I am a fan of the work of John Ford. If I’m caught catching a minute of one of his films, you’ll see me stay through to the end. Likewise I have almost as great a respect for the animation design work of Maurice Noble.
It never fails. I get to the point where I’ve just about run out of hope for animation, and I feel like the greatest pessimist in the world. When I say “animation,” I mean 2D. Every frame is controlled by one person. The rest – cgi – is, to me a graphic effect, electronic puppetry. I’m certainly not talking about the overacted cg action you see in most films done today. Most animation to me, these days, is something that’s done in a computer by teams of people, and isn’t wholly designed as “personal.” There are, of course, the exceptions. When something like THE LIFE OF PI shows up, it feels like magic; the magic you expect of great animation.
There’s just too much of everything in most current animation; even the flash Mickey Mouse spots go too fast with their Zips, Pans, Takes; the simplest move seems to go over the edge. Gestures are bigger than they need be, actions are over the top, dialogue is too loud and frenzied unless it wants to be quiet – then, it really is dead. The animator became that big red button they have at “Staples.” You press it and the client can fix what he has to – his way. The poetry has vanished from the art form when this animation begins. Too bad there’s no personality in those big red buttons.
John Ford made some of the most beautiful movies we have on film. Many of these are Westerns, Westerns which notably featured some of the most extraordinary, natural land masses photographed. The incredible buttes and sights appear in the Arizona Desert, called “The Painted Desert”, and whether they were shot in the glorious golds, violets and other colors or even shot in B&W they add extraordinary sights to these films. If they weren’t already there, constructed and painted by some god, Ford would have had to have a mass of people construct these images.
Working to a better advantage is the art director Maurice Noble who created his original version of the “Painted Desert” mostly out of his own imagination. I suspect he and a couple of other artists were all it took to develop these animated scenics: far fewer people and a lot less time.
As I said, Noble’s desert was original, a recreation of the actual “Painted Dessert” but one that developed out of Noble’s imagination. These are almost as beautiful as the real thing, in that “design-y” way Noble’s art had.
So here we have two film plans. Elaborate impersonal scenery that was designed by Mother Nature, vs the personal designs delicately designed by Maurice Noble. Both are very different but have similar effects on the films they inhabited. A personal world Ford shares with us and another that Noble constructs for the backdrops of the Coyote and Road Runner. Both set designs are larger than life and full of that very-same-life. It’s in gloriously wonderful color (even thoughmany of these sets were shot in B&W) it’s just the beginning of the strength of these films. We’ll look further to see what more has been offerred to us in their films.