Saturday, November 8, 2008

Don Hahn Lecture

Last night Don Hahn came and gave a lecture on inspiration. Focusing on how it's important to find that ideal inspiration when starting a film and how various examples of inspiration helped produce the films he has been apart of. It was extremely inspiring so without further ado here are my notes, with artwork(I apologize in advance for not listing the artists who are responsible for the upcoming artwork. I've been collecting this work for awhile and unfortunately most of these pieces are not labeled):

A little history on Don Hahn: he initially was apart of a symphony as a percussion player! One summer, when he was 20, he got a job at Disney working in the Morgue(otherwise known as the Disney Archives where they store all of their artwork dating back to the days of Steamboat Willie!). His job was to deliver requested scenes to various animators at the studio so they could study it. From these deliveries he met animators like Ollie Johnston, Milt Kahl, etc. and learned directly from them about what it takes to make a film. And ever since he has been hooked. He went on to work as a clean-up artist and similar jobs before eventually becoming a producer.

The lecture started off by listing various artists and showing their artwork that inspired the early Walt Disney studio. Also included were current day artists that have inspired studios like Pixar. Names included: Robert Vickrey, Andrew Loomis, Heinrich Kley, Daumier, Peter de Seve, Peter Clark, T.S. Sullivan, Geefwee Boedoe, Teddy Newton, Willard Mullin, Leyndecker, N.C. Wyeth, John Watkiss, Craig Mullins, Mike Mignola, Quentin Blake, Searle, Bill Peet, and Lee Hyung-koo. All of these artists have amazing draftsmanship and the ability to caricature what they see. Go look these names up on Google--simply amazing work!

He then featured a quote by Pete Carroll, "Prepare at the highest level, practice at the highest level, and play at the highest level. " Meaning that there's no point drawing for 8 hours on end if you don't closely observe what your drawing. Analyzing it and understanding WHY it works or WHY it doesn't work. The names listed above were constantly studying. Whether it's a film(thumbnailing shots/acting), or even real-life analysis--like these deer studies for Bambi:

Studying like this represents the highest level of practice. He then moved onto film work showing a basic structure of what goes into a film(director, art department, story department, modeling, rigging, animation, lighting, etc.) however, Animation is a team sport and while most might think the director is the focus of the "film-process," the actual focus for everyone on the team is the story.

He then talked about visual development. How these early concepts help guide the film's final look. When working in this department the goal is to explore as many styles as possible. Doesn't have to remain literal, could be even abstract.
Color keys are especially apart of the development process. Here are some keys for Enchanted:

Also, here's something Don showed---a development piece from Fantasia, particularly Night on Bald Mountain:

Kind of disturbing, however, this achieves the idea of exploring any range of things and not staying within the recognizable styles of a company, in this case, Disney. Just whatever might support the central focus---story.

Next up, was Design. Especially, what makes a character memorable. Here are some lineups. One successful one, and one that is not as successful.

Character lineup from Robin Hood.

Character Lineup(best I could find) from Antz.

A successful lineup, like Robin Hood, showcases characters where nobody shares the same shape language, everyone has a different personality, and each of them have a distinct silhouette. Whereas with Antz, it's really hard to differentiate each character, see here:

Hard to even tell who is female and who is male.

Appeal is also very important in a design. Charlie Brown, Wallace and Gromit, etc. all have appeal. And appeal does not necessarily mean a cute baby animal, it could apply to a variety of things, like these Fred Moore drawings for Fantasia:

Or this drawing by Ollie Johnston from 101 Dalmatians:

Tons of appeal in here. Appeal comes from the heart. Appeal is all about the shapes, proportions and personality. When trying to "find" appeal---"You know an ugly drawing when you see it." However, appeal is a personal thing. Some people might not find Dumbo particularly appealing, but might gravitate towards something completely different.

After Design came story. As he quoted, "Fail fast, fail often." By meeting failures in a story and pushing past those, you end up with a strong and successful film. You learn from your mistakes and often discover a much better solution. I've been battling my story and meeting my fair share of failures, so it was a comfort to hear these words. Basically story comes down to, "What does he want and why can't he have it"-Michael Eisner. A successful movie can often be told in 1 drawing. Don Hahn shared several examples of drawings that convey a story, like these drawings below:

You know immediately the relationships, personalities, etc. Just from these drawings. And they're not even relying on dialog, a very complex idea should be summed up in this way. Another quote that was said, "Don't draw clean, draw clear."-Ollie Johnston. A short animation that was shown that excels at this is the following video called "The Chestnut Tree."

A very sweet film indeed. All conveying the story with simple designs and not relying on dialog or even color. He later discussed that a very similar creation process occurs in music and shared some original Elton John music that was developed for Lion King. Boy, "Circle of Life" could have been so different. Imagine a piano, an electronic drum machine and Elton John with very similar lyrics and you get the initial track.

To wrap up his lecture, Don Hahn shared a rarely shown short called, Lorenzo. That short is a good example of what happens when you combine all of the above fields and ultimately create a strong and great film. Sadly, Lorenzo is very hard to find and while Don said it might be put on a DVD in the next couple years(whenever Fantasia/Fantasia 2001 is re-released again) . The most I could find is a YouTube trailer:

Really nice style. I really enjoyed it and am dying to see it again. 2D animation!

The Q andA was short, but a lot of wisdom was shared. I'm just going to list what he said:

"Animation flexes every muscle you have."-Eric Larson. From hand to head---everything is being challenged to bring a single idea to life.

Falling apart is very important when making a film. Usually makes something newer/better. All about the journey, like white water rafting. How when rafting, you and the crew start out calm and confident, but soon you hit the rapids and now everyone is in the water, the boat is over turned and chaos is unleashed. But by the end, usually everyone hops back onboard(it's normal though for some people to leave a project and move on) and ultimately reach the finish line. However, it's vitally important to always have confidence in the story. The second you lose that confidence, things start to fall apart and usually the results are not for the better. Do whatever is necessary to maintain that confidence!

There is no rule book to film making. The ultimate goal, no matter what you do, is to transport the audience into the world your creating. How you do this could come from anywhere.

And finally, "Nurture your insecurities!" By having insecurities, you are self-critical and means you're on the right track--- it's all apart of the artist's life.

I left the Palace ready to go work on my film and face my current failures head on! Anyways, enjoy the notes and my next update will probably include a certain duck that is quite daffy.


Jenessa said...

Jennifer thanks for taking such wonderful notes!

This is a super thorough post.

Cindey said...

i'm impressed by your lecture recap posts and the fact that you've supplemented it with visual elements! Thanks for posting this up!

I didn't even know about Lorenzo until he showed it to us... I wonder if there are other awesome disney shorts out there?

Carlos Romero said...

Damn, amazing recap. Awesome as always.

Jennifer Harlow said...

Thanks guys! Glad you all enjoyed it! :)

Khoi Mai said...

He just gave the same lecture this wednesday at Sheridan... It was amazing, really inspiring stuff. The Lorenzo movie was great, the Pete Carroll quote really stuck to me, and the art work was really amazing.