Will Finn has a nice think-piece on the long-term skills of animation veteran Chuck Jones: Did he hang onto his creative edge into old age? Or did he lose it?
Will has gotten lots of traffic and comments with the piece, and I don't have much to add about Charles M. Jones's pluses and minuses. But the post got me thinking about what I've seen and experienced with long-timers over the past thirty-plus years.
Good animation artists who last are like cagey big-league ball-players. The best ones cherish and nurture their skills, and keep learning curves on upward trajectories. When they find a stimulating creative strategy or approach, they pull it into their repertoire and make it their own ...
Years back, I knew an artist at Disney who briefly worked with Ken Anderson and adapted his storyboard style. (You're going to steal, steal from the best). At the Mouse House today, story artists have Bill Peet story panels pinned to their walls.
Emulating the masters never goes out of style. And it's a fine starting point when you're developing your own style.
But like professional athletes, most of us lose speed and agility as we age. Joe Grant might draw elegantly at 95, everyone else is pretty much dead. And even for those still breathing and willing to work, the eysight fades, the hand shakes, and the ability to concentrate for long periods of time recdes out of reach.
I first experienced this when a 75-year-old animator called me up in the early nineties furious that some "snot-nosed kid" had rejected him for a job at one of the studios that was then doubling its staff. As a courtesy, I went to the studio and tried to track down what the problem was. One of the recruiters finally leveled with me:
"Bill has a hell of a resume, but the test he did wasn't pretty. His line quality isn't there. He did great work for Joe Barbera at MGM, but forty years later he's lost it ..."
There's no rejoinder you can make to that.
The maddening part is, some artists do crackerjack work well into their eighties, but others don't. The ones who draw every day, who keep their eye-hand coordination sharp (and are blessed with excellent genes) will often be picking up work at eighty-four and turning down jobs.
The artists who stop? Put it this way. You stop throwing your hard slider, you probably aren't going to get it back when you pull on the uniform for the old-timers' game.