INTRODUCING GLEN KEANE...
Glen Keane, in less than a decade, has risen to be one of the
Disney studio's most prominent animators. Achieving early
critical notice for his dramatic bear fight in THE FOX AND THE
HOUND and his comic characterization of Willie the Giant in
MICKEY'S CHRISTMAS CAROL, Keane has become a highly visible
proponent of the Disney school of animation. His latest work
includes Ariel in THE LITTLE MERMAID. Keane lectures regularly on
the art of animation and has even taught classes at Cal Arts, his
We found Keane in one of his unusual "down times" between
pictures at one of Disney's Glendale animation facilities. As we
talked, we took time out to watch a buffalo head being hung in
his office, which he shares with Geefwee Boe Doe, an assistant.
Q: Please give a brief description of your career, including
studios that you've worked at and specific productions you've
GK: Well, actually I never really planned to be in animation. It
was something that just sort of happened by accident to me. I
wanted to go into painting or illustrating. I just knew that I
wanted to draw. I didn't know anything about animation. My
portfolio went to California Institute of the Arts to get into
their school of painting and somehow or another it got sent to
the School of Animation and I was accepted into that. I thought,
"Oh well, I'll give that a try."
And then I found out about animation. It was a combination of
all the arts together. And there was always this sort of ham side
of me that wanted to act and I found out that animation was
really answering that desire. I love to draw figures, and
realized that animation requires a good understanding of anatomy,
figure drawing, and I could use all of that information in
animation, plus acting.
I worked for a summer at Filmation where I thought that I learned
animation. The next summer I came with my portfolio to Disney to
show them what I had learned about (chuckling) animation at
Filmation. Eric Larson [one of Disney's nine old men] looked
through the portfolio. He paged through all the stuff really
quickly; all the animation drawings that I'd labored over. He
then said there was really nothing there except one little
scribbly sketch that he liked. It had some motion and life to
He said, "Do more of this kind of thing and just basically forget
all the stuff that you thought you knew when you were at
Filmation. We don't really look at that as a benefit for coming
here to Disney. We want you to really come in with a clean slate
where we can teach you."
So I just sort of stepped back and went to the beach and did a
lot of quick sketch drawings. I brought them in and they liked
them. I started on a two month training period with other guys
at the studio, Ron Clements and Andy Gaskill and John Pomeroy.
We just sort of tried to soak in everything that they wanted to
teach us. That was in 1974 when I started. It was on the film
THE RESCUERS. Now we've just finished the sequel, THE RESCUERS
DOWN UNDER. Sort of gone full circle for me.
Actually, I've never thought of myself, really, as an animator.
I have always thought of myself as an artist who will animate
just as long as it challenges me artistically. And whenever it
stops really challenging me then I would leave animation.
I've also done some commercial animation. My favorite was working
for Bob Kurtz on a "Burger 'n Bones" dog food commercial.
Q: You've worked on all the Disney features between THE RESCUERS
and RESCUERS DOWN UNDER?
GK: Just about. I can say I worked on all of them but I can't say
that all my work is on the screen. I did work in THE SMALL ONE
that never got to the screen. I did work in THE BLACK CAULDRON
that never got to the screen, but then so did Tim Burton, John
Musker and others. It was like two different pictures that we
Q: Can you name some of the characters you did animate in some of
GK: Well let's see, in RESCUERS, the first scene I did was
Bernard and then I animated Penny mostly with Ollie Johnson.
Then after that I guess we went on and did Elliott in PETE'S
DRAGON and then it was THE FOX AND THE HOUND. I did Todd and
Vixie and the bear and the badger. From that I went and worked on
CAULDRON. Nothing I did got in the picture. Next I did MICKEY'S
CHRISTMAS CAROL where I animated the giant plus some Scrooge and
Then I did a little computer test, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. We
animated a section to Maurice Sendak's book with Magi, the people
who had done the computer graphics in TRON. It combined computer
generated backgrounds with hand drawn animation. I did that with
John Lassiter. And then after that went on and did THE GREAT
MOUSE DETECTIVE. Worked on Ratigan, and did some Basil.
Actually I had left the studio at that time. During GREAT MOUSE
I worked freelance for Disney at home. Then after GREAT MOUSE
there was a lull in production so I went over to Chipmunks and
did some work with Ross Bagdasarian on THE CHIPMUNK ADVENTURE.
Did "The Girls of Rock 'n Roll" section in that and then I came
back [to Disney] onto OLIVER AND COMPANY and worked on Fagan and
Sykes and Georgette on the Georgette song ["Perfect Isn't Easy"].
After OLIVER was MERMAID, which is why I came back. I worked on
Ariel in that picture and some of Eric. That, to me, was a
challenge because they had originally asked me to do Ursula, the
villain. I felt like "No, I want to do something different." I needed a challenge and wanted to do something more subtle and
Ariel was what really attracted me. After that I started working
on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST; going to London and working with a
director there. We ended up not going in that direction so I
came back to work on RESCUERS DOWN UNDER where I animated this
gigantic eagle, Marihoute with a kid named Cody riding on her
back. I just finished that and am starting on BEAUTY AND THE
BEAST, designing Beast and animating him.
Q: What does an animator do?
GK: Let's see, what does an animator do? (Pause) There's so many
different ways one can approach that question. Primarily I guess
an animator's job in a film is he's the actor. I mean, it just
really comes down to, a film is a story and the animator, he's
one of the characters in it. He crawls inside to the brain and
the personality of that character. He is that character on the
screen. Not unlike regular actors.
The only difference is that an actor in theater, TV or in movies
gets to use his own body; his hands and expressions. The
animator feels those things but the audience doesn't look at him.
They look at his drawing, so it's a matter of how well can you
draw how you feel? That's really the gift of an animator, is
taking his feelings and putting it through his hand and being
able to project himself onto the paper.
I guess the challenge that an animator has is to mentally get
past the point where he's drawing. He's no longer drawing on the
paper. It's not an act of drawing. It's more of a crawling into
that page and living in that space that is now a three-
dimensional world. So then you can start to draw a character
walking away in space and you're not thinking so much of
perspectives and all those technical things. Instead you're
thinking, how does it feel? How do I feel walking down this
meadow and back behind that tree back there and then sliding
along the trunk of the tree and resting, looking up at the
leaves? How do I feel? Hopefully you get into it, otherwise the
animation has a very technical and studied look and it doesn't
ring true. But an animator that can really live in the character
that he's drawing, his stuff sparks with life. People believe
Q:Can you give an example of films that showcase good animation
and possibly bad animation?
GK: Can I do it tactfully? That's another question. For one
thing I feel that there should be another term used for Saturday
morning animation, the kind that you see on TV. It's a whole
different thing. It's more formula. These sort of expressions
we plug in at this time in the story and it's a formula story
told and it's formula drawings and it's not a personal experience
of an animator living in that character. I don't consider that
the same as what I do. There's different limitations to that and
I think it's almost unfair to criticize them too harshly for the
restraints that they're under.
I think that as we got into some of the later animated features
in the Seventies at Disney, I didn't feel that the animation was
being pushed out to new fronts. It was becoming very formulized.
They knew how to do certain things and they did it well. They
stuck to that.
I think of THE LITTLE MERMAID and Duncan Marjorybank's animation
of Sebastian [the crab]. Here's a guy that his own expressions
and his own personality came out in that character. You could
ask Duncan to make an expression on his own face and you saw it
was the exact same thing that the crab was doing. I mean, his
whole way of thinking was translating from his head through his
hand and into that character. The timing, his thought,
everything, he transferred into that character. I thought that
the character was completely Duncan. You get another animator
and the character would've been completely different. There was
no formula to it, and that's a good sign.
The best thing about Disney animation, I feel, is that we try to
encourage animators to be themselves in their animation.
Sometimes in other animated features, there's a formulized look
and each character almost acts the same. You can plug any
animator into animating that character, and they're gonna look
the same. It shouldn't work that way. Each animator should come
up with something completely new, different and personal.
Q: How do you approach animating a new character when you start?
GK: You get done with one feature and you're getting started on a
new one and there's sort of a lull. That's exactly what's
happening here now. Just trying to relax a little bit from the
last picture where you're running a hundred miles an hour trying
to get the thing done. Suddenly, now you've got all this time.
I take advantage of it to just be free and not let myself get
under too much pressure to perform.
My job is now to design the Beast for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. This
is my time for allowing myself to just get inspired. I'll look
at films, and go to places where I think that I might get
inspired. Like we're going to go to the zoo tomorrow just to
draw. So we have this buffalo head and this thing [a wild boar's
head] up in here. Hopefully something's going to rub off. And I
put pictures around myself, or read different things. I'm just
allowing myself any input from any direction. Giving myself as
much of a chance as possible to come up with something new and
I know I could sit down if I had to and design a Beast. I could
do that and it would be fine. It would work and it would
animate, but I keep wondering well, am I cheating the audience
somehow? Eric Larson was always saying that to me. When I was
animating something and he was going over it with me he'd say,
"You know, I think you're cheating the audience here," meaning
you could've done more. An animator should never cheat the
audience. You're the only one that knows that you didn't do
everything you could've with it and the audience doesn't know
that they've been cheated. I just want to make sure I'm not
cheating anybody by taking an easy out.
So I'm looking at a lot of art and getting inspiration from as
many angles as possible. It's my first step. Then once I
surround myself with that I'll start to draw. I'll come up with
some designs and at first the designs are usually very complex
and overly analyzed and worked out and they're not too
animatable. Then I start moving it around a little bit and the
shapes become simpler just because when you constantly have to
draw something over and over and over again you're naturally
going to come up with a simpler way of drawing a complex shape,
unless you're insane and you like pencil mileage that much. So
just through that process it simplifies itself.
You try to get a voice to a character that's going to inspire you
too. And that has a lot to do with it. Once you match the voice
with the design it may change the design quite a bit. Like with
Ratigan in THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE. Ratigan was a very skinny
little character. He was a rat and we had him kind of as a
weasly-looking guy. But in design he was too similar to Basil.
I was thinking maybe we should be really bigger with him.
At that time we were also looking at a film with Vincent Price.
It was CHAMPAGNE FOR CAESAR and listening to his [Vincent's]
dialogue, I realized that's the voice for me. He just had this
sharp, quick way of speaking and the timing was great. You could
tell he enjoyed being a rotten guy. And like Ratigan, he also
felt like he was justified in doing whatever he did. Like he was
unjustly treated, which is important for a villain. The villain
isn't bad just because he's bad, but he's justified. He feels
like he's right. I started doing drawings based on that with a
much larger, huge rat character and it fit. So then we started
heading in that direction; we brought Vincent Price in.
With Ariel, the little mermaid, I started surrounding myself with
pictures of different girls who were about that right age. Teen
magazines and then also Sherry Stoner, who was doing the live
action reference for Ariel and, a picture of my own wife who I
had been drawing ever since we've been married. It's really
natural to draw her. And all these things just sort of came
together to come up with a design that was Ariel. I worked
closely with Mark Henn and Philo Barnhart in zeroing in on the
Q:On an average daily routine what do you do in the studio?
GK: Okay, let's go past the point where we've already done our
design and we've gotten our layouts and are going ahead and
animating. I get in about nine o'clock in the morning and get a
cup of coffee and sit down and usually, at the beginning of the
week, figure out what it is that I want to get done. I'll take a
scene and think it should take about a day and a half to animate
this scene. I know that by the end of that day and a half or
that second day I'd better be done with this thing.
Usually at that time that's when the telephone rings and there's
some meeting that's called. That goes to about ten o'clock, then
at ten o'clock I decide I better get to work and start to draw
and then there's a knock at the door. It's a trainee who wants
to show me their work. So I go over their work. And then we have lunch. Then around one o'clock I better get working and I
spend about fifteen minutes and the directors call. There's a
meeting over the layouts. About three o'clock I get to start
drawing on the scene and then it gets to be 5:30, 6:00 and I have
a decision to make. Is my family more important than my
animation? So I leave to go home.
I come back the next day and I know this is the day I said I was
going to have my scene done. Same thing starts off. Finally I
just skip lunch and I stay in. I know I can get a good unbroken
hour of work in at lunch time. I animate through the thing as
fast as I possibly can. I use a fat, thick pencil and this
actually works out well because the speed that I feel like I'm
forced to animate makes me not become overly analytical in my
work. I just sort of dive into it and draw it as fast as I can.
I try not to get caught up in the details. I dash through the
scene and rough it out in what I call a scribble test. If I can
just get it scribbled, by that deadline I've given myself, then
I'll feel good. It's really just getting it moving. And any one
of those drawings may look terrible to somebody else; to me they
look nice because they capture the feeling that I'm looking for.
An audience would not necessarily relate to those drawings much
but in motion on the screen you get an acting scene across.
I shoot it and I'll show it to the directors, and get their input
on it. Usually they feel pretty good about it, and I'll send it
out and go on to my next scene for the next day and try to do the
same thing and the same cycle goes over again. Get a couple
scenes animated in a week or a long scene, whatever. Then after
that, eventually, I've got to go back into those really quick
little scribbles and tie them down into something my assistants
can follow to do the inbetweens and the clean up.
I've got to make it very decisive. What exactly do I want those
eyes to be doing there? I can't just scribble it like this, I've
got to make it more clear. What I like to do, if I'm working on
a sequence where there's a whole lot of scenes, is try to rough
through as much of it as I possibly can. Scribble 'em all down so
I can tell the continuity and the acting in the scenes. Then we
can judge it by stepping back and see if it's all working
together as a whole rather than getting caught up in one little
tiny part of it and spending all my energy on a three foot scene
when there's two hundred feet to do around it. And then we can
make some changes on if it's too slow at this point or too fast,
and go back and adjust it. Anyway, that's kind of my approach.
Q: How much freedom are you usually given on a production, as an
GK: I guess it depends on how confident the director is on the
sequence that you're working on. If the director feels really
confident that this is just what he wants then you're not given
that much freedom, which isn't necessarily a bad thing because
instead of freedom you're given direction. In other cases the
director doesn't really know exactly what he wants. You're given
a lot of freedom but, that means sometimes you're not given much
direction either. And you're required to come up with that yourself. Most of the time for me personally, I get a lot of
freedom on what I do.
I'll often storyboard it myself. Something will have already
been storyboarded, but I'll look at it and I'll listen to the
soundtrack and think "Gee, what if we did it this way" or "maybe
we're missing something here." I'll run it past the directors and
they'll agree or they'll disagree. If they say "no," I'll go with
it the way it's boarded and approach it that way. If they agree
with what I'm saying then I'll go through and I'll board it out
and take it from there and start working with the layout guys. It
Q: What has been one of your favorite characters to animate, and
GK: Usually the last character that I just animated has always
been my favorite one. I've always felt that way on everything
I've worked on. But if I step back a little bit and look at it,
each character has got a unique thing. The eagle, in RESCUERS
DOWN UNDER has taught me that real life is as entertaining as
anything that I can think of in my imagination. Capturing how an
eagle flies is really rewarding if you can make it feel real.
Ariel is really rewarding in that I got to capture subtle
expressions and feelings on her. I'd have to say that is what I
liked the most about her. Ratigan, I just loved to hate that
guy. He's such a jerk, and so much personality that it kind of
screamed to come out. A villain, to me, always has this power
that's just demanding to come out and you want to animate it out
of there. And the bear in THE FOX AND THE HOUND. There's this
fierce rage that you wanted to animate. I couldn't draw it big
enough, mean enough. Willie the Giant, in MICKEY'S CHRISTMAS
CAROL, to me, was my son, an 18 month old baby with a big giant
body that I really enjoyed doing. Just this real naive, innocent
big guy. My favorite, I don't know.
Q:Have you had a character that you did not really enjoy
GK: Well, I guess Elliot the dragon, in PETE'S DRAGON. I never
really got into him as a character. Fagan. I enjoyed him but I
always had a basic disagreement with the approach on design. I
wanted him to be a short, fat little guy and instead he was a
tall, skinny guy. I enjoyed animating him but I don't think I
ever got into that character as much as I would've liked to, not
that I didn't try. Eric in MERMAID. I would've liked him to have
more depth of character. Instead he was kind of a standard
prince. I wanted to do more with him. But the decision was made
that you don't want to start building the story around Eric; the
story was really Ariel's. It's difficult to come up with
somebody really interesting and unique when you don't want to
expand that character.
Q: Which project do you feel most proud to have been
GK: Well, it's probably LITTLE MERMAID. I think that was
because it was the first time that I thought we were doing a
project that we were potentially breaking through the barrier
where we had just never gotten past before. It was the first
picture I think we got the monkey off of our back; the stigma of
tring to live up to a tradition. We really broke out into
something of our own.
Q: Is there a film that you've worked on that you weren't
really pleased with the final results. Even though it may have
been successful, you personally felt it didn't live up to
GK: Each film will fall short of it's potential to one degree or
another. I've got to focus on my part of that picture. Did I do
my best? Even if a picture turns out to be a dog, if I did my
best, I can still feel proud.
Q: If you were to be starting today trying to become an
animator, what do you think you would need to do?
GK: Well, if I was just starting as an animator I would take
drawing really seriously. A lot more seriously than probably a
lot of other animators would say, but that's me; that's how I
approach it. I guess there's different schools to animation.
There's maybe a school that says if you just animate very simple
shapes then it's more the acting involved and you don't need to
get involved in the anatomy. To me, I feel like if you're going
to really push into where I think acting needs to go, and we're
going to really compete with live action, then our acting needs
to go to levels where you're really dealing with subtle, deeper
human emotions. The only way you can really capture that, besides
being in touch with your own heart in your acting, is to be able
to draw how you feel. It requires a real understanding of anatomy
and to be able to draw really well, to communicate.
So I would draw and draw and draw as much as I can the people
around me, capturing attitudes, look for the subtle things that
interest you and draw those. The way a little girl sits with the
legs crossed is really entertaining. It doesn't need to be a gag
or a joke, it's just looking for those real things, developing an
eye for observation. Seeing it and being able to draw it. Get a
lot of sketch books. Do quick sketch trying to capture action.
Study live action films. I'd say learn the techniques that the
old animators did but don't approach it as a formula. Don't get
fooled into thinking this is the way to do a walk; this is the
way to do a run, a take. Study and discover a new way.
I remember we were up at Cal Arts one time when somebody asked
me, how many different takes are there in animation? And I was
thinking, "how many different takes *are* there?" I stopped and
said, "where is this question coming from?" I mean, how many
different takes are there? "What is a take," I asked? The
student said, "I don't know? what do you mean?" I answered,
"What **is** a take? It's just an animation term. We assume it
means something, but what does it mean?"
A take is a reaction. As many emotions as there are in human
nature, that's as many takes as you can have, and how each person
is, they're going to react a little different. There is no limit
to the number of takes. You just need to analyze it. Get into
that unique character and animate that.
Animation people, especially students, are constantly trying to
compartmentalize it and break it down into "there are this many
approaches to doing things." That is very limiting. We have a
world of life to discover. Every person and living thing is
unique. An animator needs to see that uniqueness and reflect it
back to the audience in his work.
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