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Chris Sanders Explained Problems With the Industry in 1989

Big Bear Aircraft Company

Brew reader “Test Pilot” was looking through his copy of The Illusion of Life when he stumbled onto some Xeroxes circa 1989 tucked inside of the book. The story and artwork, posted in its entirety on this blog is by Chris Sanders, director of Lilo & Stitch and How To Train Your Dragon. It’s called The Big Bear Aircraft Company, and of course, the drawings ooze with typical Sanders appeal.

But this isn’t any normal story concept. The sub-title is “A Book for the Big Retreat.” And the story is an allegorical tale about the animation industry. The message is loud and clear: a management-heavy, writer-driven animation studio will be doomed to produce safe and unoriginal animated films. His devastating takedown of writers is notable; he doesn’t even bother extending a metaphor to them and bluntly depicts their uselessness in his story’s setting, which is an aircraft factory:

The writer likes airplanes; he saw one on TV once. He has actually never worked on one before, and couldn’t tell you for sure what makes one fly. But now he’s got the idea, and is hammering away at an incredible rate. . . . Without the visual engineer’s guidance, the writer is guaranteed of making the same mistake every time. He will make his airplane look like every one he’s seen before, and he will power it with a plot and dialogue engine, the biggest and heaviest he can find.

The document raises a number of fascinating questions that perhaps Chris or someone else familiar with the document’s origin can answer. For example, what retreat was this created for, who saw the document originally, have Chris’s views changed or evolved in the past couple decades, and most importantly, did anybody listen to Chris’s passionate plea to trust the artists?

UPDATE: Chris Sanders wrote two detailed comments about the purpose of the book, what he hoped to accomplish with it, and the role of writers in animation. Click HERE to read Chris’s thoughts.