Saturday, 23 January 2016

Walt - The Man Behind The Myth

Walt - The Man Behind The Myth is a 90 minute documentary about the life of the legendary animator who is, more than any single individual, responsible for the medium that we work in today.  Why watch the documentary? Because it's important to know the history of our medium; we all stand on the shoulders of giants and no-one in our industry was bigger than Disney.  Watching documentaries like this one helps all of us to improve our own work, by taking inspiration from the pioneers of animation, such as Walt Disney and the incredibly talented team that he put together.

Walt Disney at PBS
PBS has recently broadcast a major new documentary on the life of one of the greatest Americans - Walt Disney.  If you missed the original broadcast you can now catch up at the PBS website here.

Walt Disney was essentially the founder of our industry, and the man who above all others defined the medium we work in today, turning animation into an artform.

Disney's methods have never been surpassed and even today animated films are still made essentially the same way he made them - though with more advanced technology.

The original animation bible
The knowledge of the Disney studio was first set out in detail in the 1970s in the book The Illusion of Life, by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnstone, two of Walt Disney's legendary "Nine Old Men".

This hefty book is the original "animation bible". The 1970s were a lean time for animation; by then Walt Disney was dead and the revival that would come with Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and The Little Mermaid (and, later, with 3D animation) was still far in the future.

Frank and Ollie were the top animators who had been with Disney since the early days of the studio and whose work had much to do with the development of the Disney style.

Between them they created some of the most memorable moments in Disney animation.

Frank Thomas (centre) and Ollie Johnstone (Right).
Image: Wikipedia
By the 1970s the two by now elderly animators were doing less animation, and focusing more on their new book.

Their big idea was to create a "bible" for future generations of animators, an authoritative reference work that would make sure that the craft of animation developed under Walt Disney's benign leadership would not disappear.

At the same time, they would tell the whole story of the Disney Studio, from its early beginnings through to its legendary successes.

The Illusion of Life is really two books in one. Around 10% of it is a manual of methods, a how-to guide for the aspiring animator and film-maker. The rest is the story of the Disney Studio - and a compelling story it is.  So good in fact, that it easily distracts the student from their purpose - to learn the nuts and bolts of animation.  You can easily get lost in the story, and forget that your main goal is to learn the craft.

Many years ago, I took my copy of the book to a photocopier and copied all the bits that were relevant to the actual study of animation - the nuts and bolts, as it were -  so that I would not get distracted by the rest.

I then bound it all together in a new book, around 10% the size of the original.  It worked, but the original book is still a much more beautiful thing to read and enjoy.

Like The Animator's Survival Kit, The Illusion of Life is a book that should be on every animator's book shelf.


To see more posts about the history of animation, including links to some excellent free documentaries at YouTube, follow this link.

The Escape Studios Animation Blog offers a personal view on the art of animation and visual effects. To apply for our new BA/MA starting in September 2016, follow this link

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