Friday, July 12, 2013


A couple of days ago, I was sitting at my computer, and I thought to look up one of my favorite moments in an animated film, “Farewell,” from the film, “Pocahontas.”  Since I worked on the film, I have always loved Alan Menken’s music and scoring in it.  I found on YouTube that someone had loaded up the ending scene with the whole “Farewell” soundtrack score synched to the scene, instead of using the film's own sound.  This meant that there was no dialogue or sound effects in this instance.  It was nice to watch it this way for two reasons.  One was that it felt like a retrospective.  Having the dialogue and sound effects put a slight buffer between me and the film, which made it feel removed, as if looking at it through a window, as does the period in which I worked on it feels.  Secondly, Menken’s score is much clearer without any other sounds, and I enjoyed the richness of the orchestration and arrangements.

"Farewell is very special to me, not only because Alan Menken so beautifully combined the various musical themes from the film together for this emotional crescendo like only he can, but also because I happened to accompany my Associate Producer to Alan Menken’s recording session for this scene at Todd AO Recording Stage in Studio City.  I don’t know why my Associate Producer did it, except that he was very generous, but he asked me if I wanted to sit in the middle of the orchestra while they recorded to picture.  And I don't mean on the mixing board side of the glass, but on the stage floor between all of the instruments.  I accepted of course, and there occurred an experience that I will never forget.  The music was all around me, rich with every instrument in the orchestra.  They did several passes including some to get the godly choir singers’ parts recorded.  So when I listen to that “Farewell,” I know that I am literally sitting in the middle of the music at that moment; very special.  I wouldn't otherwise believe it except that I was there.

My reaction was strong.  It brought me back to when I was working with the huge team of artist and production management on a project that was just on the heels of “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King.”  It made me realize how all of the apparatus was still in place from the four previous films before “Pocahontas.”  All of the ridiculously talented 2-D artists, all of the producers, the make-shift warehouse type buildings, the catered dinners for overtime workers, and Alan Menken himself.  They had the best directors, supervising character leads, clean up leads and painters, all on "Pocahontas."  It was literally my dream come true.  I had seen a background painter named, Cristy, on a Disney Animation special on television well before I worked at Disney, and now I was talking to her in person.  I recall walking down the hall between our two connected buildings and seeing Alan Menken in front of me.  I told him how much I loved his music, and he thanked me sincerely, putting his hand to his heart, in acceptance of the complement.  I'm lucky I didn't pass out that first time talking to him.

And it got me to thinking the past few days, how much I miss that world.  I worked on many animated productions after this, but at some point, maybe a movie or two thereafter, the Broadway inspired theatrical animated movie went the way of the wind.  Then, after that, so did traditional animation.  Both of these have been revisited in some form or another, but there really have not been any full attempts to make a high quality romantic animated musical since the mid 1990’s.  Did the audiences feel they were too formulaic?  I think I remember reading criticisms about that. Did kids begin to desire adventures that were more akin or translatable to 3-D video games? 

Any of these might be true, and it’s okay.  Art forms change and move on.  But I must say that I miss them with my full heart and soul.  I miss the music, the clever ways that songs were written to describe romance ("If I Never Knew You," "Beauty and the Beast") and the world that the characters lived in ("Under the Sea," "Be Our Guest"), and I miss the traditional drawing.  I miss walking into an animator's room and seeing her or him flipping their animation paper and being buried in model sheets.  I miss seeing Glen having his hands covered in charcoal as he's hammering out a few story boards on his own, or hearing Eric's laugh as he comes up with some ideas for a scene he's issuing to an animator.  I miss seeing Cristy walk around with an apron covered in paint smudges, and I miss seeing the line outside of Vera's door to get tips on clean up keys, or Ann sitting in the blue light of her Color Models station.  How beautiful was all of that?  Very.  More than I can properly describe here.  I'm still not sure that The Walt Disney Company should have been paying me to witness all of this.  Animators and Clean Up Artists didn’t only animate (as if that weren’t be enough).  They took life drawing classes and worked on dimension, perspective and maintaining model during their training time.  There was a lot of pride and love in their years of art schooling, and their learning never stopped. This was a very complicated and deeply earned skill set that these traditional artists developed through enormously difficult and time consuming work.

I think back to some of the films that I worked on after, “Pocahontas,” and though I enjoyed every one of them, some of them were missing something; the music basis and the romance.  That’s what I love.  So I think to myself today, “How could the traditionally animated musical be brought back? “What kind of project or property could necessitate all of these skills and styles of presenting a story again?"  "How could I bring such a thing together?"  I'll have to think much more on this.