With DreamWorks Animation opening Megamind today, and Sony Pictures Animation just naming a new president, and Walt Disney Studios releasing Tangled shortly, and Universal/Illumination sending Despicable Me overseas, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences enforcing a November 1st deadline for 2010 Best Animated feature entries, it’s more relevant than ever to spotlight a letter written by Walt Disney in 1935 about the business of toon storytelling. The Drawn Blog (described as a daily source of inspiration for illustration, animation, cartooning, and comic art) recently drew attention to an 8-page Walt memo to Don Graham, a highly respected art teacher, about setting up art classes for Disney animators that would become the studio’s structured training program. That gave birth to the Golden Age of Animation, what with Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs released in 1937, and Pinocchio and Fantasia in 1940.
The full memo is posted on the website, but I felt it was important to repeat it here as well. Because today’s toonmakers who place relentless hipness over emotional substance would do well to remember Walt’s words, especially about animation laughs: “Comedy, to be appreciated, must have contact with the audience. This we all know, but sometimes forget. By contact, I mean that there must be a familiar, sub-conscious association. Somewhere, or at some time, the audience has felt, or met with, or seen, or dreamt, the situation pictured. A study of the best gags and audience reaction we have had, will prove that the action or situation is something based on an imaginative experience or a direct life connection. This is what I mean by contact with the audience. When the action or the business loses its contact, it becomes silly and meaningless to the audience.”
WALT DISNEY PRODUCTIONS
DATE DECEMBER 23, 1935
TO DON GRAHAM
Right after the holidays, I want to get together with you and work out a very systematic training course for young animators, and also outline a plan of approach for our older animators.
Some of our established animators at the present time are lacking in many things, and I think we should arrange a series of courses to enable these men to learn and acquire the things they lack.
Naturally the first most important thing for any animator to know is how to draw. Therefore it will be necessary that we have a good life drawing class. But you must remember Don, that while there are many men who make a good showing in the drawing class, and who, from your angle, seem good prospects – these very men lack in some other phase of the business that is very essential to their success as animators.
I have found that men respond much more readily to classes dealing with practical problems than to more theoretic treatment. Therefore I think it would be a very good idea to appeal to these men by conducting these classes with the practical approach in mind. In other words, try to show in these classes that the men can make immediate practical application of what they are being taught.
The talks given by Fergy, Fred Moore, Ham Luske, and Fred Spencer, have been enthusiastically received by all those in attendance. Immediately following these talks, I have noticed a great change in animation. Some men have made close to 100% improvement in the handling and timing of their work. This strikes me as pointing a way toward the proper method of teaching in the future.
The following occurs to me as a method of procedure:
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