Back around 1990, when I first got seriously interested in animation (this is before I began taking classes at the union or even thinking about working in the industry), I sought out books on the subject. There are a ton of animation books around now, but not so many then. The Illusion of Life was great and useful (I bought literally the last copy the Disneyland bookstore had of the original print run, a slightly beaten display copy), but also pretty overwhelming. Chuck Jones had been busy writing entertaining books that I happily devoured, but these didn’t help with the specifics of the process. Shamus Culhane had written Animation From Script to Screen, which had some really useful ideas, but I couldn’t relate to much of what he wrote. The Preston Blair books were great, but seemed geared towards a type of animation no longer being done, and they also seemed incomplete.* Then I found an unassuming book called How to Create Animation, by John Cawley and Jim Korkis.
It was simply a series of interviews with animation professionals, along with plenty of animator’s ruffs and preproduction art. A few interviews were with major historical figures, like Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones, but the meat of the book was 16 interviews with animation pros in the prime of their careers. I only recognized a couple of names out of that group, like Don Bluth and Glen Keane, and I didn’t take the book too seriously when I picked it up. It was a trade paperback, with what seemed like fairly low production values, on cheap paper and in black and white. I think I bought it because it was on the sale table at a bookstore, and it had some neat drawings and illustrations of animation artwork that was, at that time, rarely seen. I didn’t expect much.
Then I started reading the book. And rereading it. Almost every interview was packed with gold. I started to understand the different animation jobs much better, and the life of a character animator suddenly became real to me. These weren’t retired guys talking about how things were done long ago, with all the glossing and nostalgia that goes with that. They were talking specifically about how they were working currently, and how the animation being released then was actually made.
I thank Mark Kennedy and his fantastic Temple of the Seven Golden Camels blog for alerting me to these interviews being online. Apparently John Cawley originally interviewed the contemporary animation pros, and those are the ones online at Cawley’s website that I linked above. The interviews with the historical figures were by Jim Korkis, and I don’t know if those can be found online. As I said in the comments on Mark’s blog, this book was hugely inspiring and influential in making me see animation as a potential career. As Mark notes, it’s a shame the artwork from the book isn’t online, too, but I recommend you check out these interviews.
*As I became an animator, I began to appreciate some of these books differently, and began to understand just how much was packed into the Preston Blair books put out by Walter T. Foster. But at the time there wasn’t nearly enough about the process of animation itself to be of major help to me. Anyway, at some point I might do a brief survey of the animation books out there, though at this point there may be more than I’m willing to go through.