Marc Davis is a legend of Disney Feature Animation—one of Walt‘s Nine Old Men (his highly influential cabal of animators), Marc animated Thumper from “Bambi” and Cruella De Vil from “101 Dalmatians” and had just as profound an impact in Imagineering, where he helped design iconic attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, and America Sings. The Academy holds a series of Marc Davis Lectures, where they discuss some aspect of animation, and this year held the first “away” lecture, this time at Siggraph, the annual conference on computer graphics. At the lecture they assembled nine relatively young men: Ron Clements, Pete Docter, Eric Goldberg, Kevin Lima, Mike Mitchell, Chris Sanders, Henry Selick, David Silverman and Kirk Wise. The theme of the lecture was “Giants’ First Steps,” and focused on the early student short films by the animators. If you have even a cursory interest in animation, it’s something of a must-watch.
Initially, it’s hard to get over just how much legend is on that stage—as a group, the animators have been responsible for “Up,” “The Simpsons Movie,” “Aladdin,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Monsters, Inc,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Lilo & Stitch,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Enchanted,” and “Shrek Forever After.” Not bad.
After showing brief snippets of the filmmakers’ student films, most of them from when they were in college (Sanders’ “Fun with Father” was by far the most impressive, at least from a design standpoint), the animators then talk about how they got into the business and what attracted them to animation. After Ron Clements, who is hard at work on a Polynesian-themed Disney animated feature called “Moana,” which is supposedly utilizing a similar CG/hand-drawn hybrid that was seen in the Academy Award-winning short “Paperman,” told a somewhat bittersweet story about not having very many friends as a kid, Pixar bigwig Pete Docter, whose “Inside Out” is one of the most highly anticipated original films of 2015, piped in by saying, “A lot of us started with a similar lonely nerd-dom.” Oh and “Coraline” director Henry Selick was a fan of Ray Harryhausen stop motion monsters, which of course makes perfect sense.
The lecture is long (a little over 90 minutes) but if you have an interest in animation, Disney or otherwise, it’s a wonderful watch—totally insightful and fun that also serves as a good pre-game to this weekend’s D23 Expo in Anaheim, where many of these filmmakers’ future projects (including “Moana”) are expected to be discussed.