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"The Marc Davis Lecture on Animation" - Part Two

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Andreas Deja, the marvelous contemporary animator who has breathed life into so many contemporary Disney characters like Gaston in "Beauty and the Beast," Jafar in "Aladdin," the title character in "Hercules," and even Mickey Mouse in "Prince and the Pauper" and "Runaway Brain" - was next to speak.

Over the years, Andreas had the chance to meet most of the Nine Old Men. "What struck me as being really interesting was how so incredibly different they are from each other." He quickly compared the philosophies of the men he had met: Eric Larson was very high on passing on Walt's philosophy, and his sense for entertaining; Frank and Ollie would say repeatedly that your work has to be sincere and genuine; Ward Kimball would always encourage young animators to do things differently, to experiment, and not repeat what had already been done; And Milt Kahl, Andreas remarked, "would say 'Oh, hell - you just do it!' And that was helpful - to a point."

When Andreas asked Marc Davis about his approach to the craft, he would always get back to the same thing - you have to know your subject matter. Before you start animating, find out all about what you're dealing with. Study the anatomy, bone structure, behavior of your subject. Even a character like Mickey Mouse has a structure that has to be respected. His face, his hands, his elbows, you have to respect that he has a structure you have to work with.

During his lecture, Andreas illustrated his words with countless original animation drawings and model sheets Marc had done, giving very specific examples of what made his characters unique.

Andreas' lecture was a bit long and more detail oriented than the average Disney fan needed to hear, and he was sometimes a bit difficult to understand. But he showed great enthusiasm for Marc's work, and gave a marvelously thorough look into his animation artistry and technique.

One of the things Andreas touched on was how well Marc handled projects such as "Bambi," where there were very realistic looking animals, but with very human emotions - and characters in such films as "Song of the South," which were much more human in appearance, but had animal characteristics. He illustrated this with sketches from both films: drawings showing the human emotions captured in the face of young Bambi, yet he remained very realistic as a deer; and sketches of Brer Fox, looking very human - standing up-right, and having "hands" instead of paws - yet having many of the characteristics of a fox.

Andreas pointed out that because Marc was "cast" as an animator of humans (especially women) repeatedly, "he lost out on some of the animal pictures. He didn't work on 'Dumbo,' or 'Jungle Book,' and sometimes I wonder what kind of a touch he would have brought to those films."

Andreas showed many of the character sheets Marc designed for the character of Cinderella. It is very remarkable, Andreas pointed out, how the face of Cinderella was always "on model" - her look remained constant throughout the film - and how difficult that is to do when more than one person is animating a particular character. "Sometimes you had six versions of a character in one film," he said. Walt Disney himself had remarked that he could spot six different Pinocchios. But that wasn't true for Cinderella, as Andreas explained.

Andreas also displayed Marc's sketches from "Alice in Wonderland," "Peter Pan" and "Sleeping Beauty" - showing the incredible attention to detail he put into each drawing. There were studies into Alice's eyelashes, and how they moved. Character sheets of all the emotions Tinkerbell could express with just her face and body language. Incredible drawings of how the curls in Aurora's hair moved when she danced. And profiles of Maleficent from angles that Andreas remarked are very difficult to do.

Marc's drawings for the characters in "101 Dalmatians" are actually on the screen, Andreas reminded, because of the Xerography process. The original animator's drawings were Xeroxed onto cels (rather than inked) "...And that's what you see on the screen. So they have a bit more life within the line, than the inked pictures."

Cruella DeVil was animated exclusively by Marc throughout the film. We were treated to a wild surreal series of animation drawings he had done of her throwing a bottle of booze into a burning fireplace - practically frame by frame. The fury captured in her face is incredible, with great detail - and it all goes by in a few seconds on screen.

"Chanticleer" was an animated feature Marc Davis was developing at Disney that never materialized. The story revolved around a Rooster, and Marc developed a lot of chickens and roosters as characters, producing many drawings - some of which the audience got to see. It was obvious that some of Marc's research for this project influenced his designs for the "Gospel Chickens" that sang in the Disneyland attraction America Sings - and have now been moved on board the "Zip-a-Dee Lady" in Splash Mountain.

Andreas then brought up Marc's drawing for Pirates of the Caribbean of the dog taunting the prisoners with the key to their cell - which we had seen earlier in the video tribute. "This, by the way, was just ripped off by Universal for a theme park in Florida... well, at least they ripped off something good," Andreas remarked. [He failed to consider that the attraction in question could have been overseen by one of the next panelists, Gary Goddard.]

The last of Marc Davis' work Andreas displayed was some of his fine Art, many of the pieces having been recently at the Larry Smith Fine Arts Gallery - and some of which were in the lobby of the Academy that evening.

Concluding his lecture, Andreas said "Personally, I'm very grateful to Walt that he asked Frank Thomas and Milt Kahl to turn Marc into an animator, because - what an animator he became. And what a great inspiration to, not just myself, but to I think generations of animators to come."

Once again, clips from several of Marc's films were then shown - Tinkerbell's arrival in "Peter Pan," Brer Bear and Brer Fox making the Tar Baby in "Song of the South," Maleficent's first appearance in "Sleeping Beauty," and Cruella DeVil's dramatic entrance in "101 Dalmatians." With Andreas' lecture fresh in the audience's mind, the clips further illustrated Marc's work in creating the characters in each of the films.

Leonard Maltin returned to the stage and began introducing the guests for the next panel: Charles Solomon, author of many books about animation, including "Enchanted Drawings" and "The Disney that Never Was" (which I highly recommend), and who was instrumental in organizing the event itself; Bob Kurtz, who was a friend and student of Marc's, and has created countless commercials, theatrical trailers, and special animated sequences in films such as the Mr. DNA animation in "Jurassic Park," Tim Matheson's animated acid trip in "A Very Brady Sequel," and the titles for "George of the Jungle" and "Honey I Blew Up the Kid"; and Gary Goddard, who worked at Imagineering with Marc Davis creating design concepts for EPCOT, and went on to form Landmark Entertainment, which created theme park attractions for places such as Universal Studios Hollywood and Florida, and Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.

Leonard then introduced the next 3 guests together, calling them "Today's equivalent of the 9 Old Men": Tom Sito, Glen Keane and Eric Goldberg. Tom Sito, a 24 year animation veteran, has worked on "Beauty and the Beast," "The Lion King," "Roger Rabbit," "Prince of Egypt," "ANTZ," and the upcoming "Osmosis Jones." Glen Keane animated the Beast in "Beauty and the Beast," Aladdin" in "Aladdin," and Tarzan in "Tarzan." He is currently animating Long John Silver in "Treasure Planet." Eric Goldberg animated the Genie in "Aladdin," Phil in "Hercules," and directed "Pocahontas" and the Rhapsody in Blue segment of "Fantasia 2000."

Gary Goddard was 19 years old when he first met Marc Davis, and was given a tour of Imagineering (or WED as it was called at the time). Marc took the time to show him the plans and models for the Western River Expedition attraction for Walt Disney World - an attraction that never materialized. "He took me through the entire ride, through every single scene. That day, I didn't realize it, but I was getting this incredible education on how you do a ride - how you stage it - from a guy who was a master at staging." [For an in-depth look at this attraction and what it could have been like, check out Jim Hill's thorough article.]

"And I remember, he said, 'you know, this is phase II of Walt Disney World, so it won't be there when we open.' Unfortunately, it never got built. But that's how I met Marc. And four or five years later, he would be the guy to hire me to work at Imagineering."

"Even to this day, there are really no books you can buy on how to design theme parks. It was an oral tradition then, and we're still in the oral tradition. The only way you learn those things is you get with guys like Marc, and you listen, and you soak up things, and you look at how they draw, how they stage it and how they do things. That's kinda how you learn. And to this day that's how it's done."

Charles Solomon met Marc in 1979 while doing an article on Disney Villianesses. He felt he was kind of "adopted" by Marc and Alice, and visited their home often. "I think Marc is one of those people that I never saw a drawing of his I didn't really want," he said

Glen Keane agreed, remarking that he was jealous of Andreas for having obtained all the artwork he showed during his earlier lecture. "Andreas, I want to get some of those drawings! Actually, after looking at that stuff, I just want to go back to work and redo everything I drew up to today!"

Glen vividly described his first experience with when he was 6 or 7 years old - which was also his first look at Marc Davis' work. "My mom and dad took us - a family of 5 kids - to see an animated movie. This is the true test of any film - these guys labored for 4 years making this thing, and you want to present it to the audience in the best condition possible. So, let's look at it in a drive in Movie Theater! We're all in this car, and I'm sitting crunched between my sister and my brother and other brother in front, and another brother, and my mom and dad - and the windshield is all fogged, and we have a lousy speaker going HISSSSSS! ...And then Cruella just came on. She was as real as any character as I have ever seen in my whole life. She wasn't animated - I never even thought that you simply drew that. She was real."

15 years later, Glen was on a soundstage where Marc was teaching. "He would do these figure drawings, and was teaching us how to analyze. And the thing I remember is he'd say, ' - And again.' And then he'd say whatever he had just said. And he'd say, ' - And again.' And then he'd say whatever he had just said! And I can't remember what it was that he said!"

"Here was a guy who was an artist - and I wanted to be that. And finally getting a chance to go to France on sabbatical, and going to Africa for 'Tarzan,' I got a chance to live out that dream of being like Marc Davis, trying to approach my craft as an art."

Bob Kurtz took a life drawing class from Marc at the Chouinard Art Institute. He later became his friend and mentor. "Whenever you were with Marc, you were stimulated. He had taste in everything. Whenever we came over, he'd love to make vodka martinis for us. And he would take 15 minutes. I don't know what he did with those things. He'd be stirring, I'd be trying to look around - I don't know if he had a magic sauce or what. But everything in his life always had perfection. It was style."

Tom Sito met Marc at a film festival in France in 1987, and hit it off with him when they realized they had both been assistants to the same animator - but almost 40 years apart. "Marc mentioned that he had assisted Grim Natwick on 'Snow White' in 1937. And thanks to Richard Williams, I had assisted Grim Natwick in 1976 [on 'Raggedy Ann and Andy,' a film I adore] when he was 87 and I was 19. So we were both Grim Natwick assistants."

Marc told Tom "'Grim not only helped me learn how to animate, but he also helped me learn how to live.' For animation folks, we're so in love with the art of animation, we eat, sleep, sweat it - that's all we want to do. We watch animated films. And Marc is one of those sort of artists who pointed a direction saying that being able to animate is not enough. You have to bring things from other places... Bringing all sorts of things into your artwork." Marc's fondness of animals, his love of the art of New Guinea, his love of travel - all helped him grow as an artist. "I think that's a great sort of example to sort of give to artists of generations afterwards - and is a great inspiration."

Leonard Maltin added that this also a criticism with some young film directors. "All they know about is film. They've studied it, they've gone to schools - but they haven't lived any life to bring into their movies."

Tom Sito elaborated further - remarking that a true artist never stops learning. "A lot of the top artists are not above grabbing the newsprint pads and getting in front of a model again or going down to the zoo and drawing. And this is something that younger artists need to hear over and over again. People like Marc show the way that the best artists never really stop being students."

Charles agreed. "Marc never stopped drawing. As long as I knew him, he would watch TV with a sketch pad and draw the animals the he'd see on the Nature Channel."

Eric Goldberg explained how much he appreciated the humor in Marc's work, and what it achieved through movement in that humor. Tinkerbell was his example. "She's become more of a corporate symbol in latter day, but if you look at the original movie, she's charming as all get out - but, you know what? She's not very nice in the movie! And does horrible despicable things to Wendy out of jealousy. And what Marc manages to do in the animation is make her completely charming when she's doing them. Peter will accuse her and say 'you just tried to kill Wendy!' And she'll walk away, completely in pantomime, with a gesture of 'oh really, have I? How about that.' And bereft of dialogue completely - and you buy this character, hook, line and sinker. Absolutely wonderful. And I think the more we can invest our characters with real depth - even comedic depth - the better off we'll be."

Just before the evening ended, Leonard said "I don't think we could stress enough - I hope you will join me in this sentiment - that Marc drew a lot of inspiration from his relationship with his wife. Any good marriage is a partnership. You give to each other, you take good things from each other - but theirs was unusually close knit - and special. Not for anything were they called the Siamese Twins. And as we are starting to wind down this evening I would like to pay special recognition to Alice Davis." At which point the audience honored Alice with a long, standing ovation.

Many drawings of Marc's were on display in the Academy's lobby, having been provided to the Academy for the evening by the Disney Archives. Original sketches of Alice, Tinkerbell, Maleficent, and other characters fresh in the audience's mind from the discussion were there for everyone to closely appreciate. Also on hand were several pieces of Marc's fine art which Alice Davis herself brought for display - wonderful interpretations of giant bulls, dancers, and warriors of New Guinea.

It probably would have been impossible to find someone in the audience who didn't learn something new about Marc Davis over the course of the program's 140 minutes - even if you had chosen a close personal friend of his. It was a thorough, loving tribute to a man whose work will be appreciated for many many years to come.

Of note:

Part One


For more information about upcoming Academy events and screenings, visit their web site, or write to the Academy Foundation at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, California, 90211. 

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