine and truffles. Either meal could taste best at a chosen time and a chosen place.

Natwick Anatomy Studies

If Claude Monet had tried to draw a Mickey Mouse, the result would probably have been a real gnocchi- a dodo! On the other hand, if you had asked a Les Clark or a Freddie Moore to paint purple haystacks or pointillistic water-lillies, the result might have been equally disappointing. They are two different art forms.

Natwick Anatomy Studies

Stephen Worth
Director
Animation Resources

TheoryTheory

This posting is part of an online exhibit entitled Grim Natwick’s Scrapbook.
Animated CartoonsAnimated Cartoons

This posting is part of the online Encyclopedia of Cartooning under the subject heading, Animation.

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