Seventy Years On…

Here’s something the great Art Babbitt uttered in 1941.

“I look forward to the day when real artists who are more than craftsmen, who have developed their art, will come into this business, will pay it the attention it deserves as a potentially serious art medium…Disney and other studio heads have actually held the industry back by years by their ‘out-of-the-world’ fantasies, by their refusal to deal with real life and by their enchantment with ‘calendar art.’ I want to see those days go by the board. I want to see real artists assume leadership in this game.”

One could say the exact same thing about today’s mainstream animation, and sadly, it would all still apply.

(quote from Michael Barrier’s website)


  • Nightmare Is Near

    Sad so sad. A host of sorrows it is. You have idiots like Snyder and Sorcher all over the place who do not see animation for what it really is. They see no beauty, they only see green.

  • http://kelseighn.blogspot.com/ Kelseigh

    Hardly a surprise, is it? That’s pretty much the definition of the mainstream, and it’s not just animation. Look at how the networks jumped on reality TV when they realized they could make money off it, that’s the driver and you need as wide an audience as possible. The real art will be from independents and the occasional outlier film or TV show that sneaks in under the radar and catches people by surprise.

    It’s unfortunate, but animation will always fall into that model of television/film, rather than art.

    Although I admit, that doesn’t seem to apply as much when you look over at some of the other countries producing animation, as we saw with $9.99, Mary and Max, Perseopolis, Waltz With Bashir, Triplets of Bellville, and a host of others.

  • http://hellohue.blogspot.com Hellohue

    As soon as I’d finished reading this, I couldn’t help but think of Only Yesterday. It’s relatively mainstream, and is the best example of true daily life I can think of animation.

  • http://hedgehog-rover.deviantart.com Martin Juneau

    My sympaties to him: What he said is true. No ones who want to work in animation (and worse, in comics) wants to deal with real life with honnesty and justice.

  • Jason

    Oh yeah, Art Babbitt, the union guy who told
    Walt Disney he should be ashamed of himself and who helped destroy the camaraderie of the Disney studios’ Hyperion days. Yeah, I care about his opinion.

    Look, as far as the public is concerned, Disney is the gold standard. The public still associates great animated film with the Disney name, despite all the competition out there. “Disney held artists back”, my foot. Disney gave them a chance to work and under Walt’s pressure, a chance to shine. Animation is at its best when it deals with “out-of-the-world” fantasies, because no other medium expresses it better. I bet your average person would prefer a “Lion King” or “Lady and the Tramp” over “Battle for Carentan” any day, and that the former two will resonate more with them and with their children. The lessons of “Pinocchio” and “Bambi” have stayed with me all my life, and had influence in shaping my character. Certainly there’s room for more documentary-style animated toons, but it’s utter nonsense to denigrate work that has stood the test of time. Babbitt’s bitterness is showing, IMO.

  • ask

    We have only seen a slimmer of those artists Art is talking about. It IS sad. :( They exist….. but in a small percentage of the industry.

  • http://jessicaplummer.blogspot.com Jessica Plummer

    These is a point where you have to realize you’re doing commercial work, and you can’t waste away trying to force the importance of art too much into it unless it’s wanted…(heck, nearly EVERY art form has to work hard nowadays to get appreciated by Joe Public and the money pushers).

    Also, what Jason said.

    (…I’ll still probably post this quote on my wall, tho!)

  • http://www.elliotelliotelliot.com Elliot Cowan

    Jason – I don’t know you at all.
    For all I know you are 85 years old and the kind of dyed in the wool “old school” animator who isn’t really interested in the things I like.
    Maybe you were at the studio with Art (a man who I know practically nothing about other than his terrific animation) and have some kind of connection with the guy.
    If this is the case, then perhaps I can understand your feelings.

    I do wonder about the comments of someone who suggests that Pinocchio or Bambi has somehow shaped your character.
    I can see how they may have had an influence on your storytelling or your artwork, but are you actually saying that Pinocchio somehow influences the decisions you make in your life?

    I’d like to hear some more about this if you’re inclined.

    Cheers.

  • http://www.inkandpixelclub.com Sara

    I sympathize with the sentiment, but with some exceptions.

    I am not someone who wishes Disney would cease to exist or never had in the first place. Disney was the studio that really sparked my interest in animation and I still think they are capable of doing good work. The problem is less that Disney does what they do and did what they did and more that it ended up setting the tone for so much of what came after, the blame for which cannot be laid entirely at Disney’s doorstep. The implication in this lament is that Disney could lead the public around by the nose and dictate to them what animation was, which was only true in some cases. Despite everything being a “classic” nowadays, Disney had plenty of financial flops and couldn’t always just trade on their recognizable name to guarantee success. It took what, 20 years for people to start embracing “Fantasia,” which may not have been what Babbit was hoping animation could become, but was at least different from Disney’s previous features. In most cases, Disney was just as beholden to the public’s taste as any other business. Arguing that they could have created an appetite for animation as a more serious art form just by producing it is like arguing that if McDonalds switched over to serving only fruit and vegetables, people would eat better and not abandon the chain for Burger King.

    Kelseigh makes the good point that this problem is not specific to animation, though animation may be more boxed in by the public perception of it than other media. Pretty much any form of creative expression is seen as a business these days and the way to be successful in business is to give the public what they want.

    But I don’t think it’s all bad news. We are starting to see hints of mainstream work that moves away from pure fantasy and addresses real world concerns. Also, you correctly specify that the description could still apply to mainstream animation, but we’re in a time when underground and independent animation is more accessible than ever. I don’t like to oversell the positive effects of the internet, but I can’t deny how cool it is that my friend can come back from Ottawa and send my links to his three favorite shorts from the festival, which I can then enjoy in the comfort of my home. We may not completely be to the point where skill, time, and a good idea are all you need to get a piece of animation made and seen, but I think we’re definitely closer than we were in years past.

    Additionally, Babbit was hardly the first person to bemoan the commercial nature of animation. Winsor McCay touched on the subject years earlier, first predicting a world in which the Mona Lisa would seem dull and static to a public now accustomed to art that moved and later wishing the worst of luck to the studios he saw starting to turn animation into an assembly line production.

  • http://Mrfunsblog Floyd Norman

    It’s rare when you can actually agree with both sides of the strike. Both sides were right – and both were wrong.

    Time tends to heal all things, and I think even Walt eventually realized he had handled this situation poorly.

    I had the opportunity to speak with Art’s family a few years ago. We couldn’t help but think had it been possible, Art and Walt might have reached common ground, and shaken hands. They were both great men after all.

  • http://hand-drawn-animation.blogspot.com David

    “Oh yeah, Art Babbitt, the union guy who told
    Walt Disney he should be ashamed of himself and who helped destroy the camaraderie of the Disney studios’ Hyperion days. Yeah, I care about his opinion.”

    That is a total mischaracterization of Art Babbitt as an artist and as a man. You should learn a little more about the history of the Disney studio at that time . That “camaraderie” came at a price. There was bad behavior and rash words from both “sides” during the strike as tensions escalated.

  • Ben

    It’s surprising to hear this from someone back in the “golden age” of animation. If only Babbitt could see the stuff that’s being made now.

    I’m sure Babbitt could have easily gotten a job at Warners or MGM if he felt stifled at Disney.

  • Fred Cline

    Where there is life, there is art…but what about where there is only the ILLUSION of life?

  • Barbara

    Money doesn’t buy happiness–>good art makes people happy–>nobody pays for good art–>money doesn’t buy happiness

  • http://robcatview.blogspot.com robcat2075

    Disney built his studio from nearly nothing and did the projects he was interested in doing.

    Babbit was only 5 years younger than Disney and lived much longer. If he really believed in his vision of real artist animation, why didn’t he also build a studio from nothing and do the projects he was interested in?

  • Ricardo

    Sorry Jason but you are incorrect Walt Disney gave his artists the best resources possible and that is commendable however he had his artists by the balls. He didn’t want anyone else’s vision in his pictures.

  • Chris J.

    Fine artists require patrons. Its always been that way. Unfortunately where an oil painting might cost said patron a hundred thousand dollars, an independently animated film could cost millions – even hundreds of millions. Until the laws of commerce are changed (ie. investors risk large amounts of money while exerting zero control over product) Babbit’s dream must remain only that – a dream.

  • Chuck R.

    Again, I agree with robcat. There’s nothing worse than an artist who thinks art should represent his own distinct vision of the world, yet on someone else’s dime.

    About the sorry state of Animation today (and maybe this is going too far back to make its point), The Incredibles has as much to say about the world we live in as anything done in decades. Much more than Persepolis (a John Hughes movie set during the Iranian Revolution) and critics’ darlings like Waking Life. The fact that it manages to be wildly entertaining as well is icing on the cake.

  • some guy

    “why didn’t he also build a studio from nothing and do the projects he was interested in?”

    because that’s so easy, right? Anyway, that’s besides the point and once again the argument has become completely polarized rather than people realize that there really ought to be a balance in all practices.

    On one hand we had Walt Disney set the standard with fantasy films, however now we live in a time where we’re deluged with nothing but derivative tripe that pales in comparison to the originator.

    On the other hand, high brow “art” in animation has opened up new styles, techniques and content to the medium, however it’s always had a hard time finding a sustainable audience AND poses the constant danger of becoming too self-indulgent and idiosyncratic to the point of alienating most people. Or on the opposite end, it’s spark can only last so long before it too gets taken over by derivative and unskilled inheritors that take the superficial aspects of the content and makes it into something hollow (just look at UPA’s legacy).

    Walt somewhat had a system in place where he allowed to experimental films to be made to try new techniques and processes while producing the “safe” mainstream films. I think studios need to return to that system and not just try new techniques in filmmaking, but also experiment with content and message.

    We actually sort of see this at major live action studios where they produce and distribute “mainstream” content under one name, while producing and distributing “indie” films and documentaries under another name. If animation studios would attempt this, I think we may see some important growth and progress being made in the medium.

    If Pixar didn’t just make short films to test new director’s but went even farther to create a sister unit, perhaps under a different name to create more esoteric and mature content, I think that would be a huge boon to the medium. No doubt there are quite a few brilliant artists and animators just itching to get their hands on resources that will allow some spontaneity and discovery.

    We have film schools and independent animation, but rarely do they get the exposure to actually influence major audiences and perhaps spark new trends and ideals.

  • Justin

    Executives love money -> nobody pays for good art -> good art makes people happy -> Executives aren’t people.

  • Ricardo

    Chris J:

    Well, even during the golden age of film and animation, producers would never entirely leave themselves out. It would be silly to think they wouldn’t exert at least some control. The problem today is producers are not lack the vision of the artists, they even lack good business sense.

  • Brad Constantine

    check out William Kentridge’s animated work…
    A fine Artist first..He does fantastic work in all mediums, including animation.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D94cK_vrZ2s&feature=related

  • http://juanmanimation.blogspot.com juan

    I think the guy was a bit jaded
    however it is true
    that Animation is not just fantasy
    Animation is not just “for kids”
    Animation should be able to express anything and any GENRE

  • http://www.elliotelliotelliot.com Elliot Cowan

    Chuck R.
    Can you further clarify your surprising comments?
    Your comments are so astonishing that I’d like to hear more if I’m to respond.

  • http://trason.deviantart.com/ Trason

    I REALLY don’t think Art Babbitt has the right to say that about Disney, Especially in 1941. Disney was just as GREAT of an artist as anyone in the studio. He might of not been able to make a good drawing but he brought great Imagination and reality to the table. Who knows what would of happened if movies like Fantasia, Pinocchio and Bambi were a success when they first came out.

    Walt did not start out any better then Babbitt did. He only had a few dollars in his pocket when he came to California. The reason why he succeeded was because he had a Vision for art and did not take NO as an answer. Disney was not like a normal studio head, he was willing to put his money (and then some) where his mouth was.

    After Babbitt left the studio, he had plenty of money (one of Disney’s highest paid employees) to do something with his “art form”. He however did not have the same Vision Disney had. Art Babbitt did not take the “art medium” that seriously, or he would of concentrated on more then just Animating a Character. I have great respect for Babbitt as an artist in his specific field of animating, but he really didn’t show any “leadership” outside of that.

    After Disney died, animation began to flop and you begin to tell how much of an influence Disney was. Art Babbitt and the rest of Walt’s artists were good because Disney had the Vision and pushed the artist to the MAX. If you really look into it, you will see that most all the people who once worked for Disney went down hill when they left the studio or when Disney died. Bill Tytla, Art Babbitt, along with most of the people who left the studio after the strike have almost nothing of huge significance in animation that they did sense.

    Disney dealt with real life in most all his movies. The only things that attracts the audience is the stuff that you can connect with. Even if it is fantasy, you must ground it in reality. Even though Disney made movies full of fantasy, he grounded them in many of the same issues that we as humans need to go through in every day life.

    One of Disney’s greatest gifts was his ability to bring out the talent of his other artists. Walt did not come up with every idea or every scene. He just tried to plus what the other artists came up with and push the artist to better then they thought possible. When Frank Thomas (Disney animator) came to Disney with Ideas on the scene where Thumper ice skates with Bambi. Disney did not say, “No”, because it wasn’t his idea. He pushed Frank to make the scene even better then Frank thought it could be.

    Anyway I just think that people are quick to criticize Disney and how he “isn’t the perfect man everybody says he is”. Well I am in no way calling Disney perfect, but he did do things for the art of Animation, that no one else could of done.

  • http://boblillycomics.blogspot.com Bob Lilly

    It is sad that throughout the history of cartooning and comics, the producers or the publishers in most cases were successful in turning the thing into a sweatshop. I am excited by the some folks today are showing their work on the net. At least we are getting some pretty good stuff without seeing some cartoonist being messed over.
    Take a look at the Kaspar the bear stuff John K is doing on his website.

  • http://asteriskpix.blogspot.com richard o’connor

    Jerry and Amid, please disable anonymous posting so employers can know who to hire at minimum wages and charge for use of the water color.

  • Marbles

    Chuck R:

    I take strong exception to your characterization of “Persepolis” as “a John Hughes movie set in Iran.” (I don’t have a problem with John Hughes movies, but I understand the tone of that remark, and what kind of criticism is intended by it). Are you aware that the movie was a close adaptation of an autobiographical graphic novel? It’s a firsthand account of growing up in a unique place at a unique time, and the approach is a very “warts-and-all” one on Satrapi’s (the author’s) part. You seem to dismiss it as shallow, which is odd to me.

  • http://www.tonydistefano.blogspot.com Excellent choices

    I have no idea what he was talking about. What did Babbit want to do ,The Polar Express? Hey Babbit!

  • some guy

    Wow, Trason, you knew Art Babbit personally?

  • Ricardo

    “After Disney died, animation began to flop and you begin to tell how much of an influence Disney was.”

    Disney was one of the essential people to drive the golden age of animation but almost a decade before he died, animation already began to delince.

    “If you really look into it, you will see that most all the people who once worked for Disney went down hill when they left the studio or when Disney died.”

    By the mid sixties, EVERYONE was past their prime.

    “Disney dealt with real life in most all his movies. The only things that attracts the audience is the stuff that you can connect with. Even if it is fantasy, you must ground it in reality. Even though Disney made movies full of fantasy, he grounded them in many of the same issues that we as humans need to go through in every day life.”

    You really need to cite an example because that is the total opposite of any Walt Disney feature or short. Disney was, and still is, fluff. And no the moments when characters died don’t count, that is fluff as well.

    “One of Disney’s greatest gifts was his ability to bring out the talent of his other artists.”

    Agreed.

  • http://trason.deviantart.com/ Trason

    No I did not know Art Babbitt personally. I really wasn’t trying to say I did. I have done a fare amount of research on the guy. He really was a good animator, and he knew how to animate, but that isn’t all there is to Animation.

  • http://www.elliotelliotelliot.com Elliot Cowan

    Trason – so what you’re saying is that you’re fully informed and qualified enough to relegate this important animation figure to the role of a “good animator” who “knew how to animate”?
    I wonder how people would describe your talents based on what little we know of you?

  • Rextherunt

    I think people are confusing being an artist with a personal vision with being a craftsman with a skill.

    I can enjoy those skills a lot, even when they’re mainly only used in commercial children’s movies and comedy cartoons, but true artists do something different and personal – and they rarely work within the restraints of the animation ‘industry.’

    The comment that holds up John K riffing on Yogi Bear (yet again) as an example of what an artist can achieve when given true artistic freedom is as dismaying as the one about Satrapi’s life story just being a recycled John Hugh’s movie.

  • James

    There’s an odd sentiment among artists, particularly artists unhappy with their current lot in life, that the public enjoyment of popular entertainment somehow denigrates their chosen medium.

    But frankly, as cool and interesting and beautiful as some deeply symbolic abstract student/independent films may be I’d much rather be working on something fun, wacky and compelling – and I’d rather watch it too.

    There’s nothing wrong or shameful about making something entertaining and appealing, and I get the sense that many people just like the heady thrill of imagining their own superiority compared to the unenlightened boorish philistines that surround them.

  • http://www.elliotelliotelliot.com Elliot Cowan

    James – why do you feel there needs to be two camps?

    And I’m not sure you really believe that anything that isn’t “fun, wacky and compelling” is “cool and interesting and beautiful”.

  • Chris J.

    @Ricardo

    I’ve heard it said that until relatively recently in the entertainment industry, the “suits” were vastly outnumbered by creatives, creating a nice pyramid that enabled money to flow with little to no interference from management. The suits knew they were not creative and left it to the poncy artists to do what they did. If it made money – the creatives were given another shot. If it failed, the creatives were shown the door.

    Now, it seems, “suits” outnumber creatives, and feel the need to justify their jobs by exerting creative control (“notes”) over the projects, creating an inverted pyramid that quite simply crushes all possible innovation out of modern film, including, of course, animation.

    I generally try to stay positive about animation, seeing as I’m simply a fan and not a part of the industry in any way, but even I have to agree that 80% of what’s out there is drek – and even the non-drek is often stale and slightly uninspired, even if it’s executed very well and is entertaining (Kung Fu Panda, for instance.)

    Still, we live in hope, don’t we? Perhaps somewhere out there, at this very moment are some more Bill Plymptons slowly hacking away at personal projects, bringing genuine vision and originality back to a medium that despite being monumentally successful of late, still smells all-too-often of “suits” and NOT “Creatives.”

  • http://trason.deviantart.com/ Trason

    Elliot, what are you trying to say? That Babbitt did more then I give him credit for? That he actually created great stories that surpass animated movies like Bambi and Pinocchio? I watched documentaries and read many articles that were meant to comment on how great of a person Art Babbitt was and they didn’t really go outside of the area of animating. The things he is mostly known for are from Characters he did for Walt Disney (as in Gepetto in Pinocchio, the Wicked Queen in Snow White, and The Mushrooms in Fantasia).

    What isn’t fluff for you guys? I don’t think I can say anything to change anyone’s mind. I think you get messages in all of Walt Disney’s (the actual man) films, especially the ones done in the golden age. Bambi is about both the hardships and pleasures of growing up, Dumbo is about dealing with being an outsider and realizing that you can still FLY (figure of speech) even though you are different then everybody else. Snow White shows you that anyone can change (Grumpy particularly) and that beauty is not just about how you look on the outside. Pinocchio really shows how the choices you make dictates how people see you and the kind of person you will become. Consistently you see messages in Disney’s films. What do you think Disney needed to do to not make it “fluff”?

    In the late 1930’s and Early 1940’s you see the Golden age of Animation. This was mostly because Disney had a HUGE part in all the Disney Animated movies that came out. Movies like Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi flopped when they first came out (these are the movies that are now considered some of the greatest ever made). Because Disney was latterly going bankrupted and all of the movies he worked so hard on failed, Disney drew himself away from animation concentrating more on things like TV and the Theme Park Disney Land, in the 1950’s which eventually provided him money along with more creative freedom. In the 1950’s you see a decline in Animation from the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. You see this decline from the earlier ones because Disney wasn’t as heavily involved. You can see the creative leadership he brought to the table, based on the decline in the 1950’s. In the 1960’s you see an even greater decline in story telling, partly because Disney was even more concentrated on other things, like Disney Land, Live Action movies, Disney World, and TV. I see quality in some of the Disney movies in the 60’s because of the superb animation and Character development but not as much because of story development (which Disney was an export on). After Disney died you see animation go even farther down Hill because they no longer had someone pushing the limits. All the business men wanted to play it safe and make sure they didn’t mess up, thus you see a huge decline in the quality of animated features.

    So my first message was not to go into detail but to say what I truly felt. I can go into detail however and I know that some might not agree with me. I am not trying to say that Disney was all there was to making a good Feature, but he was the best “Studio Head” you could of hoped for.

  • http://www.elliotelliotelliot.com Elliot Cowan

    “Elliot, what are you trying to say? That Babbitt did more then I give him credit for? ”
    I wasn’t specifically saying that but seeing as you mention it, he probably did.
    I don’t really know to be sure and I’m reasonably sure you don’t either.

    I never said Disney made fluff (although he often did).
    I didn’t actually say anything negative about Walt Disney at all.

    The point I was making is that I don’t think you’re informed enough to thumb your nose at Art Babbit.

  • http://trason.deviantart.com/ Trason

    Sorry about that, I did not try to say that you were saying anything about fluff. I was addressing the comment made by Ricardo.

    I don’t know much about Art Babbitt. I have tried to look into him and have only come across things that he has done in the specific stages of animating. I don’t think that Babbitt made a justified statement about animation and Walt Disney. He was saying that Walt did not take Animation as a serious art medium. I don’t think that is true. Walt actually proved that he took it more seriously then most anyone else.

    Of course Disney made some fluff (what ever that means) but who is perfect? I don’t think he was anymore fluffy then anyone else. I really would like to know what qualifies as fluff? Is it if a large portion of people like a movie, the movie must be fluff? Or if a movie is rated G or PG so that kids could also watch it, then we need to qualify it as “fluff” because it isn’t dark enough?

    Anyway, sorry if you felt like I was acting like I knew Art Babbitt like he was my father. :/ My point was that Art Babbitt was informed enough to thumb his nose at Walt Disney.

  • http://ewangreen.blogspot.com Ewan

    I think this post has inspired me to rewatch ‘Tokyo Godfathers’ and ‘Whisper of the Heart’. Also, wait for ‘The Illusionist’ if you like to see believable animated characters in a gimmick-free environment.