A Dreamer Walking

Milt Kahl – Animator – The AristoCats

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on March 30, 2014

Milt Kahl 7I can’t help but wonder how such a wonderfully jolly drawing could have come such a bitter man. “Bitter” might not be the best way to describe Milt Kahl, but it comes pretty close. He is considered the Michelangelo of animation. Great animators such as Ollie Johnston, Frank Thomas, and John Lounsbery went to him for advice on their animation through out their careers. Milt might be more responsible then anyone else for the classical Disney character designs; creating the final design for about eighty percent of the animated characters from Pinocchio (1940) to The Rescuers (1977).

The problem is with such talent comes a tremendous amount of ego. Kahl might be the most egotistical man I have ever studied. He considered himself the best and he said as much. He was never reluctant to give a fellow artist crap if he didn’t think they were carrying their weight. Kahl once said, “I think that the trouble with a group effort is if you work hard enough you find yourself all alone.” He found himself alone quite a lot. He claimed Walt needed him to animate a good two minutes of each one of the Disney characters in order to be given the go ahead on the films he worked on.

When working on a scene Kahl would explore everything. The old Disney veteran Floyd Norman told a story about walking by his office during the production of Sword in the Stone (1963). Kahl kept his office door open and Norman would walk by and see Milt just sitting there not drawing. He would go by a few more times in the next few hours and he would just be sitting there. Norman went on to say Milt would eventually pick up his pencil and start drawing, however the scene was already animated in Milt’s head by then. Kahl also worked out tones of different ways of going about a scene through thumb nails. He would not start actually animating until he figured out the perfect poses and the best way to tell the story. The other thing he prided himself on was not tracing over live action film. The Disney artists filmed live action for many of their scenes starting with the very first full length feature Snow White (1937). Kahl would maybe look at the reference material but never take it with him while he animated. He studied the anatomy of the human figure and animals to their essence. When it came to animating animals Disney artists needed to put personality into the characters. A rabbit like Thumper from Bambi (1942) couldn’t just act like a rabbit you would see in the woods, the rabbit needed to carry human emotions. Kahl animated Thumper the rabbit like a child you would see in your local grocery store.

Milt Kahl could simply do things nobody else could do. His hard edged personality didn’t stop him from creating some of the most loveable characters in Disney animation. The lawyer in Aristocats is one of those memorable characters. His dance with Madame Adelaide is one of the best scenes in the movie. He has the fragile look of a eighty year old yet the vigorous spirit of a man in his prime. Look at the superior draftsmanship. Every line seems to be perfectly placed. There is hardly any clean up needed. Above is a copy of a drawing Kahl did. His assistance made copies before they cleaned up the drawings because Kahl was extremely critical on how his artists “interfered” with his animation. If you erase the wrong line you could lose the essence of the drawing or the pose could become much weaker.

Later on in his career Kahl said, “I got accused over the years of being a fine draftsman. Actually I don’t really draw that well. It’s just I don’t stop trying as quickly. I keep at it. I happen to have high standards and try to meet them. I have to struggle like hell to make a drawing look good.” It is so easy to look at Milt Kahl’s work and not think about the blood, sweat, and tears that went into it. His poses just seem to always be in the right place and there really are few wasted lines. Yet, I can’t help but think Milt Kahl became the best at his art-form because he spent more time doing the research, working on the scene, and thinking about the perfect movement then anyone else. He really is a wonderful artists and his work will last much longer then any ego.

EXTRA:

Here is the animation to the little dance move the lawyer makes. Though it is just a few seconds of animation it takes several days and superb skill to bring this kind of stuff to life. The twist in perspective when the lawyer does his turn is just AMAZING. It is something few artists were capable or cared to do. However, Disney artists like Milt wanted to create depth in their animation so they went the extra mile to animate in tougher perspectives so their animation could pop. Add onto that Kahl’s ability to keep a form grasp on the Lawyer’s personality – even the small moment where it looks like he might not keep his balance – and you have something that just can’t be improved upon. This is an example of someone who has complete control over his art-form.

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