Monday, June 25, 2007

Disney Gets Almost Specific

It's so rare to see characters in Disney films that have expressions, that it really stands out when you finally do see something approaching specific expressions.

The scenes that introduce Captain Hook in Peter Pan stand out to me especially after so many long boring totally generic scenes of other characters.

Hook is a pretty standard Disney construction. He has the same construction as all the human characters, only with a pointy nose pasted on. The design is all in the body proportions and the costume. The way he is proportioned and the outfit he's wearing give him his instant iconic look. But the face is fairly standard Disney.

The construction and design is cleverly made to be functional-to make the features pliable and to leave enough room between each feature to move them so that they don't bump into each other when they do move.
It's a very solidly drawn 3 dimensional construction with difficult tall body proportions and like most Disney characters, very hard to control.

That's the Disney animators' greatest skill-controlling tight animation of difficult to draw characters so that it doesn't look like there are any mistakes or jerky actions. They almost always achieve this herculean feat (the original Walt Disney movies) and suitably impress the hell out of us-especially if we are animators. We know how hard it is to do.

The acting in Disney movies is usually a lot less impressive, but Hook is a step in the right direction.

This expression above is not really an expression, It's a stock Disney trick. Squash one eye and stretch the other, which makes the face look organic, rather than mechanic, and organic is what life is.

Squash and stretch and organic pliability are concepts we should understand if we are going to draw life, but they are just the first steps. They are simply tools we could use then to create a lot of unique expressions like humans have. But many animators are merely content with the tools, not the creative use of them.
Frank Thomas is breaking the mold here. He cautiously tries experimenting with Hook's mouth. He is trying out shapes that aren't totally symmetrical and that haven't been drawn before.

The eyes are standard. Nothing new. Squash one, stretch the other. The design of the eyes is the exact same design as all the other characters' eyes and they move exactly the same way as every other character. One at a time. For a take, stretch one up first, and the other follows but doesn't quite make it as high.
Standard eyes, interesting mouth.
For comparison, here is another Disney man. This design is exactly the same design and functional construction as Hook, except fat and with a slightly different nose bulb pasted on. But Smee's expressions are all stock Disney. They aren't expressions, they are merely stretch and squash.
Smee's specific personality trait doesn't happen in his face. He wiggles his fingers every time he gets excited and that's how you know he is a different character than the other pirates who all move the same as hundreds of previous Disney characters.

These mouth shapes Thomas is drawing for Hook are very subtle but original and look more human than the stock mouths we are used to seeing. That is such a radical departure for a Disney character that we start to think of Hook as a real character, by contrast with all the stock characters.

Stock eyes, interesting mouth.

Here's just a really nice angle and tilt of the head.

Same eyes, neat mouth...

I have to wonder, if an animator is capable of taking one part of the face and making original shapes with it, why not do that with the rest of the face? Eyes can be very expressive too. They don't merely squash and stretch.
What is it about Disney films that offer such promise but then never take off? Something or someone is holding everyone back and making them feel guilty if they stray too far from accepted formula. We can forgive a lot of the lack of adventurousness in the drawings and animation, because the draftsmanship and the motion is so awesome.

But for heaven's sake, why not let these animators go and do something?
This Hook stuff looks like Thomas is practicing and getting ready to really do something with the character.

Here are some cool drawings that you don't really see in real time. They are accents on the way to blander expressions. Why not make these keys instead so we can appreciate them?

Peter Pan, like so many Disney movies is a huge unfulfilled promise.

It has a few scenes where it seems like the animators have experimented with certain characters and are now ready to really let loose with them, but the damn story holds them back.

It's 90% filler.

Hook's introduction makes you think he's going to progress and get more and more specific and rich, but he never does. There is no chemistry between him and Pan. Their ancient rivalry is told to us in exposition, but it never comes to life on the screen. They don't seem to connect, even when they fight. They just perform what the story tells them to perform and get it over with.

The story people should have spent more time developing thier relationship and giving them meatier scenes to perform.

Tinker Belle is phenomenally animated and has a great design, but there's nothing for her to do in the story.

The Indian Chief has a very interesting set of dialogue mouth shapes, but once we see that, it never progresses.

It's like Disney teases you with what could be but is never fulfilled. Does anyone have an explanation for this? It's such a mystery!

Instead we get tons of bland boring scenes with generic personalityless characters:

The lost Boys
The snob family
A bunch of generic pirates.
A song about how wonderful Moms are.
(Moms are wonderful, but that's what greeting cards are for, not cartoons.)

Think what kind of a great movie could have been made if they had focused more on Hook, the crocodile, Tinkerbell, the Indians, the mermaids and Pan. These are all the characters that the kids love.

If you lined up an image of each of these characters you would think, "Wow! This is gonna really be fun!"

If you lined up the lost boys, Wendy and the parents and slapped them on a billboard, would anyone want to come see that movie?

That's what modern cartoon movies do, they make stars of the bland characters.

The biggest shame of this Disney blandification and filler is not the classic Disney movies themselves, but the terrible influence these movies have had on later, less skilled generations of animation producers.

Now we have only the blandness and stock acting, but none of the amazing animation or great drawing and none of the characters that at least show promise.

I agree with Milt Kahl about this kinda stuff: