This is part 2 in a series of “Things I heard at Disney that I’ll never forget”, by 30-year animation veteran Tom Bancroft. Read part 1 here.
There are some words in the English language that we think we know the meaning of but when asked to define them an explanation can be allusive. How do you describe “Love” or “Design”? The definition can change dependent upon the context.
The word “Sincerity” is that word for me when applied to animation.
I heard the word when I was probably about 5-6 years into my career at Disney. On the film “Pocahontas” I was honored to have been chosen to be one of about 18-20 animators to animate the title character under the supervision of Master animator, Glen Keane. I’ll be honest, the thrill on that film was not to animate Pocahontas, it was to work with Glen. At Disney, he’s known to be one of the best animators (and draftspeople) of ALL TIME. Glen was good at everything- drawing, character design, expressions, posing, staging, acting, timing and animation- but more than all those things, he was inspiring. While many Disney supervising animators were talented, not all were inspiring leaders. Glen’s ability gave him the rare ability to not have to think about the million of things a traditional animator has to consider as they place one drawing on a sheet after another. Unlike most of us, he could draw exactly what entered his head and knew how to place it on the page to create the timing and performance he wanted. Because of that, he didn’t think about the technical side of animation, just the creative- and pushing the boundaries. This made him a different kind of mentor to us new animators.
For example, during Pocahontas, he would look at a scene of mine and rather than seeing how I could smooth out the animation here, space the drawings less evenly there, change the timing of this section, or even lift an eyebrow on this drawing- he would say to me, “It doesn’t feel sincere enough.” Huh? Where’s the magic knob where I turn up the “Sincerity” of the scene to a 10? What he was doing was talking about emotions and feelings. It wasn’t feeling alive quite yet.
Like all Disney animators of that “Second Golden Age” when he spoke of sincerity in your animation, he was speaking the words he had heard from his mentor, Ollie Johnston, one of the legendary “Nine Old Men” of Disney. When younger Glen was working with Ollie, Ollie had reached that same peak where drawing and the technical aspects of animating were not the main concern. The performance of the character was what mattered. He would tell Glen, “Don’t animate drawings, animate feelings.” This was something that Glen repeated often to us animators in training. What Ollie meant was to make the character come alive you can’t think about individual drawings anymore but how they fit together to give a feeling to the audience.
I have to admit, it took me years to fully understand the concept of “being sincere” in your animation. In my mind, it means forgetting animation principles and feeling what your character is feeling. It’s only through that connection that your character will come to life and suspend the disbelief of the audience,
About Tom Bancroft
A good overview of Tom Bancroft’s work can be found on his website. His Instagram, a good overview of his MerMay work, is @tombancroft1. The Bancroft Brothers Animation Podcast is hosted on his educational network Taught By a Pro. If you’re interested in the full scope of his work in the animation industry, check out his IMDB page.