Andreas Deja has a recent post which begins with Cruella de Vil in bed, in curlers, reading the newspaper. She is annoyed by a phone call from Jasper, one of her henchman. Andreas reports her half of the conversation, “‘Jasper!’ she pauses in anger, then ‘Jasper, you idiot!’”
Andreas, finishing up his comment on Marc Davis‘ beautiful animation, writes,”Everything is top notch here, her body composition, wonderful grotesque expressions – those cheekbones are priceless – and of course subtle, controlled animation.
Modern animation as good as it gets.”
That last phrase really got me thinking, “Modern animation as good as it gets.” How astute of him. It’s something I’d thought about before, but here it’s actually articulated by Mr. Deja, one of the most important of the 2D feature film animators. (To me, he’s probably the finest of all current animators.)
I’d placed the break in animation from Richard Williams onward. Dick had studied all the masters, imitated and reworked many of their best moves. He turned his thriving studio in the seventies and eighties into the pinnacle of the medium, teaching animation to many gifted artists and producing commercials, predominantly, had trained a small army to go out into the world and make good, strong theatrical style animation of the highest caliber. Rules were reworked and made to work to get the richest form of the medium.
Animation was reborn in the style of Richard Williams and his influences such as Art Babbitt, Ken Harris. and Milt Kahl.
Hans Perk on his blog, A Film LA, publishes the drafts of the animators working on the Disney features allowing us to know who did what scenes. These are usually very informative. Hans recently completed posting the drafts to Lady and the Tramp. In among these drafts, Hans made this comment:
Again, very serviceable animators, no masterpieces…
I like the CinemaScope note for sc. 28: “Lady will have to be alive throughout scene.”
Then if you notice other scenes on this page there are some that dictate “held cels” of other characters to the left or right of screen. They were certainly trying to control the animation for the wide, Cinemascope screen. See if you can find a note like that on any feature done today. See if you can find ANYTHING held on any feature done today.
Of course, I’m talking principally of 2D animation – Disney (or Dreamworks) 2D features.
Andreas is writing about animation features done from Cinderella forward. I believe he’s considering the changes that the live action reference work to make Cinderella, Alice and Peter Pan led to Sleeping Beauty and later films. 101 Dalmatians was the big change with the human animation, led by Milt Kahl, Marc Davis, and to a great extent Frank Thomas.
This was the big change. This was the model followed by animators that came after the “Nine old men.” With a couple of films, such as Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, a cartooning style entered the work and stayed there. The genie in Aladdin almost turns that film into a reworked Warner Bros cartoon. But a couple of the animators: Andreas Deja, Glen Keane, Mark Henn, Duncan Marjoribanks, Ruben Aquino and several other prominent among this generation went directly to the Milt Kahl model. Interestingly, this is also Dick Williams‘ model.
Of course, Milt Kahl is perfect to place at the center as an ideal.
Just as Snow White and Pinocchio were a step up from the Silly Symphonies, so too, 101 Dalmatians and Sword In The Stone were a step up from Cinderella and Peter Pan. Tarzan, The Lion King, and The Prince of Egypt were remarkable changes from The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin.
Given the work on Lilo and Stitch, Mulan, Spirit and several of the later features, it seems like a major change – a new growth period was due. Yet it was cut short by the financial success of some of the cgi features. 2D animation stopped.
Modern animation was stilled for the moment.