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Archive for the ‘Story’ Category

Interview with Steven E. Gordon

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

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Born and raised in Southern California, STEVEN E. GORDON has been a professional in the animation industry since 1977.  He was hired while still in High School by Ralph Bakshi Productions to work on the feature film “Lord of the Rings”. It wasn’t long before Steve was given more responsibility and by 1982 he was Animation Director and Key Animator on the Bakshi / Frazetta feature “Fire and Ice”.  Steve’s next job was a five year stint at Disney Pictures animating on “The Black Cauldron” and other films. For the next 12 years he worked on and off with Rich Animation on a series of direct-to-videos, pioneering character layout – the industry standard, and was Animation Director / Character Designer / Key Animator on “The Swan Princess. He then continued Directing and Character Design on the highly rated “X-Men: Evolution” TV series for Kids WB where he not only directed on the first two seasons, but also did every single character design himself for all four seasons with only the help of a clean-up artist. He then went to Dreamworks and worked in the story dept. and received a credit for his work on the huge Hit Shrek 2. After Dreamworks he went to work for Marvel/Lionsgate Productions as a director and a character designer on the Ultimate Avengers. He also directed a direct-to-video for Stan Lee and co-directed the direct-to-video sequel to “Happily N’ever After” for Lionsgate and is currently a director of the new series Wolverine and the X-Men.

Here is a rare interview with one of the top 5 animators in animation today who has worked with every TV and feature animation studio that is in Southern California.

Tony Benedict

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

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CTN Legend Tony Benedict arrived on the Walt Disney Studio lot in summer of 1956 and took an inbetweening potition on Sleeping Beauty and 101 Dalmations before joining Bob McCrea’s television unit where he got to do a bit of animation. Find out how he got started at UPA as an assistant to animator Ed Freidman and was given an opportunity to write some Mister Magoo episodes and his journey to Hanna Barbera as a full time staff writer working with Mike Maltese and Warren Foster. Sit back and enjoy the tales of this talented contributor to the Golden Age of Animation.

Lots of vintage movies, photos and art at Tony’s website at http://www.homepage.mac.com/tonytoons

Joe Grant

Monday, March 24th, 2008

Disney Legend

(Caricature by John Musker)

Words by Mike Gabriel for Heroes of Imagination:
Joe Grant taught me many, many things over the 15 years I worked with him, about life and about cartoons. Probably the greatest lesson was observing the way he lived his life, summed up by a little 4 by 3 calligraphic note he wrote and kept taped to the outside of his office door at Disney. It read simply “Get to work” And boy did he work. Right up until he was about a week away from turning 97 years of age. He really lived that note. Never allow yourself to turn fallow. You are an artist; therefore you must reflect then create. Compensated or not, you must never stop coming up with ideas andconcepts and thoughts that need to be captured in drawings and/or words. Stay in the game. Create. Get on the screen or the art pad, pick up that stylus pen, ink pen, grease pencil, water colors, or charcoal and get that brain working. (more…)

Memories of Joe Grant

Tuesday, July 11th, 2006

JOE SENT ME: A tribute to Joe Grant, 1908-2005

Joe Grant was the spirit of the old Disney studio incarnate.
He was “the old guy at the end of the hall” who sat for months, and years, in an office on the third floor of the Disney studio, working on ideas for new animated pictures.
One of his ideas was made into a short film called LORENZO which was nominated for an Academy Award when its creator was 96 years old.

In 1931, Walt Disney hired a young newspaper cartoonist named Joe Grant to design caricatures of Hollywood movie stars for a Mickey Mouse cartoon, MICKEY’S GALA PREMIERE. Joe designed caricatures of Wallace Beery, Charlie Chaplin, and Greta Garbo and liked the work so much he stayed on at Disneys for the next seventeen years.

Joe noticed that characters would change shape and volume from scene to scene in the early shorts. He created the Character Models department at Disney at Walt Disney’s request and introduced the concept of maquettes’ three dimensional statues of the cartoon creatures that would enable animators to draw them correctly from all angles.

A list of Joe’s accomplishments would be far too long to include here. He designed the Queen and the Witch in SNOW WHITE. He wrote the story for DUMBO.
Some of his best work can be seen in THE RELUCTANT DRAGON, whose BABY WEEMS sequence, done entirely in storyboard, revolutionized animated storytelling.

In 1948 Joe had a falling out with Walt Disney over credits on the films and he left the studio for forty years.
During this time, he and his wife produced elegant ceramics and graphic art.

In 1988 Joe Grant was called back in to Disney’s to work on concept art for THE LITTLE MERMAID.

This time, he never left.

Joe continued to turn out concept art for every Disney film made since 1988. He sat in the office that he shared with Burny Mattinson and drew elegant pictures of cats and elephants and Indian gods and monsters. His colleague Vance Gerry, who also left us this year, worked just down the hall.

The younger animators were a little afraid of Joe. Most of it was awe of what he’d done. And there was always the notion in the back of our heads that this old guy could draw rings around any and all of us. It was a notion that was perfectly true.

“I know what will break the ice,” I told a friend.

I went straight to Joe’s office, knocked on the door, introduced myself, and said “I bet I’ve got some cartoon books that you don’t have.”

“Like what?”

“SIMPLICISSIMUS, a Munich satirical magazine, the 1975 museum catalogue.”

“I’ve got the complete run of SIMPLICISSIMUS right here!” Joe said, indicating a row of browncoated, dusty books on a nearby shelf.

“I’ve got some Ralph Bartons and T. S. Sullivants that I don’t think you have. I’ll trade copies.”

“Bring em in!”

So I did, and the ice was well and truly broken. We became friends and I would often stop by to see how things were going with Joe’s projects, and discuss my own.

I once asked Joe why he continued to work at Disney’s. We would often discuss the current state of the studio. Joe thought that it definitely had once been better.

“The old man doesn’t work here any more!” he said brusquely. “As for me, coming in here beats staying home looking at the dog!”

When the DUMBO special edition disc came out, I phoned Joe to tell him that I’d seen him onscreen doing an interview with Leonard Maltin in the “extra features”.

“WAS I ALIVE?” Joe asked brusquely.

“You photographed better than Leonard did.”

We were discussing 3D animation a few weeks ago and Joe was terribly excited to hear that a system had been invented in Rochester which did not require special red and green glasses for the three dimensional effect, and one of the systems was installed on the campus of RIT.

“I’ve been predicting this thing for forty years. I have to read about it!” Joe said.

And I got the paperwork that I had promised him and had it all ready for download this weekend. But it’s too late to mail it to him now.

Joe was working right up to the end, which came on May 6, 2005, a few days short of his 97th birthday.

I feel privileged to have known him for ten years and to have been able to work with, and learn from, a damn fine artist who was also one of the last living links with the early years of the Disney studio.

And I imagine that Joe’s getting proper credit, now that he’s working with the Old Man on his next picture.

–Nancy Beiman

My Memories of Joe Ranft

Thursday, August 18th, 2005

Joe Ranft, the Great One. By Mike Gabriel

Back in the early eighties some of us in the Disney feature animation department on the main lot back then, used to put on puppet shows in an office window of the animation building with these life size cardboard cutouts of celebrities, including Eddie Fisher who acted as the host of the shows by lip syncing to old Al Jolson tracks. We called them the Eddie shows. Joe Ranft was our Santa Claus—not cardboard, but Joe in a costume— for the Christmas Eddie Shows. Mike Giamio used to have a Christmas party every year and about half way into the party a knock at door and there was Santa Claus with a big HO HO HOOooo handing out gifts and laughs. My wife Tammy remembers meeting Joe for the first time when he showed up in full Santa Claus regalia at one of those parties. She loved him immediately. We all did. Everybody who ever met Joe—for ten minutes—or for twenty-five years like me—loved Joe the minute you met him. Joe Ranft was our Santa Claus. He was a darn good Santa Claus. In fact, he was better than the real Santa Claus.

Joe Ranft, the Great One has died. The Gentle Giant. We all looked up to Joe–not just because he towered over us in height but because he towered over us in every way a human being can. He worked harder, he had more sheer talent, better ideas, better solutions to problems, he was funnier, wittier, more original, more ingenius, drew funnier drawings, he gave more time to charities and time to whoever needed help, friend or stranger. He was the Great One. The great Joe Ranft. By contrast, the rest of us looked small when we complained about any trivial nothing and Joe would furrow his brow with genuine compassion and listen and truly care and soon he was smiling and we were smiling and we were all better. Negativity and misery didn’t reside in Joe’s orbit.

Joe was a big man. His untimely death makes us all feel extremely mortal and extremely vulnerable. If a huge strong big hearted guy like Joe can get taken out in the blink of an eye we are all doomed. Joe was entirely too strong and too nice and just so big that it would be impossible to end his life. Well, he has left us and we all feel oh so small and oh so less than the great one, Joe Ranft. Any human was small next to the great one. So much less than we should be. So much less than Joe. And Joe was so much more than any human could ever hope to be.

Everything about Joe made you smile. When he walked it looked like he had springs for bones. I don’t ever remember shaking hands with Joe over the 25 years I was friends with him. You hugged Joe. You wanted some of that Joe hug whenever you saw him. There was lot of love in that Joe hug. Life was good in those big Joe arms.

His hands were extraordinarily graceful and beautiful. Pure elegance. Joe’s hands. They were a thing of beauty, large with long delicate perfectly tapered fingers. They were an artist’s hands. They were a magician’s hands. He used them so expressively when he talked. I could watch them all day long. They made magic on a daily basis. The way they drew with such a light delicate touch, drawings that made you laugh. Joe could draw virtually anything—I repeat anything and make you laugh. He never realized how brilliant an artist and painter—story sense aside—he was.

Joe could speak very very softly and quietly, pulling you into those sparkly black little eyes that twinkled their spell on you, and he could speak very very loudly and ROAR into an improve at full window shattering intensity, throwing the entire room into gut busting laughter. He knew how to modulate. His stories. His life.

Joe was patient. Joe was polite. He always let you speak and always listened and always made you feel special. Joe cared. He truly cared. Joe was generous. He gave. He gave and gave and gave. Come on Joe–how much can one man give! Well, Joe, you shamed us all with how much you gave to your fellow man here on earth. You were exemplary in every way you chose to live. You gave without ever wanting anything out of it. You gave without ever letting anybody know how much you were giving. You gave because you wanted to. You gave because you cared about others. You gave and you gave and you gave. And that giving is what finally took you away from us. It isn’t right. It doesn’t fit. It doesn’t make a good story.

I would like to be the first to suggest Pixar commision a larger than life bronze statue of Joe, meaning make it his actual size, walking along with
his beloved children Jordy and Sophia at his side, as one of Pixar’s founding fathers and have it placed in the gardens around their headquarters. I think it should be made from donations from everybody Joe touched in his life. If we all gave a nickel we could build a 50 ft solid gold statue of the great one—Joe Ranft–the best there ever was. The best of any of us. The best mankind has to offer.

When those of us who knew and loved Joe heard he was dead it was like hearing Santa Claus is dead. How could anybody let Santa Claus die? What kind of a world would kill off Santa Claus? Who is going to give the children of the world, children of all ages the toy stories that Pixar continues to bless us with now? The years and years that we might have been hearing Joe’s stories and falling in love with Joe’s characters are ended. But happily, the gifts he has given the world in his 45 short years, are gifts that keep on giving. Whenever we see Woody, or Buzz, or Heimlich, or Wheezy, or any of hundred beloved Pixar creations we are receiving Joe’s gifts. His stories are his gifts. And stories never die like people do. They go on. Joe’s stories will continue to generate new ideas into all those little children’s minds hearing them, seeing them, falling in love with them for the first time. Their little light bulbs of imagination will be lit by Joe’s stories. Although the Luxo Jr. light bulb is out today, and the massive open atrium of Pixar is darkened with hushed reverence for a fallen hero, that will pass. Joe’s legacy will spark new light into that still flickering filiment in Luxo Jr’s little head. Every artist there today and all the future employees, children who grew up Pixarlated by Joe’s work, will think of Joe often and be inspired to do even better. Joe would expect it of himself. And he expects it of all of us.

Sleep well Joe, your work here on earth is done. Say hi to our other Joe up there. He now has the two best story men in the game. Tell him to stop
for now. Baseball trading is over. He wins. Let us have the rest. The world needs them. There is much work to be done and we don’t have you two to
help anymore. Roll up the sleeves, boys and girls, this is doing it the hard way.
Mike Gabriel

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