“Animators are really actors and actresses with pencils. Their stage is a blank piece of paper, and their performance must not only make a character move, but also bring that character to life.”
I came across this quote recently and was reminded of why I love animation so much and in particular, the animation that came out of the Disney Animation Studio. It’s taken from a general information document on applying to be a Disney animator. If you’ve ever seen animators sketch or illustrate, you know that they’ve achieved an acute level of control in their craft. It really is an amazing thing to witness. They are very precise and are able to convey movement, expressions and enough detail with simple line work. As the predominant character motion is locked in, the animator’s drawings get further refined.
Whenever I think about traditional hand-drawn animation, I marvel at the work involved and the inception of the craft. Walt Disney and his animators were creating something amazing. They were spearheading a new frontier in the world of film which itself was still new. Mickey Mouse was introduced in 1928, just over a decade since the birth of the film industry in California. The films that would follow would set a new benchmark that other companies would never match. They were the masters of animation. I read somewhere that over 300,000 drawings were used for Pinocchio. For every second of film that passes, 24 drawings have elapsed on screen. This includes the drawings and paintings of the characters and the background paintings. When you stop to think about this, it really is astounding.
The great artists, sculptors, and architects from the Gothic, Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque traditions had their time in the sun and left the world masterpieces to be revered for thousands of years. With animation though, something new was born. For the first time ever, a select group of artists began to develop something the world had never seen; living drawings. Through the guiding hand of Walt Disney and his core animators, the “9 old men,” the world witnessed still drawings come to life. This was their craft and they developed it to lofty heights.
Animation was done so skillfully that in real time, you couldn’t even see the inner workings that made these drawings come to life. On screen, characters convey movement, emotion, comedy, and drama. Because they were only limited to their imagination and the skills attained over the years, they were also able to make these characters defy the laws of physics and used this to deliver comedic gags and give human-like qualities to animals. Remember, 24 drawings for every second. The High Renaissance of the 1500’s in Italy might have had the “Masters” but for about 50 years in the 20th century, we had Walt Disney and the 9 old men of Burbank, California.