Friday, February 27, 2009 27 Comments
I’m going to take my time here, so I’ll put the summary first:
BUY THESE WALT STANCHFIELD BOOKS!
Drawn to Life: 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes, Volume 1: The Walt Stanchfield Lectures
Ok, now for the long version…
In 1994, during my first week as an intern at Disney, everything was magic to me. They had a shelf full of fresh (and expensive) animation paper for anyone to use. Draw through your stack? Take some more! Unfathomable. The pencil supply shelf was like a treasure chest. I figured that these must be the most popular pencil choices of hundreds of the greatest artists from over decades of use. I took one of each to figure out which one would be the key to unlocking my latent drawing virtuosity. (None of them worked.) There were drawing classes every lunch hour – with food provided! Was this heaven? I was so wide-eyed and for years I saved every scrap of paper that came across my desk because I just knew that when I am 87 years old, I’ll spend my hours going through dusty old boxes, reading memos reminiscing how great life was.
The weekly newsletter was a treat. It was called The Twilight Bark, after the way dogs sent news in 101 Dalmatians. On Monday mornings a copy would be waiting at your desk. Reading it made me feel like I had been given access to an exclusive club (which, I guess, I had). On my second Monday, the newsletter ended with a few pages of advice on drawing with examples of quick sketch gesture drawings. At the end of the typewritten pages was the handwritten signature ‘Walt.’ I assumed it was an old memo from Walt Disney, but I never knew he did any sort of instruction like that. Well, he didn’t (except for a few memos that float around).
The Walt, I soon learned, was Walt Stanchfield. Walt had retired from animation production, and he was at least in his seventies at the time, but once a month he returned to the studio to teach for two lunches. That’s when he would drop off the pages for his latest newsletter and it would appear in The Twilight Bark to the benefit of the entire studio the following week. That was REAL magic.
Walt had the most joyful, energetic spirit I have ever known. Yes, his classes were about drawing, but they were also about seeing, judging, storytelling, passion, life, creation, sports, clarity, art. “Live life dammit!” is something he would say. He’d tell us to ignore all that garbage we learned in anatomy class. He wanted us to make decisions in the drawings and tell a story through the image. If we drew the model exactly, he’d show us how more interesting it would be if we pushed the pose, moved the hand out here for clarity, tilt the chin to direct the viewer’s eye to where we want them to focus. He didn’t want us to draw what we saw, he wanted us to take in the idea and power it on to the page with verve and directness. He was so hooked on creativity. He’d sometimes share his latest drawings that he made while driving down the freeway from his home near Solvang!
When anyone asks about what type of drawing classes to take, there are two answers I always give: figure drawing and Walt Stanchfield style gesture drawing. Walt’s drawing is a unique brand that isn’t taught very often. Luckily, some of the people I took Walt’s classes with have carried on the tradition and are teaching what Walt taught them. Tom Gately works and teaches at Pixar and Dave Pimentel works and teaches at Dreamworks. I’m working on some unsuspecting souls to teach at Disney right now. The reason I give for recommending the Stanchfield style of drawing is that it is what I use most in my daily work. Doing CG doesn’t demand much drawing from me, but when I’m planning out my shots in thumbnails, I’m using everything I can remember from Walt’s classes and his handouts to find clarity, directness, and entertainment in my poses.
After all these years, I’ve given or thrown away most of the things I saved those first few years, but not the Walt Stanchfield notes. Those are more valuable to me than anything I have collected from the studio. They’re just a stack of photocopies, but they are a symbol of Walt’s passion for life, and his constant search for inspiration that he translated into ways to inspire us. They remind me of the times when the model was stuck in traffic and he would get up and pose – he was the best model we ever had. They remind me of how he’d lean over my shoulder with his coffee breath to correct a drawing, then ask to have it. That meant it would probably show up in the next handout as an example of what NOT to do. He’d pat me on the shoulder and say, “Don’t worry, I won’t use any names.” I miss that coffee breath. They also remind me of the few times that he used a drawing I did as a good example. I can’t tell you how proud I was to be “published” in Walt’s “Words of Wisom.” It meant I had actually done a drawing that was good enough to possible inspire someone else. I’m sure he knew that helped students like me far more than any readers.
Last year, I heard that Don Hahn, of Disney Producer fame, was working with Walt’s widow to take the years of typewritten, photocopied handouts and compile them in to books so that anyone can have beautiful copies of this inspiring collection. Well, the time is upon us. Next month, the books will be released. I found out because I was contacted by Don to tell me that one of my drawings is included. Even after life, Walt has once again provided me one of my proudest moments in animation.
So if you can’t tell, I am giving these books the highest recommendation. The “Words of Wisdom” are that and much more. They are filled with fantastic examples of how to clearly draw, fresh perspectives (even after decades) of how to look at life and creativity, and tons of quotes and references to books and artists that will keep you searching out new avenues of inspiration, just as Walt Stanchfield did. Get these books.