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PostPosted: Sat Aug 08, 2020 8:12 am 
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Very interesting and informative article, so for these who have not read it yet:

https://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2014 ... tim-burton

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In late 1966, Walt Disney lay dying. One of his last acts before succumbing to lung cancer was looking over the storyboards for The Aristocats, an animated feature he would not live to see.

Two years earlier, Walt had run into science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury at a department store in Beverly Hills. Over lunch the next day, Disney shared with him his plans for a school that would train young animators, “taught by Disney artists, animators, layout people . . . taught the Disney way,” as former CalArts student Tim Burton (Corpse Bride, Frankenweenie) described the school in the 1995 book Burton on Burton.

“Nobody was being trained in full animation anymore except [at] Disney—it was literally the only game in town,” recalls Bird. “There was a point where I was probably one of a handful of young animators in the world . . . . But no one was really interested in that in my town. You would get a lot more attention if you were the backup quarterback for a junior-college football team. That would be way more impressive than being mentored by Disney animators.”

In a country roiled by anti-Vietnam War protests and tremendous social upheaval, animation seemed irrelevant, relegated to commercials and Saturday-morning cartoon programs for children, though animation as an art form had not been originally intended just for kids. At Disney there was even talk of shutting down the animation department altogether. Nonetheless, Walt approved the storyboards for The Aristocats.

Walt initially had big plans: he wanted Picasso and Dalí to teach at his school. That didn’t happen, but many of Disney’s early animators and directors would teach at CalArts, which opened its doors in 1970 and moved a year later to Valencia, California. Walt had traded ranch land he owned for the site of the campus close to the freeway, and as he had bequeathed, when he died, in 1966, roughly half of his fortune went to the Disney Foundation in a charitable trust. Ninety-five percent of that bequest would go to CalArts, the eventual home of his new, innovative Character Animation Program.

“You can blame it on Fantasia,” says John Musker (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin), another former CalArts student. Indeed one of the classic images from Fantasia—the conductor Leopold Stokowski reaching down to shake hands with Mickey Mouse—summed up nicely what Walt had envisioned for his school: a kind of League of Nations of the arts.


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Tim Burton came in a year after Rees and Lasseter. “I think I was lucky because they had just begun the program the year before,” he recalled in Burton on Burton. He commuted to CalArts from the suburban lawns of Burbank. “I’m of that unfortunate generation that grew up watching television rather than reading. I didn’t like to read. I still don’t.”

Gary Trousdale (Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) went to CalArts in 1979, shortly after Lasseter graduated and Burton had left. He had grown up in Southern California and first heard about the program during Career Week in high school. “At that time, I really hadn’t considered animation—it was something that older men in sweater vests did,” he recalls. As a boy he’d loved Road Runner, Bugs Bunny, Rocky and Bullwinkle—toons with ’tude. “Ironically, though, not so much the Disney ones. Mickey Mouse was my least favorite of the bunch.”

When asked what it was about the group that produced such creative geniuses, Tim Burton answers, “It was a new thing, and because there was nothing else in the country, or the world, like it. So it just attracted the attention of people who couldn’t find outlets in any other way. It drew a certain kind of person in a particular moment in time. It’s hard otherwise to make any sense of it.”


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Few of the students had cars or other modes of transportation, but Selick “couldn’t bear to live in a dorm. I had already done that, you know, since I’d done undergraduate work. But it was hard to find housing anywhere in the area. So I ended up getting a room with a former Taiwanese general and his family who had emigrated to the U.S. and ran a bowling alley in South-Central L.A. The guy was pretty nice. He had a Vespa motor scooter, one of the classic ones. And I had no money, and he let me use that, you know, for nothing. So that was kind of cool.”


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Room A113 was where many of the Character Animation classes took place. “CalArts didn’t give us the best rooms of the house, shall we say,” recalls Beiman. “We used to joke that it was like the Haunted Mansion—it had no windows and no door. And you had buzzing fluorescent lights, and it was dead white inside. So to make it less depressing they put Xeroxes of Disney characters on the wall, but otherwise it was a pretty dreadful place.”


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Burton and Giaimo would do staring contests, Musker recalls. “They would sit there—I’m not kidding—for, like, two hours, not blinking. I remember we went to a party and somebody said, ‘Where’s Tim?,’ and someone said, ‘Tim’s in the closet.’ You’d open the closet and Tim would be sitting there, hunched over. You’d shut the door, and he’d be in there for a couple of hours and didn’t move at all. It was like an art statement, a funny performance piece.”


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Selick recalls Elmer Plummer as “a Disney guy who taught life drawing. And it was kind of funny. I mean, there’s all these students—99 percent guys, and all kids who’d never seen a nude woman in their lives. So, most of the models were females, and Elmer was pretty good at getting [the students] through the shock of it.” One of the bohemian girls from the art school volunteered to be a life model, and to torture the kind of nerdy, Star Trek-loving boy artists, she posed nude wearing a Mouseketeer hat.

But the teacher who made the biggest impact on that first cadre of CalArts students was Bill Moore, a design teacher who had come out of the Chouinard Art Institute. “Bill Moore,” says Selick, “was exceptional—a wake-up call, especially for some of the kids right out of high school. He was clearly gay, and this was a time when people from Iowa would say, ‘What the hell? What’s with that guy?’ And he was flamboyant.”

According to Giaimo, Moore had to be brought in kicking and screaming to teach at CalArts: “Why would I want to teach a bunch of kids whose only interest is in making Mickey’s tail wag? They don’t want to learn about design.”

Brad Bird comments that Ego from Ratatouille isn’t based on Moore, “although there are some similarities—the fear they inspire, their genuine love for art—but there is an animated character who actually was based on Bill Moore before Chouinard became CalArts: the tiny alien, the Great Gazoo, on The Flintstones. No kidding.”


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Everything led up to the day Disney executives would come to Valencia at the end of the school year to view student films and determine who would be hired.

One year, after the last name was called, the sound of muffled weeping was heard. No one dared turn around to see which of their classmates hadn’t made the cut. Pressure to catch the eye of Disney producers was intense because, as Giaimo and his classmates knew, “if you didn’t make it at Disney, you were stuck in Saturday-morning TV or a commercial house. If you missed out on the Disney boat, then there was really no way you could ply your craft. There were no other options for storytelling, for narrative animation.”


After being hired by Disney:

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Burton was doing remarkable work there, sealed off in a tiny room in the animation building. Remembers Brad Bird, who moved to Disney after two years at CalArts, “He did these amazing designs for Black Cauldron that were better than anything they had in the movie—he did these griffins that actually had claws for mouths, and they were really great and really scary, in the best way. But because they were unconventional, [the studio] ended up doing some half-assed dragon in the movie.”

Trousdale, who made it to the studio a few years later, agrees that Disney “didn’t know what the hell to do with Tim. They were scared of him. So they just stuck him into an office. That’s when he came up with the original ‘Frankenweenie,’ ” a film short in which a boy reanimates his dead dog.


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Selick also got into trouble working on The Fox and the Hound. “It’s hard to do four-legged animals that are pretty realistic,” he admits. “I just decided that I was going to do the feet and I left the head off. I animated the whole scene with a headless option,” he recalls with a laugh. “But Glen Keane was deeply upset. He said, ‘Please, animate with the head on from now on!’ ”

The new recruits were on fire and full of ideas, and management was wary. Bird felt that “you were kind of coached to take anything distinctive out of a scene. Jerry Rees did this wonderful walk that was a little bit stiff but full of life and very distinctive,” for the hunter in The Fox and the Hound. “They made him re-do that walk probably 8 to 10 times, and every time they told him to tone it down, tone it down, tone it down. He didn’t want to give them what they wanted, because what they wanted was not good.”

Bird feels that the best scene in The Fox and the Hound is the bear fight, mostly because “they ran out of time to screw it up. So all the young people who were still there—I was fired by that point for ‘rocking the boat’—got together and basically jammed on that sequence. John Musker took the hunter; Glen Keane did the bear. Suddenly, this film that’s just mildly pleasant—no real ups, no real downs, it kind of lithiums its way along—suddenly comes out of its mild coma and snaps to life. The camera angles get dramatic and the animation gets bigger and the drawings get really good and the light glints off the bear’s fur. The only reason it exists is that they didn’t have time to ruin it.”

When the film was finally completed, Bird noticed that one of the cameras was out of focus. “We were so mad at that point, we didn’t tell anybody. We just thought, Let’s see how long it takes them to notice. And guess what? It’s still out of focus. Probably a third of the movie is out of focus!”

Burton recalls, “All these people—Musker and Lasseter and Brad Bird and Jerry Rees—they were so ready and willing and able to just go, but it took years. The Little Mermaid, which was probably the first movie that really used people like Musker—that could have happened roughly 10 years earlier if the powers that be had been up for it! The Little Mermaid? It took forever to make that film.”


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What Burton found maddening about being at disney was that “they wanted artists but turned them into zombies on an assembly line.” He sometimes found solace hiding in a little coat closet in the office next to Keane’s: “So I opened the door and Tim would be in the closet looking at me,” Keane remembers. “And so I’d just take my coat off and put it on his head and shut the door and go in and work. At noon I’d come out and open the closet door and just take the coat off of Tim’s head—it was still there!” Burton was fired after he made his live-action short “Frankenweenie,” in 1984, because disney considered it too scary for children.


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