Sunday, September 16, 2012

Interview with BYU's Cynthia Hogan

A year ago I took an intro 2D Animation class at BYU with Cynthia Hogan, who animated for Disney and also animated for Warner Bros' Quest for Camelot (1998). I remember her saying she did character animation for Disney's Aladdin and I thought I'd get a hold of her again since we've just worked on an episode for Aladdin on the podcast. She was really nice and we had ourselves a little interview. Most of this stuff is basic information, but she had some cool experiences and behind-the-scenes info to share. Enjoy!


CH: I attended California Institute of the Arts for three years. In my third year, Glen Keane came and taught my animation class. I learned more in that year from him than I did the rest of the time I spent at CalArts. I'd say that I can attribute my getting my first job at Disney to the miracle of having him as a teacher that year. I started in clean-up on The Little Mermaid and worked my way up to animator on Beauty and the Beast.

Disney's Aladdin

MS: Our latest podcast episode focuses on Disney's Aladdin (1992). Which characters/scenes did you animate in Aladdin?

CH: Back in those days animators were split into teams that would work on a certain character. The amount of footage a character had in a film would determine the size of the team. On Aladdin, I was assigned to the Sultan team working under Dave Pruiksma. He was a great animator and I learned a lot from him. The scenes I was given to animate start from the point Jafar comes in announcing that he's found a solution to the problem with the sultans daughter and end with the Sultan repeating "Desperate times…". There's a couple other scenes that I animated (When the sultan greets Prince Ali, and when the sultan starts to float away at the end). At that point I had only been a full-fledged animator for about a year.

MS: How did the different teams work together for scenes that involved multiple characters?

CH: Mostly we had a model sheet and then we would talk personally with our head animator about each scene as we were planning the animation and show it to him throughout the animation process. Sometimes the head animator would go over a drawing or two to help the animator get the right expression or the right feel in the action of the character. Then we'd take it to the director, get his notes and once he was able to approve it, the scene would go to clean up and the animator would move on to the next scene.

MS: What kind of deadlines did you have for the scenes you animated?

CH: At Disney, at that time, we were to get out 5 feet of animation a week. Some were able to do that much, others couldn't, some got out a lot more footage than that.

MS: I've read the character design/animation standards for shows such as Kind of the Hill and the guidelines for animating characters' motions/expressions are very specific. What guidelines did your team have to follow for the sultan?

CH: There was usually a head animator (or lead) who would work with the director to set the model of the character and figure out any specific character traits that might affect the characters movement. Then that lead would work with their team. We would talk about the characters personality, idiosyncrasies (the sultan LOVED small things like toys and things that could be hidden away easily), the actions the character might use or the things he definitely wouldn't do. We would also talk about the do's and don'ts of drawing the character in order to have some consistency in how the character looked.

MS: How did the increased use of CGI affect the deadlines/expectations for hand-drawn scenes?

CH: CGI really didn't affect the deadlines of animation especially back then. It may have added some time to the overall process of filmmaking but it didn't mean we had to get the scene done faster on the 2D end. Yes, the process of working 2D and 3D together was a bit of work, sometimes requiring printouts of 3D backgrounds to be sure that the character would register correctly in the scene. When it comes to 3D props: those were generally animated to fit the 2D animation … It was just easier that way.

MS: I saw how in Aladdin the characters' designs could be broken down to basic geometric shapes. Can you tell me more about that type of character design?

CH: The process of breaking characters down to simple shapes goes back as far as Mickey and perhaps beyond. Yes, some shapes work better for expressing certain character types (triangle shapes have a tendency to work for evil characters for instance) The thing that was our guide on Aladdin was an artist named Al Hirschfeld. If you look at his work, you'll see how it influenced our drawing and our animation. So Basic geometric shapes were and still are very important in character design to achieve appeal and unity in the look of the film. Also, for the animator, breaking the character down to its simplest shapes makes it much easier to move around. (End)
So the Sultan wasn't modeled after Richard Attenborough.

Don't forget to check out the Rotoscopers' latest episode: Aladdin - Take off your Clothes?

The skin of an Arabian. The body of a European. The voice of a white guy.