I recently purchased the special edition DVD of Disney’s Jungle Book. It is widely regarded as one of the all-time classics of animation. Not because of the story. The plot is so simple that the movie should be a total bore. The movie is revered because of the characters. They are so incredibly entertaining and delightful to watch that you can’t help but get caught up in the fun.
That is no small feat.
Much of the film was animated by some of the greatest animators who have ever lived (Ollie Johnston, Frank Thomas, and Milt Kahl), all master draftsman at the top of their game. Every scene is dripping with charm, personality, and life. Each frame is a masterpiece.
Just look at the posing of the characters. Here’s three monkeys watching Balloo and Mowgli float by in the river below. Notice the variety and expressiveness in their poses. How easy it would have been to just draw three monkeys sitting side by side. And how boring. Instead, notice that only one of the monkeys is actually sitting. The rest are standing, and not just standing….they are upside down!. Also, notice not one of them is pointing. Instead of using such a generic gesture, their entire bodies arc and stretch to show their intense interest in what’s going on beneath them.
Below are several stills of Balloo the bear. Notice the amount of thought and planning that went into each pose:
Clarity. You can tell instantly what Balloo is thinking and/or why he is doing the action. Nothing is ambiguous or generic.
Exaggeration. Every pose is pushed to the extreme. There is no going half-way.
Solid Drawing. Even though each drawing is on screen for only a fraction of a second, there are no cheats on anatomy or structure–even on the complex poses.
Expressiveness. Balloo is not just acting with his faces and arms. His entire body is used to communicate his attitude and feelings.
Studying the great Disney animators challenges me to move beyond drawing the first cliched pose that pops into my head or rolls off of my pencil, and instead to push every drawing to make it as expressive as I possibly can.
(Artwork © Copyright Disney. Text © Copyright Cedric Hohnstadt.)