Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Why do we do it?

Michael Barrier, Michael Sporn and especially Hans Perk have posted on their blogs over the past few months some extremely rare and very specialized documents related to Disney history: animation drafts and lecture notes. Michael and Hans have been wondering recently if making the effort to do so is actually worth it, considering the lack of comments on their blogs related to those posts.

Thankfully, quite a few readers on those blogs have expressed how strongly they feel about the importance of those posts and if one considers - like most marketing departments would – that one comment from a specific reader actually represents 1000 readers who have remained silent, there are actually quite a few people who do care.

I just wanted to add my take on the matter, as I would definitely no want the two Michaels or Hans to stop posting (in fact, as every dedicated blog reader, I would love the pace of the posts to always accelerate, but that’s another story).

First, one thing is certain: the number of people who have enough knowledge to even be able to comment on those very specialized documents is extremely limited. To comment on an animation draft, you not only have to understand very well the animation process, you also have to know quite a bit about the artists who created the movies, their art and life at the Studio, which means having read a fair amount of books and magazines on the matter. Even then, you might not have anything specific to say about those drafts, save if you had been in touch with those artists yourself and are aware of some unknown aspects of their careers or if you have been studying the history of the making of a specific film in great details, which will allow you to comment on the involvement of specific artists on specific scenes. As for animation lectures, only animation professionals (for the most part) would be able to discuss those.

You will indeed find a larger audience if you post a note about the upcoming script of the Pirates of the Caribbean sequel or the upcoming closure of an attraction at the Magic Kingdom.

But - and this is the point that I am leading to – while getting lots of immediate reactions is hugely gratifying and motivating (how often have I posted notes on this blog asking you to comment on my posts), I believe it is much less relevant to what we are doing (be it through our blogs, or the books and articles we are writing or editing) than the long term impact it will have. What am I talking about? Two things, in practice:

- The impact our work will have on yet-to-be-born animation historians and enthusiasts.
- The impact our work will have on yet-to-be-born artists.

Let’s start with animation historians and enthusiasts: I would never have started Walt’s People two years ago if I had not discovered 15 years ago Michael Barrier’s groundbreaking magazine Funnyworld… which by the time I discovered it had already ceased publication. And Walt’s People seems to have inspired quite a few other projects related to Disney history with only two years of existence. That’s just mentioning one example of someone who was inspired by Michael Barrier’s magazine. Talk about a snowballing effect when you add all the other current historians and enthusiasts who were inspired by it and will inspire others in their turn.

As for animation artists: I have been working for the last few weeks on a series of conferences from CalArts that Darrell Van Citters sent me for a future volume of Walt’s People. Lecturers included Ollie Johnston, Milt Kahl, Maurice Noble and others. But more importantly, attendees included John Lasseter, John Musker, Nancy Beiman and quite a few other heavyweights of the current animation galaxy. They were lucky to be able to study with the masters of the Golden age, but the new generation will not have that opportunity, unless we give them access to those conference transcripts, those lecture notes, those handouts (like the ones from Walt Stanchfield that have been available on the web for quite a few years). Will those upcoming artists post comments about them on the web? Probably not. Will they study them at home over many years? Yes, the smarter ones probably will. If the next John Lasseters, John Muskers, Nancy Beimans or Pete Docters (Pete is both a hugely talented director and an animation historian) do get something out those posts, will the effort of posting them have been worth it?

I often joke that our passion for Disney history or animation history is unlikely to change the world. That’s a reality, of course, and our passion for history, our excitement with new discoveries, our pleasure at building on each others research is its own reward. But then I think of the emotional impact that Monsters, Inc. had on me; I remember that Pete Docter studied Disney’s animation history in depth before directing what I consider a masterpiece, and I find myself hoping that part of the knowledge that we contribute to spread might have a small impact beyond the historians and the fans, through the artists, on the quality of the animated movies themselves.

I believe it is worth the effort. Thankfully Michael, Michael and Hans seem to have been convinced that their doubts were unfounded even before this post. I had to contribute my two cents though.

I am being selfish: I love this stuff so much.


Hans Perk said...

Nice piece, Didier - I love your postings. I can tell you, for me it is not so much about the effort. Having been in the animation business for 27 years, I have been looking for and collecting drafts for nearly the same amount of time. I love the stuff, and posting it gives me more reason to handle and study it, and if I'm lucky, I get comments by knowledgable historians like Mark or Michael. I also love seeing Mark's mosaics, often based on the stuff I post. But am I really the one to publish and post these things? This is not just stuff that just happened to be in my possesion - it was not just handed to me to post: though I am not made of money, I have invested THOUSANDS of dollars in the material, the drafts and the lectures, because I find it all so interesting. I basically bought this instead of buying a car. Several cars. Once in a while I feel I ask myself: why am I to just give it away for free? And since I only own a copy, not the "base material" or copyright, I cannot just put it in a book - and who'd buy it in the first place? Having invested and then posted as I have, I at least hoped for some discussion, or even just questions. There seem to be many people from the business reading this stuff, who could ask pertinent questions if they wanted to, and we could all learn more about it through discussion. The little of this that does happen illustrates my point.

I believe in the sharing of knowledge, and I do not mind sharing this large part of the stuff, so far probably around seven or eight hundred pages of never-before-published material, with like minds. Especially the lectures: if they can influence coming generations, that would be WONDERFUL, as we are surely in need of retaining and rekindling this knowledge. Though I will continue to post stuff as I see fit, I am very aware that my material is far from complete. If there could be some way to do this in a more organized way, like some kind of official "Disney Archives Animation History Subscription," from the original sources etc., I'd be all for it. Library copies. Copies for schools. Someone is going to have to pay for getting this through the red tape first, get it all organized, produced AND SOLD. Now - if I had just sold MY company for 7.4 BILLION, I am certain I would have liked to invest in the future of animation by recapturing its history. Any takers?

Didier Ghez said...

The Disney Archives Animation History Subscription would be a beautiful thing, wouldn't it? Unfortunately when you see that with 500.000 readers the Disney Magazine was discarded as not the best use of resources compared to financial returns it is unlikely that a project aimed at 1000 people at most will ever be launched by Disney. It should be spearheaded by Disney, there should be a much easier way to access all this outstanding historical information,... but for now the burden is on our shoulders. The consoling news is that were Disney to ever consider releasing that information they could do it. The same could not be said about Warner, for example.

Joakim Gunnarsson said...

Well said Didier.
Even if I almost never leave any comments I check yours and Hans blogs (along with a few others) at least twice a week to catch up and see something amazing I din't know about before.
My drawers is also filled with rare stuff and original art that I have invested loads of money in. Inspired by you I've started my own blog. (Not so much focus on Disney as yours but theres bound to be lots of posts on that subject. :-) )
I just enjoy sharing those rare items. Never mind if I get comments on my posts as long as I know that the stuff is seen by others and hopefully it will mean that other will start to share their rare stuff too. Keep up the good work, both of you, Didier and Hans!

/Joakim Gunnarsson.