Thursday, February 26, 2009

Walt Stanchfield's "Drawn to Life"

Walt Stanchfield is one of the greatest unknown talents that has ever graced the halls of Disney Feature Animation. He spent many years as an animator and assistant animator at Disney but his greatest contribution was perhaps as a teacher of gesture drawing. For many years he taught an after-hours drawing class at Disney, and he regularly typed up drawing handouts that he would distribute to the studio, full of wonderful thoughts about drawing and great illustrations to clarify the principles he was demonstrating.

Now those handouts are collected in a new two-volume set of books that is due to be released soon. Legendary Disney Producer and Animation Author Don Hahn recently e-mailed me a few pages to give people an idea of what the book is going to be like, and you can view a trailer about the book at

Believe me when I say that at $20 each (that's the price quoted on Amazon), these two volumes are an amazing deal. Between the two books are over 800 pages of indispensable information. When Walt was at the Studio I made sure to get a copy of his handouts every week and studied them religiously. I am sure some people will lament the fact that they never got to attend his class in person - which was an amazing experience - but frankly I got more out of reading his handouts than I did out of attending his class. The pressure of Walt pacing behind me as I was trying to draw was unnerving and enough to drive me to distraction! So it was always hard for me to really appreciate what he was saying as he would lean over and draw on my paper to make some point. I got much more out of being able to read his handouts later at my own pace (also I was very young back when I would go to his class and my inexperience at drawing made it all the more difficult to absorb his amazing pearls of wisdom).

In any case I still have all of my handouts from those days and they are still an amazing resource. In addition to all of the great practical advice he would give us about drawing, Walt spent a lot of time in those handouts just finding different ways of encouraging us as artists. Walt knew that being an artist at Disney was a tough job and that it was hard for many of us to have confidence in our work. In every handout he would try to find different ways of encouraging us to remain inspired and to believe in ourselves. Also he knew that drawing at Disney for a living should be a fun job but that all too frequently it wasn't. He always encouraged us to find joy in our work and not to take it (or ourselves) too seriously.

Anyway I don't know what else to say to convince all of you to buy these books if you are interested in drawing or animation (Walt's great advice on posing characters should prove invaluable for 3D animators as well as 2D artists of every kind).

According to Don, the books will be available in stores on March 27th and according to Amazon they will be available from them in early April (amazon links here and here). Here is some more information about the books from Don Hahn himself:

Animator Walt Stanchfield (1919-2000) distinguished himself with a long career at Hollywood?s top animation studios, but his greatest legacy to the film industry is the torch of knowledge that he passed on to a new generation of filmmakers. His profound yet accessible writings helped breathe life into the new golden age of animation in the 1970s, 80s and 90s at the Disney Animation Studios by influencing such talented artists as Brad Bird, Tim Burton, Glen Keane and John Lasseter.

Published for the first time ever, Drawn to Life is an 800 page, two-volume collection of Stanchfield?s insightful musings, which encompass direct instruction in animation along with a good dose of general life observations. Edited by Academy Award® nominated producer Don Hahn, Walt?s notes represent the quintessential refresher for fine artists and film professionals, and it is a vital tutorial for students who are now poised to be part of another new generation in the art form.

One of the most successful producers working in Hollywood today, Don Hahn has been working creatively as a filmmaker at The Walt Disney Studios for over 30 years.

Hahn produced the classic Beauty and the Beast, which became the first animated film to receive a Best Picture nomination from the Motion Picture Academy. His next film, The Lion King, broke box-office records all over the world to become the top-grossing traditionally animated film in Disney history and a long-running blockbuster Broadway musical. Hahn also served as associate producer on the landmark motion picture Who Framed Roger Rabbit. His other films include The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and the 2006 short, The Little Matchgirl which earned Hahn his second Oscar nomination.

He is currently developing the stop-motion animated feature Frankenweenie with director Tim Burton, and directing and producing several documentary projects. Hahn has also authored three books on the art of animation, including the 2008 book, The Alchemy of Animation, which provides the definitive account of how animated films are created in the modern age.

And here is a sampling of pages from the book.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

(Just a Little Bit) More Flat and Deep

Okay, I apologize for the delay in posting, and also for continuing to harp on this same thin topic....I wrote all of these related posts in one flurry of inspiration one day and this is the last one on this subject; just a bunch of random leftover thoughts on the subject at hand. Some more variations and examples of what we've been talking about: dark palettes, light palettes, flat space and deep space and how it influences humor and drama.

"The Royal Tanenbaums" and "Rushmore" are interesting examples because they both have deep, warm, rich palettes that tend to be darker, and yet the staging in both films is very flat and symmetrical. So the palette tends to lean towards a more serious tone but the staging is more indicative of a comedy. This is actually exactly how the tone of both films come across: they are comedies but not laugh-out-loud comedies, the humor tends to be very wry and both films have a dark twist to them. So both the writing and visual style complement each other to create a tone that is distinct to Wes Anderson's films, and the tone and flatness complement each other to create a mood that is not 100% comedic but is not 100% heavily dramatic either.

In both of these films a lot of the actors tend to face either flat-on to camera or in profile for their scenes. This enhances the flat feel of each frame, as does the way that the background elements tend to be flat-on to camera plane. Also the actors in his films always seem to have very restrained, subdued performances which enhances the feeling of flatness.

I like the new book about Al Jaffee's "Tall Tales". It's full of great strips. I like how, even when the background has some depth to it, the characters are unaffected by the perspective. The characters are always flat-on to the viewer. So even when he needs to indicate depth and perspective to convey an idea, the flatness of the characters clue you in that it's supposed to be funny.

A great page by Franquin from a Spirou book - a good example of how a fight can be treated in a comedic way. The bright colors and funny poses make sure you know it's not a serious fight where anyone could get hurt. Also the staging is really flat - he even used the bottom of the frame as the floor so there's no depth on the ground plane.

For contrast, a fight with depth and dark tones, and no bright colors. A fight that feels serious, where you feel like someone could get hurt or die, as opposed to the fight above, which felt much more comic, and like nobody could really get hurt.

Obviously in the example above, the realistic treatment of figures and space add to the feeling of drama and threat, but even if you're dealing with characters that are cartoony, just adding depth to the backgrounds and darkening the tones and colors will convey a more dramatic and emotionally heightened mood.

Again, I am sorry for belaboring this topic for so long...I know it has probably overstayed it's welcome and grown tedious! I will do my best to come up with something more interesting in the very near future!