Sunday, May 28, 2006

That Seventies Diz -- Frank Thomas

Right: Frank Thomas by Frank Thomas, courtesy Bob Foster. Animator Frank Thomas has the deserved reputation as one of the greatest Disney animators who ever drew breath. (That was certainly true on The Fox and the Hound, where Frank built scenes of the young title characters meeting from non-storyboarded voice tracks. All of them overflowed with character and life) ... Frank was also known as "the velvet needle," the master of the subtle put-down and damn-with-faint-praise ripost. But I've got to tell you, in the time I worked with him, I never saw any of that. Frank was always friendly and supportive, quick with a smile or self-deprecating remark. I never saw a glint of the legendary Thomas needle. Except once. I was coming out of a third-floor screening room after watching Dumbo (under instructions from Woolie Reitherman, as I remember). Frank was walking toward me down the hall. He smiled when he saw me, and asked what I'd been watching. "Dumbo", I said. "Woolie wanted me to look at it. Man, it's a great movie." Frank's smile got wider. "There's a mistake in every scene." I nodded blankly. Said "Oh." Frank walked on down the hall. Six months later, I was interviewing Ward Kimball at his San Gabriel house and mentioned my brief exchange with Frank about Dumbo and his "mistake" comment. "It seemed kind of strange to me," I said. "Why do you think Frank would say say something like that?" Ward beamed at me from behind his big round glasses. "Because Frank didn't work on it."


Anonymous said...

You probably never saw the "needle" because you offered him absolutely no threat of any kind; why shouldn't he be kind, genial and friendly?
Yes, he did have that less than savory reputation among his more established colleagues. I heard him address a large gathering more than once with really disparaging remarks about other studios and animators/directors' work...but then, he was a lifelong company man. Not just by virtue of his great talent, but by a lot of politicking, too.

To focus on what really matters to the fan, the work Frank did is outstanding, fantastic, immortal--but that doesn't mean the human being who did it was a total saint. Just something to keep in mind, to keep things somewhat real.

Anonymous said...

I liked Frank Thomas a lot. He was a fantastic animator, and his work often blew me away. He was that good.

However, I saw the "needle" in action on more than one occasion. What the hell. Nobody's perfect.

Chrlane said...

Personally, I find people more attractive when they're candid. I find these types are simply more trustworthy and better communicators.

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