Thursday, September 28, 2006

Tales From Ward K: Of Rubber Hoses and Fred Moore

What follows is a piece of an interview I did with Ward Kimball long ago in his sunny front yard. He holds forth on a variety of subjects. I roll out a couple of them here ...

Steve Hulett: You mentioned cycle animation in the early days at Disney ...

Ward Kimball: It wasn’t so much cycle animation, because that puts it in the corner of Hanna-Barbera. It still had to have all those nuances and changes. If you had a guy running along, you had to make sure it didn’t look like a cycle to Walt. While the feet may be working as a cycle, maybe the camera is trucking in, or the character is slowly looking around as he’s running. So there wasn’t a cycle.

I remember when I first went to work at Disney, cycle animation was kind of a no-no. If you used a cycle you shouldn’t make your audience aware of it. But you have to realize that when people started to animate, in the old days it was such a difficult process that they looked for simple or almost abstract ways of drawing characters, because the very basic nature of it was multiple drawings which were time-consuming to do. So you invented characters that were on the round side, because everybody knows that it’s faster to do anything if you roll and turn and spiral instead of going in straight lines, or cutting corners, or turning corners.

So your characters became very simple, almost abstract. And when you analyze Mickey Mouse he was two circles connected with two lines, and we had what we call rubber hose animation because Mickey’s and Minnie’s legs both look like black rubber hoses and they acted like sort of a whipping action.

But as we got into more realistic approaches, beginning with the little fairy and the flying mouse…those were the beginnings and you learned how difficult they were. And with Snow White, with the queen they used rotoscope for starters, rotoscoping a villain from a play called “The Drunkard” as sort of inspiration for the witch, but we never did trace them like we did Snow White. There we actually went over [the girl] with rotoscope prints. We changed the head and the proportions ...

So as animation became more of a movie illustration, we got away from that rubber hose arbitrary way of drawing ... The funny thing is, when you look at Winsor McCay’s animation it’s so startlingly real. The thing he did with the mosquito landing on this guy’s forehead was a beautiful drawing of a mosquito, but yet it has sort of a humorous charm about it. Well, he drew exactly like he did his "Little Nemo" strip, which was super illustration, a bit of color like a comic book, but McCay was a realist and didn’t follow the rest of the cartoonists.

The demand [in early animation] was that you had to draw like a comic strip character -- like Felix on the screen -- to be funny. And if you did it realistically you could not be funny. [Early cartoons] were just a series of one gag after another, so in order to make them funny you had to have gross characters done sometimes in an obscene amount of exaggeration. And then we got into more believable stories and plots, like Snow White, and personality development of those seven dwarfs, each one of them different, compared to the early Mickeys where everybody just bounced and played instruments.

SH: Talk about Fred Moore.

WK: Fred deviated from the rubber hose, round circle school. Fred was just right for the time. He was the first one to escape from the rubber hose school. He began getting counter movements, counter thrusts, in the way he drew. More drawing. He decided to make Mickey’s cheeks move with his mouth, which had never been done before when you drew everything inside that circle. He squashed and stretched him more.

And this was right at the time, but Fred was a high school-trained animator. He never went to art school, and he more or less emerged drawing that way. Nobody seems to remember any development. It just came there and started, but the interesting thing is he never went beyond that part. The rest of us came into that place. It was a strange place, we adapted to it and we kept trying to improve and change, and we became students of it. Milt Kahl, myself, Frank and Ollie. We knew it was a tough art, and there were many nuances of techniques and conceptions regarding the way you drew, and the thing we saw was that there were millions of things of things to be learned yet and to try.

Fred never thought of that. He wasn’t a student of animation, he was just a naturally gifted animator whose style and development was perfect, timing-wise, for that point of time of where the studio wanted to go. And when the studio kept going in that direction it became the students, the guys I named, who carried it on. And Fred, being the type of character he was, almost juvenile in a way, was not able to cope with this. He took to drinking instead of saying “Gee, this is interesting. I’ll sit down and explore it too, and improve and rise above what I’ve done.”

The idea was to try to do better than you did the year before, because it was such an open thing. We were pioneering techniques in animation styles that had never been done before. But Fred was content to stay at this one level, and he got all his adulation for The Three Pigs. Pigs isn’t bad. It’s wonderful for the time. It made everything that came before look very crude, and it gave the studio the shot in the arm that Walt thought was wonderful.

So Fred was the man of the hour and couldn’t handle it, really, if you want to know. He just expected to be the man of the hour forever, and then we began to notice that as we got more into the subtleties of animation, slowing in and out, and the little nuances which were not banging and jumping around all the time, Fred’s work began to look crude.

Now that’s a hell of a thing to say, but I’m talking relatively speaking. I noticed it on The Reluctant Dragon. Fred was given the knight with the little boy, and what had been the acceptable way on The Three Little Pigs and in some cases Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, there were parts, even though they were drawn well, that were crude, timing-wise.

Fred would hit a pose and just freeze there and while we were already loosening those things up and putting in the subtle things that would keep [the animation] alive a long time. That’s what I meant, that at that time Fred was drinking heavily, and I was secretly going in with his exposure sheets and adding these other little drawings that would make them work with the rest of the animation that was being done on the picture.

And more and more, Fred became defensive, and hitting the bottle and feeling sorry for himself. He’d come back from lunch and would want to talk about it, and of course we didn’t want to talk about it. And he wanted to talk about it every afternoon, how the place was giving him a bad deal, and all that, and Walt wasn’t good to him any more.

We just felt sorry for him. We didn’t know what to do and all of a sudden ... you know his brother and father, they had the same drinking problem. We didn’t know that. We’d all go out and have a martini, and with Fred it would become an obsession. And it became an escape when he couldn’t handle the situation in the studio.


Jenny Lerew said...

Steve, what year was this done?

I ask as I notice that at least one small section of your interview is quoted in "Illusion of Life"...I interviewed Watrd in 1981, and he said many of the same things, almost verbatim, so I'm imagining it was around that same time, but a bit earlier, as "Life" was already in galley form at that time.
The phrase I wrote down that Ward said Fred would repeat was "I got a raw deal, Ward". It's very sad.

Anonymous said...

I never met Fred Moore, but Frank Thomas gave me a stack of Freddie's best scenes from "Pigs," and I just loved the stuff.

True, the studio had moved on, and Fred couldn't seem to move with it. It's awful about the booze, but man, the studio had no shortage of "boozers" in those days.

In spite of all that, I gotta say, his drawings were brilliant. Boy, could he draw!

Steve Hulett said...

Ward talked to me in April 1978. I was doing a piece on "Snow White" for a coffee-table art book.

Around this time I talked to Wilfred Jackson, Ken Anderson, and Eric Larson. Sooner or later I'll post what all of them had to say.

Andy Norton said...

Excellent insight from one of the most influential animators from Disney.

Gloria said...

"Man of the hour!??!??

Gee, Disney's (and studios imitating the Disney Style) are still reaping benefits from what Fred Moore did in his "hour"!! I feel there were other issues, I mean studio politics about which Moore was perfectly innocent: I have the feeling that he loved to draw, and that was his life so he wouldn't get himself involved in motions to get promoted, just for the sake of promotion... I mean, take Vladimir Tytla, for instance, possibly the greatest animator Disney ever had, and got estranged from teh Studio because of his taking sides fighting for the working rights of other animators: Tytla had to leave, not because he was untalented or because he couldn't catch up with new developments (MY GOD! HE was LEADING the way!!), but because he felt others had the right to get a decent salary for his work.

So...Whats the real story behind Fred Moore? I reckon not the official one given by any of the Nine Old Men.

As for the drinking thing, Jack Kinney mentioned that animators used to drink quite a lot in the golden era, so... up to what point was Moore's drinking an unusual thing? He was described as an uber-productive fellow at work, so if he drunk that certainlu didn't affect his output)

Jenny Lerew said...

As much as I hate to say it, personally I don't think Ward was pulling any punches here. I've talked to a lot of people(admittedly years after the fact), and I think the way Ward wrote it was really exactly how it happened.

Keep in mind too that Ward Kimball loved Fred; he was probably the closest friend he had at the studio in that crucial period. Of course there are always studio politics afoot in every place, but yes, although a lot of people drank, they still had to function--or else. Fred simply did not. The bar was set high for everyone, much less the top men. The fact is that he was kept on for years after his (lack of) output would have gotten anyone else(literally virtually ANYONE)fired. It's a testament to the great affection people had for Fred, and the genuine talent and accomplishments he did have, that Walt kept him at Disney's for as long as he did. Add to that that although he was laid off he was rehired two years later, and kept in Disney's employ till his death about 7 years after that. I can't blame Disney or the other guys for Fred's downfall. IN some way even he wasn't to blame. He became ill-an alcoholic.

(I'm answering this so long after the original comments that probably no one will see it, but thought I should add it anyway.)

Mike said...

Hey Jenny,

I read it.
Thanks for your comments and input.
(No one will probably ever read THIS either.)
Sometimes I LOVE flying under the radar!!

handel said...

I read it Mike.


Unknown said...

It's more than five years later and I'm re-reading it ...

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