On December 23, 1935, Walt Disney sent an "Inter-Office Communication" to Don Graham detailing his desire to create a class for his animators. In these excerpts, Walt's passion for the medium is evident, as is his thorough vision of the potential of character animation. Here Walt dictates (literally) some of The Rules...
It wouldn't be bad if you made up a list of the qualifications of an animator in order of importance. The list would start with the animator's ability to draw - then ability to visualize action, break it down into drawings and analyze the movement and mechanics of the action. From this point, we would come to his ability to caricature action - to take a natural human action and see the exaggerated funny side of it - to anticipate the effect of illusion created in the mind of the person viewing that action. It is important also for the animator to be able to study sensation and to feel the force behind sensation, in order to project that sensation. Along with this, the animator should know what creates laughter - why do things appeal to people as being funny.
In other words, a good animator combines all these qualities:
Knowledge of caricature, of action as well as features.
Knowledge and appreciation of acting
Ability to think up gags and put over gags
Knowledge of story construction and audience values
Knowledge and understanding of all the mechanical and detailed routine involved in his work, in order that he may be able to apply his other abilities without becoming tied up in a knot by lack of techniques along these lines.
This is all very rough - just a jumble of thoughts - but what I really plan is that we get together after the holidays, and really get these plans worked out in detail. Then we should strive to see that all the men whom we are drilling as animators are given the chance to develop along the lines outlined.
The first duty of the cartoon is not to picture or duplicate real action or things as they actually happen - but to give a caricature of life and action. Our study of the actual is not so that we may be able to accomplish the actual, but so that we may have a basis upon which to go into the fantastic, the unreal, the imaginative - and yet to let it have a foundation of fact in order that it may more richly possess sincerity and contact with the public. A good many of the men misinterpret the idea of studying the actual motion. They think it is our purpose merely to duplicate these things. This misconception should be cleared up for all. I definitely feel that we cannot do the fantastic things, based on the real, unless we first know the real.
Comedy, to be appreciated, must have contact with the audience. By contact, I mean there must be a familiar, sub-conscious association. Somewhere, or at some time, the audience has felt, or met with, or seen, or dreamt, the situation pictured. A study of the best gags and audience reaction we have had will prove that the action or situation is something based on an imaginative experience or a direct life connection. When the action loses its contact, it becomes meaningless to the audience.
Therefore, the true interpretation of caricature is the exaggeration of an illusion of the actual, or the sensation of the actual put into action. In our animation we must not only show the actions or reactions of a character, we must picture also with the action the feelings of those characters. My experience has shown me that the most hilarious of comedies is always based on things actual, possible, or probable.
I have often wondered why, in your life drawing class, you don't have your men look at the model and draw a caricature of the model, rather than an actual sketch. But instruct them to draw the caricature in good form, basing it on the actual model. I noticed a little caricature of one of the models in the life class made by Ward Kimball, and it struck me that there was an approach to the work that we should give consideration. Would it be a good idea to take a man like Joe Grant and see what could be worked out with him along the lines of giving a talk some night on his approach to caricature?
I started out early last fall to work out some sort of system with you for teaching elementary phases of animation in a systematic way. My thought at the time was not to go too straight. That's why I wanted to get somebody to demonstrate various walks in a comic way. I still think this is a very good idea, and constitutes a far better approach for the younger men than giving them too many straight natural things that direct their minds to the unimaginative end of the business. It is possible that with the comedy you can still teach them the fundamentals of all these actions.
Take for example, the walk. Why can't we teach the fundamentals of a straight walk yet combine it with some person that is giving an exaggeration or a comic interpretation of a straight walk? Perhaps for very elementary instruction it might be best to present straight action; but not to keep giving them straight action as they progress and gain a little experience. Start them going into the comedy angle or caricature angle of the action.
For example, a fat person with a big potbelly: What illusion does he give you as you see him? What do you think of as you see him walk along? Does he look like a bowl of jelly?
In other words, analyze the fat person's walk and the reasons for his walking that way.....BUT DON'T STOP UNTIL YOU'VE HAD THE GROUP BRING OUT ALL THE COMEDY THAT CAN BE EXPRESSED WITH THAT FAT PERSON'S WALK; also all the character - but drive for the comedy side of the character. There are a number of things that could be brought up in these discussions to stir the imagination of the men, so that when they get into the actual animation, they're not just technicians, but they're actually creative people.
In the study of other problems, is it possible to bring out more exaggeration of form and action - as in the study of the balance of the body? Make them realize the necessity of that balance and yet point out how they can utilize that to strengthen their business when they get into animation, as in bending. Can we show the exaggeration in that action by showing how the pants pull up in the back to an
exaggerated degree that becomes comical? Can we show how the coat stretches across the back, and the sleeves pull up and the arms seem to shoot out?
We should drive at the fundamentals of the animation and at the same time incorporate the caricature. When lifting a heavy weight, what do you feel? What sensations do you get from rising? Sitting? When someone sits down and relaxes does it look as if all the wind goes out of him? Also, in pushing - the extremeness of a push, the line shoots right down from the fingertips clear down to the heel. In pulling - show the stretch. Bring out the caricature of those various actions, at the same time driving at the fundamentals of them - the actual.
The various expressions in the body are important. The animators don't make hold positions and relaxed positions express anything. They try to do all the expression with the parts that are moving, whereas the body should enter into it. Without the body entering into the animation, the other things are lost immediately. I think something could be worked out to develop this point, even if you got a (model) behind a screen and threw a light on them. Have the class do nothing but watch the silhouette as the model goes through different poses, noting how the body enters into the expression of an action.
Then we can come down to the value of facial expressions - the use of the eyes, eyebrows, the mouth - their relation to one another - how the eyes have to work together sometimes for expression - how they work independently for expression at other times. Then we would go into the combined use of expressive features and expressive actions of the body. Then it would be good to take one away from the other and see which is most important.
Also we should try to show how to analyze a scene or piece of business before starting to work on it. We should try to show the men ways of visualizing action in their minds, breaking the action so that the men are prepared in advance to begin animation of the action and know thoroughly what they are going to animate. So many men start in now and have no idea what they're going to do when they start a scene. They know what they're supposed to do, but they can't break it down in a systematic way that will enable them to go knowingly ahead.
Many men do not realize what makes things move - why they move- what the force behind the movement is. In most instances, the driving force behind the action is the mood, the personality, the attitude of the character - or all three. Therefore, the mind is the pilot. We think of things before the body does them. We also do things in the spur of the moment by reaction to stimuli that are telegraphed to the mind by the nerves, etc. There are also things carried out by the subconscious mind - reflexes, actions that have become habit through repetition, instincts. The subconscious mind is an assistant often times in carrying out things that may or may not have been taught, Examples of that are sleeping, lighting a cigarette and throwing the match away without any thought, whistling, walking, running, sitting, etc.
But certain actions we do think about - certain actions we deliberately plan. We plan them very quickly in our mind. The point to bring out there is that when a character knows what he's going to do, he doesn't have to stop before each individual action and think to do it. For example - say the mind thinks, "I'll close the door - lock it- then I'm going to undress and go to bed." Well, you walk over to the door - before the walk is finished you're reaching for the door. Before the door is closed, you reach for the key. Before the door is locked you're turning away. While you're walking away, you're undoing your tie. And before you reach the bureau, you have your tie off. Before you know it, you're undressed, and you've done it with one thought, "I'm going to bed."
It is not necessary to take a character to a point, complete that action, and then turn to the following action as if he had never given it a thought until after completing the first action. Anticipation of action is important.
I think a good study of music would be indispensable to the animator - a study of rhythm, the dance - the various rhythms that enter into out lives every day - how rhythmical the body really is. That, in itself, is music. There are things in life that we do to rhythm that come naturally to us. Notice how rhythmic an action like pounding with a hammer is! There's a reason for that. You must have that rhythm or you can't carry out that action completely. Also, walking. If you walked without rhythm, where would you get? You'd have to be thinking all the time what to do next. You'd have to set your mind to walking rhythmically, instead of doing it naturally.
Naturally, the body is well balanced. When one hand does something, the other serves as a balance to it. There are various things that combine balance in the body - subconscious balance - and yet the animators do not know it. They will do something with one hand - they don't know what to do with the other, so they will do something completely contrary to what that hand should be doing, because they don't understand the basic concept of balance. This idea of balance of the body ties in with the idea of expression of the body. If there is balance, it adds expression to the things that the body is doing - if you don't have that balance of the body, then your expressions are wrong, insincere, unconvincing. Those concepts also tie in with overlapping action.
In other words, we could work out all these basic concepts in a such a way as to show them all related, interdependent, and have to do with each other, and how we could tie them together in various ways, showing different combinations of their application. We will thus stir up the men's minds more.
I'd like also to have a study of dialog - phrasing and rhythm of dialog, moods and character of dialog, expressions, gestures, directness, use of eyes, eyebrows, mouth, head, arms, body, tongue, inhalation and exhalation, and various other aspects that have to do with the successful picturization of dialog in the cartoon. Let's see if we can't organize
Something like this and get it going right after the first of the year.