June 26, 2014

Animation Thesis: Art Imitates Life, Part II

To read Part I, please click here.
ART IMITATES LIFE: An Exploration on the Advancements in the History of Animation Technology and the Effect on the Final Image is my college thesis submitted as part of the Visual Communication program at the State University of New York (Farmingdale).
The research had me read countless books and visit numerous animation galleries (which were plentiful in the early 1990’s) as well as speak to professionals in the industry. The galleries provided the opportunity to see examples of animation art produced by various studios through the decades and see first-hand the effects of the various technological innovations outlined below.
I also interviewed 2 animators to gain personal accounts of the artists directly involved in the craft. I visited Al Baruch in his Long Beach, NY home and spoke to him about his tenure at the Walt Disney Animation Studios in the 1950’s working on such notable films as Peter Pan and Lady and the Tramp as well as his time at Terrytoons Studios working on Mighty Mouse cartoons. I also interviewed Ruben Aquino from his office at the Walt Disney Feature Animation Studios in Orlando, FL while he was busy working on Mulan. These two individuals provided an insight to two different periods in animation history. Mr. Baruch’s interview offers a glimpse into the golden era of animation and my conversation with Mr. Aquino revealed the (then) current animation world at the time of his interview which was the beginning of the Disney Renaissance and while films like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King were making the animators household names.
This thesis lacks coverage of the past 20 or so years in the technological advancements of the medium as it was originally written in 1996. We are now entering a phase in animation where the technology is beginning to exist as a facilitating tool. No longer are we looking at films which share that same generic CG look, but the artists are now pushing the boundaries to produce films which have an inherent style and personality. Disney’s Academy-award winning short ‘Paperman‘ is an excellent example of the marriage of style and technology. 
I’ve decided to break this into 3 postings: The text of the thesis, and the interviews individually.

Interview 1: Al Baruch. Conducted, March 29, 1996.

al_baruch_photoOn March 26, 1996 I had the pleasure of meeting with former Disney animator Al Baruch in his Long Beach, NY home. The interview that took place is documented below. Currently, Mr. Baruch is a freelance cartoonist who does do promotional merchandise illustration for products featuring Disney characters as well as other cartooning. He also proudly carries in his portfolio, the logo designs for the NHL team Mighty Ducks.


What year did you begin your career in animation art?

In 1953, I went out to California to the Disney Studios. I didn’t have any experience as an animator, I was a cartoonist and I thought that if Disney had an animation program, I could learn.

What schooling did you complete before becoming an animator?

The first school that I went to after I got out of the Navy, after WWII was the Art Students League of NY to study fine art. I was told that my art was very whimsical and that I should pursue humorous art. From there, I went to the School of Visual Arts (at that time it was the Cartoonists and Illustrators School), where I took several classes in cartooning. Finally, I went to Pratt Institute to gain a more controlled technical exposure to art. After that, I went into the field.

What was your position at the Walt Disney Studios during the time that you were employed there?

I was an inbetweener. After the head animator had created the initial drawing of the character, my job was to draw the additional drawings necessary to complete the action.

Was it difficult or easier working with a large animation studio like Walt Disney?

No, it was not difficult. You were fortunate to gain a lot of information from all the people employed there. It was a wonderful education of the whole process.

What was the highlight of your career?

16TrampWhen I worked on the feature films Peter Pan and Lady and the Tramp. I knew at the time that this was something that would be around for a long time from the studio’s past history. It was rewarding artistically. The fact that I was assigned to specific characters gave me a lot of pride in the film.

What characters did you work on?

16JocIn Peter Pan, I worked mainly on the Croc and even some scenes with Captain Hook. In Lady and the Tramp, I worked on Jock, the Scottish dog. I also worked on publicity for the film, designing point of purchase display units and advertisements.

How difficult is it to maintain the desired style throughout a project?

Not very difficult at all. You’re always exploring new areas and the work is always fresh looking and not overworked.

How much did research play a part in your job?

For Peter Pan, I spent roughly a week and a half at the zoo observing crocodiles. I was fortunate to be allowed to go there when there weren’t people around and watch them while they were being fed, sleeping, when they mingled together and had little fights so I could get an idea of how they live.

Nothing in the character that you see in the film looks like those crocodiles. This character had big, bulging eyes and big nostrils and this tongue that could lap up a gallon of ice cream in two seconds. The fact was that it gave me a lot of insight in their movements.

During the production of Winsor McCay’s “Gertie the Dinosaur”, he was solely responsible for the animation of the dinosaur. McCay did a wonderful job at maintaining the personality of the character. This tedious task of drawing every action may have lessened the personality. Is this a reason why the animator’s job has been broken down into smaller jobs that can be accomplished by assistants and inbetweeners?

That could very well be so. But, it’s also a matter of production. To get a full length film out takes a good three years. In 1953 we didn’t have the technological ease of today. Everything was done by hand.

What is the greatest goal an animator can achieve?

Full satisfaction of what he is doing, just as in any job. What animators do will be seen by many people. We are in the business of happiness. We are not to make people sad or make fun of people. Our rewarding thing is that we are in the happiness business.

There were five major advances in animation : Sound, color, character development, television and computers. Are any of these elements more important than the others?

No, but I’ve always been a hands on person.

During the 1950’s, animation studios rented the use of cartoons to television stations. During the 1960’s, when Hanna-Barbera began what would become an explosion in television animation, various other studios began producing cheaply created cartoons. This caused the general public to view cartoons as inferior and created a slump in the feature films as well. What element helped bring back the strong interest in animation which exists today?

The strengths of the major studios like Warner Brothers, Nickelodeon, Walt Disney and others. Many of the characters and stories are believable and can be identified by many people. Times change, styles change and the way you approach the idea changes. Basically, cartoons are there to entertain.


Do you think that the role of animator will change due to the advancing technology that is constantly changing and growing?

Things are always changing. It’s become a huge industry and there is a shortage of animators. The average age is 21 to 27 years old. Salaries are very beneficial and there are also many different facets in the world of animation today. Character animators, however, are the kings of the animation field. There is also a tremendous amount of females in this field as well.

What is your feeling about animation art as a collectible?

I think it’s a great thing. I once knew a person who bought a cell of Mickey Mouse from 1932 at a flea market for $3.50 and in turn sold it for $64 thousand dollars.

Did you or your fellow animators ever realize that you were producing works of art that would later be sold for many dollars?

Nope. We had no idea. The things we threw away at the end of the day were unbelievable!

Walt Disney, in 1940 said about the future of animation, “What I see way off there is too nebulous to describe, but it looks big and glittering. That’s what I love about this business, the certainty that there is always something bigger and more exciting just around the bend; and the uncertainty of everything else.” In 1996, what can you say about the future of animation?

What he said then, goes for today. As long as there are creative people who want to invest their time in the field of animation. Animation has become a very important part of everyday life.

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