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Behind the funny cartoon characters are many serious cartoonists. Here's one.
Richard Harmetz, Aljean Harmetz
Behind the funny cartoon characters are many serious cartoonists. Here's one. In the middle of the 1930's, 22-year-old Ward Kimball arrived at the gates of Walt Disney Studios in California one April Fool's Day with a portfolio of his drawings. He was told to leave the drawings and return the next week. Sorry, Kimball said, but he couldn't do that. He had driven 100 miles from his home in Santa Barbara, and-unless he was hired-he didn't have enough money to buy gas to come back. He was hired. Thirty-seven years, two Academy Awards, and one Emmy later, Kimball is the creator and producer of Disney's new half-hour syndicated television program, The Mouse Factory. When Kimball begins to design a character, he asks three questions. 1) Will it be easy to animate? 2) Does it present any problems in painting or drawing. 3) Is it funny? The most important question is whether the character is funny. We have the same problems with cartoon characters that live comedians have. Some comedians are naturally funny and some are not. If you have a cartoon character who is funny to look at before he is animated, you know he is going to be made funnier by the movement." Once Kimball has created a character and drawn it to the point where he thinks it is perfect, he often looks at the drawing backwards in the mirror. By looking at a drawing backwards or upside down or from a different viewpoint, I might catch the final thing it needs. Once you start making the character move, you improve it another 30 to 50 percent. The problems of animating bring out all the faults of your design, and you can correct them." Typically, Kimball says, some of the facial features that he is proud of "turn out not to work when you add the dialogue to go with the face. So you eliminate this or that and, all of a sudden, you find that the elimination makes your drawing better. The drawing has to become functional because of the requirements of animating. To make it functional, you tend to simplify, and, in most cases, simplifying means improving. The main thing that dictates what an animated character should look like is your story. What is the purpose of the character? If he's a telephone line-man, he has to wear a certain costume. What does he do in the story? Is he a goof or the hero? I animated the mice in Cinderella. Everything I did was predicated on the fact that a mouse moves fast with quick, darting movements. So my mice had fast, squeaky voices and pointed noses. If they stopped, they wiggled their noses, giving them the feeling of being fast and jerky. But there were several mice, and they had to have different characteristics. So we gave Gus a goofy voice and another mouse a very fast voice. There was a sleepy mouse whose clothes were too big; and the fat mouse walked differently from the thin mouse. Another thing about characters: If you want your character to be threatening, get in close so that he dominates the scene, so that his scale in reference to the frame of the film is big. Have a closeup of his face or his menacing teeth. Make the dragon come toward your hero. Any menace coming toward you has a lot more power than a menace that is retreating. It's the poor, ineffective hero who has to retreat. Shoot the menace from a low angle so that your hero looks up at him. When you want your hero to dominate something, to be secure, shoot from a high angle. You look down at an insect; you look up at an elephant." Kimball suggests that beginning animators create fanciful, surreal, or abstract characters -in short, characters who do not look realistic. "When you animate a character like Snow White, who approaches the sort of complete realism you would get on a photograph, the audience's eye becomes critical. But with a fanciful character, the eye has nothing to compare it to." The character that Kimball found "the most fun" to draw was the March Hare in Alice in Wonderland. "Because he was crazy. The mad tea party in Alice taught me an important lesson – that you don't have to be violent and roll your eyes and jump up and down and freak out to be crazy. I designed and animated the Cheshire Cat and, later, I realized that the craziest thing in the picture was that very silent, subtle, underplayed Cat." Kimball warns the would-be animator that the TV cartoons he might model his work after represent a limited form of animation. He does not disparage TV cartoons; he simply points out that TV animators, in order to keep costs down, must produce work that the casual viewer would recognize as inferior if it were blown up to full motion-picture-screen size. Sometimes, though, television's need to keep costs down helps to improve a cartoon. "If you have a guy running into a tree and you have to shake the tree, drop the leaves, have him land on his bottom, put stars or birds over his head, you have a scene that's going to cost a lot of dough. But if the guy runs through and then you hear an off-screen crash, you've eliminated the costly part. Not only that, it's funnier because everyone in the audience conjures up a different picture." Once you have a character animated, you have to put him on a background. Kimball is extremely critical of his studio's notoriously overpainted backgrounds. You look at a Disney film and you begin studying the leaves and flowers in the distance. Often the character is insignificant compared to the scenery." Kimball believes that collages, which were a main ingredient in his 1969 Academy Award winning It's Tough to be a Bird, are "a great technique for a young filmmaker. You can cut things out of paper. You can tear paper out and move paper legs like puppet legs. That gets away from inking and painting. You can leave everything right under the camera and move each piece." Ward Kimball heads The Firehouse Five Plus Two, a Dixieland band, runs a backyard antique railroad, and has been known to come to work dressed as a gorilla. An individualist, he believes the young filmmaker should draw what he pleases-not what any adult tells him to do. Steps in the Making of the Animated Cartoon," an article discussing animation at the Disney studios, is available free by writing to Walt Disney Productions, 500 South Buena Vista Street, Burbank, California 91503.



Source type Magazine
Volume 62.7
Language en
Document type Feature
Media type text
Page count 1
Pages p. 52


Id 3016
Availability Free
Inserted 2017-01-02