... now go all the way.
I knew I couldn’t stay at Filmation. I lasted three years. My work there was not classical animation. So, I quit.
I called John Lounsbury at the studio. “I’m back.” I said. I’ve been back for a while but I would like to come and work at the studio.”
I could feel him smile through the phone. “Why don’t you come in and take an animation test.” I did.
The test consisted of sitting in a room with paper and pencil and animating.
“Anything you want, just animate and we’ll come back and take a look at it.”
I kept that up for two weeks and finally “they” did come back.
“OK, you’re an animator.”
I had an office and a desk and my first project, Robin Hood. I remember thinking, “I’m one of them, and now it’s my job to make the magic.” I was excited.
John Lounsbury was pleased that I had returned. One day he said to me.
“Don… why did you leave, you were such a fool, You could have had anything you wanted here”
“I had to go” I responded. “I needed to do what I did. I’ve learned a lot and I will be a better animator.”
That was 1971. Walt had been gone for a few years and a man named Woolie Reitherman was the new director of animation. He was a tall man, probably in his late sixties with an athletic built. He had been a World War II fighter pilot and his face was like leather. He was tough and I was afraid of him.
It was his job to critique every scene we animated. It was called the “sweat box meeting.”
I remember clearly bringing him the scene from Robin Hood where he ascends the castle wall and enters Prince John’s room. Wooley gathered several animators around (that was the usual protocol) put the scene on the moviola and ran it several times. Then he turned to me and in front of everyone, said.
“This is very disappointing Don, I expected so much more of you. You can do better than this.”
I thought "Wow…."
I started paying more attention. I thought of half baked, luke warm mission attempt to full mission attempt, then half baked, luke warm animation attempt… now go all the way. I started really analyzing action. I began to understanding what acting was and the importance it played in the performance. I immersed myself completely in the job of what it means to become an animator, to bring to life characters that spring from imagination.
John was smiling in the background. He knew very well the journey I was on. He himself had traveled that journey. Whenever I had problems I would go to John. He was a good teacher. I would say, “John could you just show me how to make this work”
and he would say…
“ Oh no, no, no… you know how to make it work. You know how to do what you are asking me to do… Go do it.”
Basically he threw me into the water and said
He let go of the bike. To this day I try to emulate John’s style of animating. There was a certain look about his work and a freedom about the way he expressed his characters that I am very attracted to. It’s beautiful to look at.
Another man who was my mentor was Frank Thomas. He was one of the best animators Disney ever had. One of his most famous scenes was Bambi and Thumper on the ice. Walt didn’t think it would work but Frank animated it and created all the clever details like the thumping, and when Walt saw it he was delighted.
Frank was a pro at analyzing the characters. He wanted to know how much the fox in Robin Hood weighed, what his energy level was and what he was thinking. He turned me on to the idea that characters must have thoughts in their heads. They are not just moving around the page. Their actions spring from thoughts.
Other mentors were Ollie Johnston who animated Prince John and Marc Davis who animated Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. Marc was a master of the human figure, not just proportion but movement. Once again it was all generated by thought, not from the animator but from the character. The expressions on Sleeping Beauty’s face mirror her thoughts. That's very entertaining. It makes the characters believable.
Woolie taught me one other thing that has served me well. One day he called me into his office and said,
“You know what you are going to end up doing here at the studio is directing. You can be a very fine animator, no problem with that, but someone has to direct. I’m a director and I want to train you to be a director.”
He took a special interest in me.
“You won’t have any friends, he said. You can not be friends with the people you direct. You can’t critique them if you try. You must be strict or they won’t improve.” His behavior began to make sense.
I did finally see his softer side. I was at his house for dinner, no one was ever invited to Wooley’s house, when he walked into the room cradling a baby fox in his arms. I watched this big stern fighter pilot pet this little fox and change right in front of me into something that was soft and human. I thought no one at the studio really knows who this man is. What a lonely position he must be in.
I have come to understand that to be the director is very lonely. You can’t be soft, you can’t be social, or sweet or conversant and at the same time discipline people. Somebody gets to be the hard guy. I drew the straw.
Last edited by Suzanne Robertson; 04-23-2011 at 01:21 PM.
Great story this helps me enormously thankyou
Andrew, in what way does this help you?
Hi Sung I found it very inspiring especiallly the part about Woolie Reitman expecting more and Don's big push to improve. It helps motivate me to do better work before i joined the site I think i was content with mediocer animation but Ive learnt alot since joining, and am very thankful for that.
I agree. It is up to us to find out what makes things work. We can't always rely on our mentors to fix our artistic mistakes. Otherwise we won't grow.
so encouraging story and once again got some valuable information...what i got from it...everyone has to face some difficulties and has to overcome by his own........it is the method `By doing it own`...with the help of the mentors....but, passion should be there..like Don....
Thank you Suzanne once again for sharing this..
Thanks so much Suzanne. I hope you continue to write these great articles. John L. was an animator at Disney that isn't spoken very much of compared to Milt, Marc and Frank and Ollie. It was good to hear more about him and his influence in Don's animation.