Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Have you all wondered what Don Hahn has been doing during his leave of absence from the Studio? You will find the answer below and I think you will love it.
Didier Ghez: In April 2009 Focal Press will release 2 volumes titled Drawn to Life: 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes: The Walt Stanchfield Lectures that you edited. Most of us are familiar with the Stanchfield classes that were partially released online a while back. Could you tell us how you became involved in this project and how you tackled it?
Don Hahn: Walt was one of the first people at Disney who took the time to mentor me about drawing. What I soon realized is that he was mentoring everyone and had a real gift and passion for teaching. In the late 1970s and early ‘80s we started a program at the studio called THE DISNEY SCHOOL OF ANIMATION with Walt and Eric Larson as the teachers. They both wrote lessons for the animators, a group that included Glen Keane, Tim Burton, John Lasseter, Mark Henn, John Musker, Brad Bird, Ron Clements and more. Those lessons kept coming and twenty years later, Walt had written close to 900 pages about the art and craft of animation.
When Walt passed away in 2000, I immediately was looking for some way to pay tribute to him and it didn’t take long before it dawned on me that I should try to publish his work. At first I couldn’t find a publisher so I considered self publishing the book, but at 900 pages it was too much for anyone to take on. Hans Bacher had just had his book published by Focal Press and suggested I call Georgia Kennedy at Focal. In the summer of 2007 I went to see Georgia at her office in Oxford England. She was familiar with some of the pages, since many had found their way to the internet and had been passed around informally in the animation industry for years. Then I showed Georgia all the bits that hadn’t been published. Hundreds of pages about drawing, life and art. She was hooked. Then came the insane task of getting approvals from all the artists to use their work in the book. Walt would famously grab drawings off of people’s drawing boards and Xerox them for his lectures. After 140 letters went out to all the people whose work was included in the book we had 100% response and 100% “yes” to use the work.
From then on it has taken two years and a team of six people who work with me in LA and another 6 who work for Focal Press in Massachusetts to bring the book to life. Eight years later we are moments away from publishing and it is beyond my wildest dreams. I must say that none of this would be possible if Dee Stanchfield, Walt’s wife, hadn’t been completely supportive. All the author’s proceeds from the book will go to Dee.
DG: The books' main target audience is clearly animators. Is there anything in them for Disney historians or Disney History enthusiasts?
DH: I think what’s interesting about the book is that it was written during a second golden age of animation. The first lessons are about ‘how to draw Taran’ from The Black Cauldron. Through the pages of the book you can see work by Andreas, Glen, Mark Henn, and so many others as well as countless references to Little Mermaid, Lion King, Aladdin, and more. Add to that all the examples of work from Frank Thomas, Milt Kahl, Fred Moore, Bill Tytla, Ollie, Eric, and then add to that Hirschfeld, Joe Grant and so many other artists. It’s a living art history book by one of the eye witnesses of the art of Disney Animation, Walt Stanchfield.
DG: Did you know Walt Stanchfield personally and could you tell us a few words about him (as an artist and as a human being)?
DH: Walt attended Chouinard Art Institue as did so many of Disney’s artists of his era. After a brief stay in the navy, he went to work at Harman-Ising studio and then Disney. He worked on every Disney feature from Mr. Toad thru Lion King and taught at the Studio deep into the 1990s when his health (cancer I think) caught up with him. He was a very free spirit. Walt lived in Buellton, CA about three hours north of the Studio. He would drive down on Monday and sleep in his van in the parking lot, really a 20 year old spirit trapped in a 70 year old body. He ate very healthy food and felt that exercise and diet was as much a part of nurturing the creative spirit as was drawing and study. He played tennis every day. His wife Dee would accompany him on sketching trips. Dee would often drive while Walt did water colors and sketches while looking out the window. Walt was active in the local art scene in central California where he showed his personal work regularly at galleries. His legacy at the Studio was as much about living as it was about art. He was the example of how to live to the fullest as an artist — always curious about the world, always sketching, studying, playing music, reading, and sketching some more.
DG: Quite a few other great Disney artists, from Bill Tytla to Eric Larson gave classes on animation. Would you consider editing additional volumes that would collect those (some of the conferences from CalArts for example or some of the action analysis lectures that were given during Don Graham's classes, like the one that Michael Sporn recently posted on his blog at this link)?
DH: I would love to publish as much of the writings of the masters of animation as possible. It’s a time in my career where I have benefited so much from the artists that I have worked with that I feel it’s time to share their work and writings with the next generation of animators coming up. And as you have pointed out, these works are more than just animation text books, they are the “dead sea scrolls” of animation, once lost to the world of animation history, but now slowly making their way into the hands of the audience. I’ll do anything I can to keep that going. Kudos to Michael for sharing the work too.
DG: I believe you are also working on a documentary about Joe Grant. How advanced is the project and when can we expect its release?
DH: It is still in the research phase. I have had several conversations with Joe’s family and coworkers over the past few years and have found the most amazing film clips and interviews (both on film and audio) of Joe. The film is probably still a year away at this point, but it has been a treat to research and tell the story about this amazing guy.
DG: What are some of the surprises for Disney historians that the documentary will include?
DH: Joe’s pre-Disney work is wonderful to see. The best is a little clip from a Gary Cooper movie where Cooper plays an artist. His portfolio is all Joe’s drawings. Fantastic. Also Joe’s work in the Model Department is stunning as are his ceramics and greeting cards. Then there are the clips of Joe as a child actor in William Fox movies! There is so much to this man over an above the work he did for Disney, and that’s what makes the story so incredible.
DG: What are the most surprising things you discovered about Joe while working on this documentary?
DH: How young he was when he came to Disney and how long he had already been involved in Hollywood as a child actor and caricaturist for the studios before Walt spotted him. He took 40 years off before he came back to work with me on Beauty and the Beast. 40 years...we should all be so lucky to have a career that measures that long and for Joe, it was just a break in the action.
DG: Are you tackling other Disney-history related projects at the moment or are you thinking about tackling any other ones?
DH: I am almost finished with a documentary film called Waking Sleeping Beauty about the history of Disney animation in the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. It’s an incredible almost Shakespearian story of an era that started with CalArts in the 1970s and ended with Lion King, the biggest box office success in history to that time. The talent of today’s industry: Lasseter, Musker, Bird, Clements, Keane, Selick, Burton, Rees, Kroyer, Bluth, all of them came from that era. I’ll be done with the film later this year when it will make its debut at film festivals everywhere (if I can finish it on time).