OT: The End of Disney Animation as we knew it.



For those optimists still out there, this sounds like The End. Written by none other than John Canemaker, former Disney puppet.


Disney Erases Hand-Drawn Animation

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT

In the 1960s, Walt Disney joked that one day he'd replace his elite corps of animators, known as the "Nine Old Men," and their slow, expensive way of making hand-drawn movies, with Audio-Animatronic figures.

At the end of last month, Walt's joke came true. The studio bearing his name announced that, due to a "changing creative climate and economic environment," it will be shutting DisneyToon Studios Australia next year. The studio, which turned out sequels (such as "Tarzan II," "The Lion King II" and "Bambi II") was the company's last remaining facility creating hand-drawn (or 2-D) traditional animation. To compete in the 3-D computer-generated imagery (or CGI) arena, the house that a hand-drawn mouse built will become a pixels, rather than a paper-and-pencils, place.

As the old animators often asked themselves, "What would Walt think?"

The decision was not entirely unexpected. In the past few years, Disney 2-D facilities in Florida, France, Canada and Japan have been closed, and 3-D computers have replaced all the traditional animation drawing tables at the studio's home base in Burbank, Calif.

Of course, future Disney features will not be made by robots but by skilled human animators working with a different kind of tool. But the demise of hand-drawn animation at Disney is a sad and significant cultural watershed that deserves a proper mourning rather than a brief P.R. notice.

For it was at the Disney studio that hand-drawn personality animation--an indigenously American contribution to the international art form of animation--soared to its greatest heights.

For nearly eight decades, the line was king at Disney. It could express anything. From the minds and hands of many artists sprang marvels of imagination: In addition to Mickey Mouse, there were three resourceful little pigs who inspired a Depression-era nation; balletic hippos, crocodiles and mushrooms; a prince slaying a fire-breathing dragon; a puppet wishing to become a real boy; and a rambunctious duck with a short fuse.

The magical drawn lines often coalesced into an emotional arrow that could pierce audiences' hearts as well as tickle their funny bones.

Disney's lines enchanted generations with screen moments that have become as memorable as those in live-action movies. For example, animated drawings of two dogs enjoying a night on the town and a pasta dinner became an icon of romance. There was also raw emotional power in the sensitive drawing of a baby elephant visiting his incarcerated mother; in the growing love affair between a hideous beast and a head-strong maiden; and, most heart-rending, in a fawn's futile search for his mother, who has been shot by hunters.

Over the years, Disney drawings became more and more expressive and better able to define delicate human emotions, sensibilities and personalities. "I want characters to be somebody," Walt said in 1927, one year before he begat Mickey. "I don't want them just to be a drawing." He believed that for drawings to connect with an audience's emotions, they must become believable caricatures of reality.

In the beginning, Mickey's head and body were simple circle shapes and his limbs resembled rubber hoses, a design cloned from Felix the Cat, the reigning toon superstar of the 1920s. Soon Walt opened an on-site drawing school at his Hollywood studio to train novice animators in the art of draftsmanship and motion studies. As their skill at life drawing increased in the classroom, so did their ability to capture life on the screen. Disney drawings became a lingua franca for animators learning a new craft, and careers were made or lost at the studio based on artists' abilities to express themselves in communicative sketches.

"I was plunged into this sea of drawing" at Disney in the 1930s, recalled illustrator Martin Provensen to animation historian Michael Barrier in 1983. "You really waded up to your neck in it...[and] you saw drawing as a way of talking and a way of feeling."

Traditional drawn animation is not dead, of course. It thrives in television series and commercials, in video games, and in some of the most admired of recent animated features, such as "Triplets of Belleville," "Spirited Away," "Howl's Moving Castle" and "Millennium Actress," which have been marketed to older audiences.

In those animated features from Japan and other countries, the computer has been a boon to the hand-made drawing, enabling animators to scan their drawings for digital coloring and tweaking, or to draw directly on an electronic tablet, and integrate drawings with CGI characters and effects.

American animated features, such as DreamWorks' "Shrek," Fox's "Robots," and all the Pixar blockbusters from "Toy Story" through "The Incredibles," favor pure CGI. And Disney has decided to follow this trend.

There are, of course, supposedly solid business reasons for this; there always are. But for me, as an animation historian, Disney's decision to eliminate hand-drawn animation for its features is sad. It implies on the part of management disrespect for the studio's history and a lamentable lack of flexibility and vision.

What would Walt have made of all this? Considering the fact that the then-new technology of movie soundtracks put his studio on the map, and that he constantly sought out and exploited innovations such as three-color Technicolor, the Multiplane Camera, stereophonic sound, television, Audio-Animatronics and lasers, I feel sure he would have embraced CGI animation. "Our business has grown with and by technical achievements," he said in 1941.

But somehow I doubt he would have thrown the baby out with the bath water by abandoning hand-drawn animation. Walt was known to spend years trying to find the best way to deploy the talents of certain of his artists, and perhaps he would have found new ways to use the unique qualities of the hand-made moving image--its inherent warmth; the happy accidents of the human touch; the immediate intuitive link between brain, hand and drawing instrument; the special flexibility and style that is so different from the dimensionality, essential coolness and realistic imagery of CGI.

Ultimately, Walt--an instinctive showman--knew that audiences are attracted not by technology alone, but by engaging stories and appealing characters. The Disney studio's recent string of expensive hand-drawn feature failures, such as "Treasure Planet," "Brother Bear" and "Home on the Range," were the result of poor story choices and corporate meddling in the creative process, not the wrong kind of animation.

As Disney's great admirer Steven Spielberg recently said, "If storytelling becomes a byproduct of the digital revolution, then the medium itself is corrupted."

Mr. Canemaker is professor, director of the animation program at New York University Tisch School of the Arts and the author of "Walt Disney's Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation." His new hand-drawn animated film "The Moon and the Son" premiered at MoMA this year and will air on Cinemax in 2006.


Along with all the shows on the "Disney" channel. Just watch the credits, all asian names. I feel sick to even be on the channel, every second there is supporting that crap.
No one can end it so long as there are people, artists, audiences passionate about it - - and there are. Canemaker has no more power to call it over than any Disney executive.

We collectively defy him.
I think Canemaker just has a larger soapbox to speak from than we do when it comes to expressing his disappointment with the state of Disney animation today. But he's basically stating a truth:

"There are, of course, supposedly solid business reasons for this; there always are. But for me, as an animation historian, Disney's decision to eliminate hand-drawn animation for its features is sad. It implies on the part of management disrespect for the studio's history and a lamentable lack of flexibility and vision."

I don't feel his op-ed puts the nail in the coffin, tho' folks will argue his larger audience base provides that. But to me, it's just a forum board posting he's made on a much larger forum board.

However, being pragmatic about this, I've accepted that there's anything *we* can do to stop Disney's changes. Billionaires like Steve Jobs are the only ones billionaires like the Disney board listen to, and there are none here on these boards. And there's just way too many moms and pops and babysitter-deficient folks out there paying for cheapquels to support Disney's current business trend, which technically aren't included in Canemaker's argument as he's only addressing feature animation. But we who read these boards know the cheapquels ability to dilute Disney's hand-drawn animation reputation.

Believe me, I'm bummed about it too. The folks that run Disney today have sold its soul to make a buck, and honestly, I don't blame them in today's current state of mind over on Wall Street. The way I see it, they don't have a visionary like Walt Disney, and a financial head like Roy O. Disney to support that madman, today to give us we'd like to see continue on at The Walt Disney Company. They just don't.
>>Remember to use that line the next time you fly Pan Am to address the other members of the Eight-Track Forever! Society. (Make certain to use your trusty slide rule to determine the correct arrival time.)

X-S Tech

Active Member
In some ways I find Canemakers article refreshing. For one, I'm glad to hear someone saying what's going on while making a distinction between 2-D and 3-D animation. For the longest time, it seemed like articles were deliberately skewed to hide the fact that 2-D animation was ending; films would be mentinoed with no reference to the medium. I assume Disney was a bit hesitant to admit that they were abandoning an art form in favor of following a trend.

Another reason I found the article a bit refreshing is just that since Canemaker is considered a big name (well bigger than Joe Blow from the Podunk Post), perhaps it will be believed and taken a bit more seriously by the general public. Not that we can do anything about it. As I see it, our only course of action would be to boycott CGI films, and that's not reasonable. Too many people would go to see them anyway, and I personally don't have anything against CGI. There's room enough for both in the world.

As for the Australia studio closing, I don't know that I'm too upset. This whole slow process of strangling the life out of Disney Animation has been really strange for me. I've had to examine what I really loved about it, and it's not what I expected. While I was an animation student I probably would have told you that animation in general was a great thing. Of course I wanted to work at Disney Feature Animation, and few animation jobs excited me as much as that. But I assumed I would have been happy at Nickelodeon, or Dreamworks, or some independent company doing commercials. I never got to find out if that was true or not. But with each new announcement of a shutdown, I find more and more that my love affair was exclusive to Disney Feature Animation. When they were the first to shut down their traditional animation dept. (first in Burbank, then in Florida), there were always the cries of "But we still have the Television dept (Australia, Asia, etc...)" and "other company's are still making 2-D animation!". And while I tried to take comfort in that, my real gut feeling was, "Who cares?". I guess I'm glad the artform will survive in some way- if Disney ever decides to go back, at least someone in the world will know how to do it. But no other company has captured my interest enough to convince me to pursue it as a career again. Don't get me wrong, if I could animated today I'd take any job that was available, but I don't think I am ready, and without Disney as that Castle in the Sky to shoot for, I simply don't have the will to pursue it. Some have said that that makes me less of an artist and just another Disney nut. Probably. However Disney Animation was something that was so great that you could go nuts over it. I can't just shrug my shoulders and move down the line to the next Company.

Big Al

New Member
Gee Whiz! I hate what disney has done with their mascot, Mickey! I mean, look at the crappy movie Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas! Mickey looks like a person with a mouse head over their real head. He just is not appealing. Goofy's eyes in the original cartoons were innocent, warm and full of personality. Now, it's like you are looking into an empty shell. Disney better rethink their new design of their mascot. A satisfactory design CAN be done. :mad:


Disney Feature Animation is not dead, it is just CG, and going through a huge transitional period.

traditional is gone, for who knows how long.

it's just that everyone makes it sound like it is completely dead, which it is not. It is still going, and trust me, some great films are in the works.
of course, nobody is going to believe that until they see it.

X-S Tech

Active Member
You're right tcsnwhite, that Feature animation is not dead, merely changed to CGI. That's the whole complaint. Nobody is mourning the demise of Feature Animation as a working unit- it's the loss of traditional animation.

Glad that upcoming films are going to be good- and you're right, I'll believe it when I see it.


Hey I was thinking about Chicken Little, what happened with that? I remember seeing commercials for a while and then it dissapeared? Or maybe it already went to theaters? I can't remember, wasn't paying attention.
Since we are talking Disney animation, and since Bill mentioned Chicken Little.......I've been wanting to bring up the "mystery" of "Valiant"! Is it just me, but I knew NOTHING about this film; I've been aware of the coming of Chicken Little for some time--I've seen trailers......and then "Valiant" suddenly appeared! At first I thought that maybe there was a last minute programming change in the computers to spit out images of pigeons instead of chickens, but this doesn't seem to be the case. I've seen no marketing of the film, other than the soundtrack--I couldn't even find George Fenton's score for the film in FYE or Borders; of course, absolutely nothing relating to "Valiant" in the Disney store; and no McDonald's toys. There is an article about it I saw in my son's Disney Adventures magazine.

Does this film really exist??? Sure seems like a sign that feature animation is on a back burner.