The State of Animation, Then and Now

Today, many have questions about the current health and future of animation, both at Disney and outside of the studio. Hahn was glad to address questions on the medium's present status and to offer his own particularly insight into the hand-drawn versus computer dilemma with which each studio presently grapples.

Hahn: (Animation) is a medium of caricatures, so you're not dealing with reality, you're dealing with a caricature of reality. In the same movie, for example, you can have a character like Cinderella, which is the classic princess, but you can also have Lucifer the Cat and the mice, which are very cartoony characters and they all kind of co-exist. I always feel like in animation, you can go somewhere emotionally that maybe you can't in live action - it might feel a little saccharine or sweet in live action. In animation, there's a sincerity to it that's kind of germane to the art form. Eric Larson used to say it was the secret of Disney animation was all in the word "sincerity." It reminds me of the old Groucho Marx quote, "If you can fake that, you've got it made." (laughs) It's really about getting the sincerity into the movie and trying to make it plausible and real and understandable to the audience.

Hahn (continued): Because it's a medium of caricature, you can do that in broader strokes, you can have an evil stepmother and a handsome prince. They're more primary colors, broader emotional strokes. Animators do go to great lengths to caricature -- like Ilene in the recording booth -- and draw her gestures and those even make it into characters like the cat. I always think of Mrs. Potts, the teapot in Beauty and the Beast - it was Angela Lansbury's voice, but she was just a hopping head if you think about it. She had no arms or legs, it was just a face and she had a teapot spout for a nose. I had people come up to me and say "Oh, that was exactly Angela Lansbury." Well, it wasn't, but the ability to caricature that voice, or in the case of Cinderella, to caricature those voices into a footman, a coachman, a horse, a dog, whatever is really the secret of animation and the best animators know how to do that well.

Hahn (continued): The studio was in tremendous financial straits when they made Cinderella. They hadn't made a feature in years, because of the War and a number of factors. Hand-drawn animation has a special place in my heart and the heart of the audience. When you see these things and realize there's such a hand-done artform, I think you have the same appreciation you do for hand-drawn animation as any artwork that is human. People sat down and drew these things or painted these things. There is a special feeling to it that only hand-drawn animation can evoke.

Hahn (continued): We're currently in the midst of a five or ten year love affair with computer graphics. Computers are a brilliant tool for the artist, but I'm sure that someday soon we'll see some beautiful hand-drawn animation again, hopefully by Disney.

Hahn (continued): I think in the arts in general and certainly animation, the rule is you can use any tool you need to use to get the effect on the screen. In the case of Cinderella, they did shoot a lot of live action to help get that movie to life. You know, the truth of it is we shot a lot of it on Beauty and the Beast and we shot a ton of it on Pocahontas and we shot a lot of it on Atlantis (: The Lost Empire). Walt Disney shot live action for Snow White. Most of the reason for doing that is plausibility. You want the audience to completely believe that the character of Cinderella in particular is flesh and blood and real, you want to really capture the movement. It also helps the animators study things like fabric and the skirt spinning around and the way the costume works and helps them sketch and get that. But it's only a tool, it's only the beginnings, the research that goes into the performance. So whether it's live action or whether it's a computer, or whether it's a pencil or paintbrush, they're all tools for the animator and we have great animators now who use computers to create their craft. They are as proficient and as great as some of the animators from Walt Disney's era, but it all goes back to "Are they great actors? Can they move you with their drawings or with their images on the screen?" There's a great old saying that great animators don't just move drawings, they move people, meaning their job is to move you emotionally and not just move a character around the screen.

Hahn (continued): It's no different really than a word processor. You have people that write their novels on legal pads. The book still comes out as well as if they wrote it on a G5. It's really your comfort level and how you express yourself. Some people paint in watercolors, some in oils. It doesn't matter what your form of expression. That's why I can really appreciate a movie like Corpse Bride that's all puppet animation, or there's a Nick Park movie that's all clay animation, hand-drawn animation, computer graphics. They all are forms of expression. And certainly, you look at Cinderella, it's got to be an apex of traditional hand-drawn animation in terms of the tools those guys used to make those movies.

Does he think there is still a place for hand-drawn animation? "Yeah, I honestly do. In fact, I'm working on one right now."

A question was posed to Hahn about he and fellow individuals who make animated films today at Disney are somewhat the torch-bearers from the studio's Nine Old Men. What do they value in this role?

Hahn: Animation is alive and well. You can see it not only in the animation industry, but you see it in live action movies, whether it be Lord of the Rings or Star Wars or King Kong - there is so much animation in movies now. Or great movies like Corpse Bride which just came out last week. So there is a really big surge in the animation industry now. Part of what I want to do -- and certainly Glen (Keane), and John (Musker), and Andreas (Deja) and a lot of people you see on the Cinderella disc -- is to share some of our influences and to point back to these men and women who created films like Cinderella. Because we were fortunate to have really great films under our belts in our generation, but you must believe that in every way we learned that from Walt Disney's generation.

Hahn (continued): One of my first jobs at the studio was working with Eric Larson who was one of the lead animators of Cinderella's character and with Woolie Reitherman who animated that great sequence of the mice sneaking the key up that tall, tall stairway up to Cinderella's room until Lucifer the Cat puts the bowl on top of it. I was Woolie's Assistant Director and felt like "Oh my God, I'm just a kid out of school and I have this chance to work with these really great guys." And they certainly taught me a lot about animation and the passion for the art of animation. That's something we definitely want to pass on and are trying to pass on. There's a tremendous interest in it. That's why discs like Beauty and the Beast become not only entertainment but also a great study for people interested in animation.

For young people who fall into this last class, Hahn has two key pieces of advice.

Hahn: One is versatility. Drawing is always going to be the most important thing, but also learn your computer graphics and your other tools. Computers don't do anything - they're dumb machines on a desk. Artists actually move them around and make things with them, so the versatility of using a pencil or a paintbrush or a computer is really important. Secondly, I would just encourage people to bring their life experiences to their work. A lot of times, students copy other people's cartoons or they don't really bring their life experiences in and when you look at Eric Larson or Marc Davis or John Lounsberry or some of these animators who worked on Cinderella, they were architects and Woolie was a fighter pilot in the war, and Frank played the piano and Ollie had a locomotive in his backyard. They had these bigger than life interests and they brought all that into the studio everyday and that's what made the movies so alive and so real and that's something that's really important for someone starting out.

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