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Glen Keane Talks About His Post-Disney Plans

How’d I miss this? In late-April, Glen Keane spoke for the first time about his post-Disney plans. He talks about wanting to return to hand-drawn animation, but not Disney-style “cel” animation where his drawings would be cleaned up by others. Keane said of the traditional Disney look, “It’s a style that looks that way because of a technical limitation.” He continued, “I thought if I ever get a chance, I want to animate something where my original drawing stays on the screen.” Frédéric Back and William Kentridge, watch out!

  • Brandon

    Hey, looks like Xerox animation might be making a comeback.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      I think I’m ready for that!

    • Lyell

      I notice that some people disagree with Keane about limitations. What he said was that the old cel animation techniques represented limitations, but that computers now removed some or many of these. We won’t see any examples of the Xerox process or drawing on cels.
      I agree that the pre-Xerox features has a very nice look. But the look of the later movies had mostly to do with the technology, not the animators. Besides, the classics from the 40s and 50s was the result of not only talent, but also a lot of effort from many people. It would be impossible to make a movie like Bambi today with the same tools used in those days.
      If Glen Keane is able to work with his own projects, not feeling any pressure, he can invest the time and effort to make lines just as soft and professional as those made by the old inkers.
      Don Bluth showed what could be done with the right equipment and determination when he made NIMH, which was very cheap considering how good looking the movie was. I hope Glen Keane is able to do something similar.

  • Love the bird analogy, awesome.

    • mee

      This is the one I think of:


      h/t Glen Keane.

      • dancingcrane

        This is the film where I fell in love with Glen Keane, and this the scene where i cried the most. Godspeed, Glen, your characters were always my favorites, I saw your heart in every one. Cant wait to see your actual work onscreen. I always loved the rough sketches even more than the finished product, and now i know why.

  • Wow! Glen is more passionate than ever about animation, he talked about ideas that so many of us 2d people have expressed during lunches and conversations at work. I have always preferred rough pencil tests to cleanup animation. Being able to see the life of the line and how the animator went about it and worked it and seeing where they struggled is so much more fascinating to watch. Some of Glen’s rough animation scenes can be found on youtube or a other sites and when you watch those it is amazing to see the raw power of what he has drawn and that goes for most animators roughs. I hope his ideas get done and get put out there for all of us to see. Glen is going to make this happen and watching that clip only inspired me.

  • wever

    Oh. I see. So… all the cel-animated cartoons I grew up with and aspired to produce all through my adult life, thereby making me debate with others about how it’s better than CG, are now “technical limitations”? There go MY plans!

    • Scarabim

      Gotta disagree with Glen. When I watch “Little Mermaid” and “Lady and the Tramp” back to back, the quality of the latter totally overwhelms the former. And lines have a bit to do with it. The carefully painted, multicolor outlines in “Lady” give the characters an added beauty and depth. “Limitation”? I beg to differ.

      I used to enjoy seeing the framework lines that occasionally showed up in later Disney works, like “Winnie the Pooh” and the “Jungle Book”. But overall, I really prefer the more painterly quality of the classic Disney films.

      • I can’t think of any art that is improved my having another, usually less experienced artist trace over it, and then another artist fill it in with color. I think Glen is just looking for a more pure expression of his art. If you’ve seen his pencil tests, this should be something to celebrate.

    • Philip Street

      All art has limitations that channel the work one way or another. (A movie of pencil tests would be freer than classical Disney in some ways and more “limited” in others.) I doubt that Glen’s comment was made as a criticism.

  • Pedro Nakama

    That was a good interview. Sounds like he’s not retired but just getting started.

  • Jar-el

    he could totally finance his film by selling his drawings that the film is made up of

    my favorite parts of the special edition dvds was glen keane pencil tests

  • Very honest thoughts coming from Glen. It will be very interesting to see what he decides to create.

    The one word for me that represents Glen in regards to this art form is ‘ passion ‘. Always searching for the best way to entertain as he always leads by example.

    Enjoy the creative freedom Glen. You have certainly earned it. :-)

  • ShouldBeWorkin’

    It’s tough not to be swept-up and along with his passion. Makes one want to put everything down and do the same.

    Good questions, interviewer. It’s nice to have an interviewer who knows something about to whom he is talking.

  • Captain Hollywood

    I’d like to thank that interviewer for actually asking intelligent, researched questions. Didn’t think that happened any more in a press line.

    • mee

      Yes… but I wish he’d asked the follow-up question, what two books was Glen thinking would be wonderful to animate?

  • Paul N

    Aside from a passing reference to Tangled, the most recent film he referenced in detail was Pocahontas. While I look forward to seeing what he does next, I wonder how telling it is that he’s talking primarily about work he did 10 years or more ago.

    • I think it was because he was that impressed by the styling that was utilized during that scene Colors of the Wind. I can see why he would go back to that scene as a source of inspiration, as it really captured his every stroke. No one finds it unusual or uninspiring when animators reference inspiring scenes done 60 years ago. At least it’s his own work. And, believe it or not, that movie was 17 years ago.

  • Dalby

    Most pencil tests have a way of looking good but Mr. Keane’s work has a raw vitality that could greatly benefit from being left without any wire line cleanup by others. Such rough graphic approach could whet the appetite for more 2D from generations who’ve grown up only on a diet of CG. Glen may be a bird out of a cage but, unlike the feathered variety, he need not be impeded by the concept of infinite choice.

  • He wants his drawings to show up on screen? Spend 2K and get a Cintiq. The internet community would love to have Glen, I’m sure!

    I mean, you could do charcoal sketches, but digitizing/compositing them will require a larger team, and then he’ll probably have the same studio problems he was having at Disney.

    • mee

      I don’t know how to compare teams and processes, but I liked this clip of Glen’s work on a Cintiq for Tangled:

      • mee

        I followed the video watermark and found where it’s from — it’s a clip from an hour presentation at the 2010 CTN Animation Expo, online at — which is a Glen Keane lovefest especially by his co supervising animators John Kahrs and Clay Kaytis. Their presentation starts at 15:00 or 15:30, and the Cintiq dailies part starts at 26:50, boat (more) at 30:00, followed by Glen’s hair pencil test at 32:30…

        The joy of looking, the whole hour is good if you have the time.

    • Scanning charcoal drawings isn’t that big of a deal. It would be a job if it was for a full feature length film, but so what? And Cintiqs are amazing, but they aren’t paper. You can’t flip with a Cintiq. Some artists are really inspired by working on paper. And Glen’s got to animate the way he wants to.

      • Rosa

        I assume you mean skipping back and forth between frames when you mention ‘flip’. And that is something that is a hundred times easier (one button press easier) on a Cintiq :P
        And taking that one step further, being able to preview your animation instantaneously – I know I get great joy and boosted enthusiasm to see my results straight away.
        The drawing surface and pen nib (though getting better with customising textures) are the biggest departures from paper and charcoal.
        And of course the smell and rustle of paper at your fingertips.
        Digital paper would be nice, I’m sure Cintiqs will get there one day!

  • Jason

    I guess he got tired of people saying that his cleanup team was half of his animation. Good for him! I can’t wait to see some amazing stuff!

    • Mike B

      I wouldn’t knock clean-up. It’s super hard work and it’s a pretty thankless job. And cleaning up Glen Keane’s lines would not be an easy task at all.
      I can understand the desire to want to see what he drew up on the screen though.

  • A Writer

    can his hands take it though?

    • Maybe he should take it a bit easy for a while.

  • He speaks so elegantly and passionately. It’s inspiring.

  • ZigZag

    The biggest regret I have about Mr. Keane’s decision is the fact that he felt that it was impossible to do this while remaining employed at Disney. I can’t help but think about the possible creative benefits that would have arisen from his pursuing this approach within the company that started it all. Seems like Disney hasn’t followed Pixar’s example of using one-off exploratory ventures to push the medium and the company. Here’s hoping that Mr. Keane’s pursuits will be fruitful.

  • mee

    Me too. And I don’t get it. In that hour program on Tangled I mentioned above that was a Glen Keane lovefest, at the end it was heartfelt thanks to John Lasseter too. The moderator asked the panelists what the key thing was that they took away from making Tangled, and they all said everybody pushed and was allowed to keep pushing, developing, upping their game:

    – around 43:50 –
    Clay Kaytis: Well I think our crew’s — I’ll just start — our crew is really strong. And they were strong from Bolt and the previous films, but there were things that the directors and Glen and John Lasseter, they kept asking for more … attention to details … And that was a ton of work but it was I think in the end a really a good thing to do. It paid off. And you can kind of feel like there’s this extra detail lavished over every scene. It was just pushing it, you know, beyond what we thought was great, you know. It was Glen was pushing us, directors were pushing us, the animators were pushing each other, and it was just this continual climbing.

    John Kahrs: I remember you would say, it was about eight months ago, you used to say, Clay would say, “You know we’d work on movies here in the past, maybe, when I came here,” like — Clay has been at Disney for 14 years and he said he worked on these movies where you’d see it in storyboards, then you’d see it in layout, then you’d see it in animation, it wouldn’t change, it would just kind of get done, and it wouldn’t get any better or worse, it would just kind of be. And it would be done and then there it would be. And, I think John Lasseter, I really give him credit to how he made it — he made it very clear that it’s okay to make it better as you go. And not only to make it better but to push really hard. And I remember when I worked at Pixar years ago, working on A Bug’s Life, the storyboards were like little Peanuts characters talking like in profile, and then it would come out of layout and it was like this three-dimensional rollercoaster ride. And a lot of that was John just like pushing the hell out of it as he went through the process. And I think in particular Nathan and Byron, Nathan especially — there was this moment, I don’t know when it was, but about a third of the way into the production that I think he really, they both really got this idea, this, they realized they’re allowed to do this, to just keep pushing from one department to the next and make it better and better and better. So there are these sequences that you would see in boards and then they’d come out of layout and they’d be even better, and then they’d get redone in animation even more, and I mean by the time it came out of lighting it didn’t even resemble what it started as, how it started, and some of them just ended up being really electrifying sequences. And I think that’s kind of emblematic of the film. Everyone was just pushing and just learning that it’s okay to push…

    Dave Goetz: …I mean you just got pushed harder than you’ve ever been pushed, and at the end it wasn’t just one department or two departments, it was every single department, like, plus their game…

    In the Lasseter video recently posted here, he said: “We have amazing tools, but they do not create anything. It’s really what the filmmakers do with it. The foundation of Pixar is that art challenges technology and technology inspires the art.”

    And here’s Keane in November 2010 (Den of Geek interview): “What I’ve spent my time doing is taking what I like about hand-drawn, and putting it into the computer. I’d like to take some time and take what the computer can do, and put that into hand-drawn. That’d be another whole look for a movie. I don’t know what it’d look like, but that’s what I’d like to pursue.”

    And here’s the Disney short Paperman coming out soon that’s supposed to be like nothing we’ve ever seen before (“utilizes new techniques that seamlessly blend 3D and traditionally drawn animation”), and I’m watching Brad Bird’s tweet from yesterday scroll off in the sidebar (“Just had the great pleasure of watching John Kahrs innovative & wonderful hand-drawn/CG mash up “PAPERMAN”. Annecy, you’re gonna love it.”)

    So tell me, why isn’t Disney exactly the right place for Keane to be doing his pushing and inspiring and computer/hand-drawn exploring? I mean, it sounds like when the new team came on Tangled one of the first changes they asked of Glen was to make Rapunzel look more like a Keane character of old. Clay Kaytis, showing a model sheet: “This was the point where her design got a lot more caricatured. It was originally more realistic, and you know the waist got smaller, the head got bigger, the eyes got bigger. We were pushing Glen to go more towards that classic feel.” Glen had been trying a new look and was pushed back.

    As I said, I don’t get it. But I’m not there, everyone impresses me, and I just wish the best for all.

    Glen Keane at Den of Geek: This is your moment. So you take the moment, and find something real personal, and put yourself into it. Don’t put yourself into past Disney movies. Don’t copy anything. Make it personal and real. And I say that with conviction to them because it’s exactly how I’ve approached everything that I’ve done, and it’s the only reason I could work at Disney for 36 years.

    I know that there’s people who possibly work at studios for a long time and they lose themselves. They become, I don’t know, a formula of some sort. A caricature of themselves. And I really don’t want that.

    • Daniel

      It’s pretty simple.. Glen never got to make the movie he really wanted to do.. because Lasseter and Pixar wouldn’t let him..

      hopefully he gets to do just that somewhere else..

      .. and I have to disagree with how the storyboards translated in to layouts in to lighting.. It’s pretty much the same composition if you review the storyboards to layout, and it definitely didn’t get pushed to become something better..

      just my two cents

      • mee

        Are we talking about Tangled or about a future project? Does Glen still want to direct? I read things a couple of ways. At one point he sounded like he was happy with how things turned out, that his Rapunzel went on to good hands and he was freed to contribute in a way he couldn’t have otherwise, and that he was looking forward to doing hand-drawn next.

        As to the storyboards, I wouldn’t know, but I do wonder. I’m not familiar with either Pixar or Tangled storyboards. But I got the book Tale As Old As Time on the making of Beauty and the Beast and was surprised to see the storyboard for the transformation existing a lot like how it ended up in the film. It was done by Chris Sanders. Somehow I thought there was a hole there marked “Then a miracle occurs” for Glen to fill in. And then I read the passage there where Sanders is working on that storyboard and Don Hahn stops by and sees it and is moved to tears. Sanders says it’s one of his fondest memories of his 20 years at Disney. Hahn says:

        “Chris has a way of taking sequences that could be flat and pedestrian and turning them into spiritual experiences… Beast’s transformation went beyond what anybody else would have done; then Glen took it to the next level. That’s classic Disney plussing: it begins as a great story idea on paper, Chris makes it better than anybody thought, and then Glen makes it still better through animation.”

        Look again at the storyboard, and in fact a miracle does occur after it. You know it when you see the animation and Beast’s hair blows and the prince turns around. I still can’t put words to the look on his face and in his eyes, but it’s not in the storyboard. I think a miracle occurred.

        And I’ve seen CalArts video of Glen running through his process of animating the “Go ahead and starve!” hallway sequence where Beast is trying to get Belle to come out of her room and she won’t. He talks about getting the Jackie Gleason point right, it’s all in the finger position. And it is perfect animation. In the book though you see the storyboard, and it’s ALMOST the same, but the finger point is different. Glen found the way to twist the finger to make it work. Ah, now I see.

        Also, in terms of “plussing” (new word for me) and moving hand-drawn animation forward — Paperman. Trying to figure out what it is. It was shown yesterday at Annecy but I haven’t found a story yet on it. Someone tweeted a link to this article posted Friday:

        DS: Can you describe the new hybrid animation technique used to make this film?

        John Kahrs: Hybrid is really an appropriate description. We brought together as best we could the expressiveness of 2D drawing immersed with the stability and dimensionality of CG. It really goes back to working with Glen Keane on Tangled, watching him draw over all the images. Just being at Disney, surrounded by so much drawing, it seemed like a real shame that we had to leave those drawing behind when we finished our shots. There is such a power and expressiveness in the drawn line. It’s such an old method for human beings to create art, to express themselves. I thought, isn’t there a way we can bring that expressive line back into animation again?

        That was the impetus behind the production. I had some pretty silly ways I thought that could be accomplished, but ultimately, we came up with a pretty awesome technological solution. The drawn line tracks the surface of the 3D underneath, but it does so in a way that has never been done before.

        h/t Glen Keane. I don’t know what to say about Lasseter and Disney.

  • Ryoku75

    I’m all for an old fashion 2D comeback, I’m just worried that there could be a short supply of traditional animators.

    Should it return, hopefully i can land a job in it.

    • Mac

      The industry boom of the 90s has left a generation of sad sack traditional animators in their 40s, working at Dreamworks or whatever. There’s more people than ever capable of that old Disney magic.

  • Seismograph of the soul indeed!

  • Glen Keane doesn’t need Disney. He could finance a project easily using Kickstarter. I’m guessing any project with his name on it would shatter fundraising records, don’t you think?

    • anon.

      Think anyone outside of the Animation community knows Glen Keane’s name?

      Think animators that do have money to donate?

  • Long live traditional animation!!

  • clarky282

    He is one of my greatest inspirations. With the news of Disney making a new hand drawn film and three of the “Nine New Men” (Glen Keane, Andreas Deja and Ken Duncan) taking their passions in their own direction, this could mean a rebirth for 2D animation. I look forward to further news on these projects cause it makes me hopeful of getting a job hand drawing characters someday. To work with any of these geniuses would be an incredible experience.

  • dionisius

    as glen says, there is only one tradition, and it´s love for real art, that art that comes from the heart. can you express that in a company ruled by economical interests? i dont´think so!