So every time I post drawings by Milt Kahl people always ask for more. People respond to Milt's drawings in a similar way to the way they react to Freddy Moore drawings. Why is this? Why don't people feel the same way about Ollie Johnston drawings, or Frank Thomas drawings?
Of course everyone always says Milt was a great draftsman. This is undeniably true. He could draw anything solidly and convincingly. But I think that's only part of the answer. A big part of what we think of as being a "great draftsman" is being a great designer.
Anytime people are "struck" by something - be it the work of a particular artist, or a corporate logo, or a Japanese cartoon character - it's a safe bet that good design is at work. It's hard to define what "good design" is, exactly, but we know it when we see it and it has a deep visceral impact. As you look at these Milt drawings, analyze them with these concpets in mind and see how these are reflected in his work:
Small, Medium and Large shapes
variety of shape - square, circular, triangular
Straights against curves
One side of the figure "squashes" while one side "stretches"
Line of Action
Tilts and Twists within the figure
Weight and Balance
Definite changes of direction - well defined "planes" on the surface of the figure
Surface lines wrap around the form
And so on...obviously there's a lot going on here. What I'm trying to get you to do is not just admire it. Get something out of it.
Click to make these bigger.
But Milt's drawings were never meant to be seen and admired as individual drawings, were they? They aren't drawings for their own sake. They are animation drawings which means that they are part of a scene. They are intended to be seen in sequence with other drawings to put over an idea - a piece of acting or action to help tell a larger story.
Most of what we know of Milt's work and think of as his signature stuff is from his later years. I can only assume that this is because there were no xerox machines before then. Now we know his later stuff because people would xerox his drawings and then they spread far and wide. But it's really too bad that we don't have more access to his early work - particularly I think of scenes that I know he did on "Pinocchio" and "Lady and the Tramp".
I would contend that Milt's animation was actually better back at that time.
Personally, I prefer actors who "disappear" into their roles. I don't like being aware that I'm watching a specific actor - it takes me out of the movie. And to me, Milt, in his later years, didn't "disappear" into his roles. His technique began to stick out. Any first year animation student can watch "Robin Hood" and crow "Hey, that's a Milt scene!". But is that a good thing? Isn't that distracting from the overall story? And the believeability of "the illusion of life"? Animators like Frank, Ollie, Eric Larson and others were always good at animating in a way that put over the performance without you feeling the animator's hand at work so much. Personally I find that kind of animation more compelling and I think it serves the story and characters better.
There's no doubt that Milt was the greatest technical animator that ever lived. Without question, an amazing draftsman. But I suspect that, as Milt grew less and less interested in the Disney films (after "Jungle Book") he grew less interested in the characters and story and became more interested in the idea of doing each scene in a way that he found personally satisfying. Shere Kahn is the first character Milt did that begins to have so much "Miltness" to it that it stands out (or, arguably, his characters on "Sword in the Stone"). And he went on record several times saying that he wasn't that interested in the films made after Walt's death. So it's a safe assumption that he became more interested in the perfection of his own scenes than in working with other animators to create a seamless performance and a unified film.
Just my opinion, of course. To me a great drawing is a nice thing, of course, but an animation drawing or story sketch is only as "good" as the idea it's meant to communicate, and the extent to which it actually communicates. Good stories and performances are made up of good ideas. Good drawings are secondary to the idea.
Many of you may disagree. That's what the comments section is for, go to it.
Lots more Milt stuff to scan, all from the collection of Mike Gabriel, who let me copy his stack of Milt stuff. Thanks, Mike!!!