Show 007 – Ron and John, Part One

Ron Clements and John Musker

The Great Mouse Detective, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, Treasure Planet
Ever seen one of these movies? In part one of the interview, directors and writers Ron Clements and John Musker talk about getting in to Disney in the seventies, the first year of Cal Arts, and working under Frank Thomas and Cliff Nordberg.

This will be a brief detour from the Nik Ranieri series since today marks the first day that Ron and John no longer work at Disney. After 32 years for Ron and 28 years for John, there’s a big hole in the heart of the feature animation building. I’m posting for two groups: those who have never met Ron and John – enjoy; those who know Ron and John – I thought hearing their voices might make the halls seem a little less empty today.

The drawing portion of the above image (if you can see it) is an example of John Musker’s peerless caricature style.

Get it here: Show 7: Ron and John, Part One
Animation Podcast Show 7 MP3

(14.7MB, 32:02 minutes)

Continue for Show Notes…

  • 00:00:00: The Intro Voice
  • 00:00:05: Theme Song by DJ Sweettooth
  • 00:00:49: Welcome
  • 00:02:18: Where they came from
  • 00:03:56: Ron’s work in TV news
  • 00:05:13: Meeting at Disney
  • 00:06:04: John – Getting interested in Disney
  • 00:08:33: John – Accepted to Cal Arts first year
  • 00:09:51: John – Hired at Disney
  • 00:10:06: Ron – Hired at Disney
  • 00:11:35: Ron – First work at Disney
  • 00:11:52: Ron – Working with Frank Thomas
  • 00:12:47: Ron – Supervising on Fox and the Hound
  • 00:14:29: Ron – Moving in to story
  • 00:14:51: John – Fox and the Hound with Cliff Nordberg
  • 00:15:47: Frank Thomas, the impossible dream
  • 00:16:24: Cliff Nordberg’s approach
  • 00:16:54: The Small One
  • 00:18:19: Cal Arts generation and the Don Bluth group
  • 00:20:48: Quality of the work at the time
  • 00:21:16: The Black Cauldron
  • 00:22:16: Schism of the studio
  • 00:22:43: Fox and the Hound, animation crossroads
  • 00:23:53: Working with legends
  • 00:25:30: Inspired by Disney movies
  • 00:25:59: The drawing in 2D animation
  • 00:28:32: What to focus on now with 3D
  • 00:29:32: Conclusion of Part 1 / Voice Messages
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  • 00:31:20: How to comment or ask questions
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18 Comments on “Show 007 – Ron and John, Part One

  1. This was a very fascinating interview. It goes to show how multi-faceted the animation industry really is, even within one company. I do wish that I had a mentor to draw over my drawings nowadays. I’m sure that if I had someone looking over my shoulder, checking out what I’ve done (like one of the nine old men) I definitely would crank out better work.

  2. I guessed right a few weeks back! Downloading now!

    – Benjamin

  3. It seems you always release a podcast a day before I get on a plane, so it makes at least part of the flight enjoyable. What I want to know is: who’s clueing you in to my travel schedule? :0)

    Keep up the great work, and keep ’em coming!

  4. What can I say, Clay, but ya hit it outta the park!

    I’ve been a fan of Ron Clement’s since Little Mermaid. I grew up in Sioux Falls, which is about two hours from Sioux City , Ron’s hometown. When Little Mermaid came out on VHS, a local video chain hosted Ron on Sat afternoon. He came and signed autographs and chatted a little with fans. I was a middle schooler and the idea of someone from the Plains of America making it huge at Disney gave hope for this young kid from the Dakota’s.

    Looking forward to hearing more from these great story men! And I have to agree that I was sad to hear they are leaving Disney, but your right, they will most likly continue in producing good animation wherever they go!

    thanks Clay! Keep it up!


  5. Great podcast, Clay.
    Glad you put this site together and I look foreword to part 2 with Ron and John.
    I learned so much working with those guys!

  6. Thank you for this great podcast. Like Mr Clements, I am a former Iowan, and this was what really attracted me to this ‘dynamic duo.’ I recall sitting in Barnes and Noble, reading Ron’s bio for 15 minutes, and those words ingrained in my head: Born and raised in Sioux City, IA. The fact that some kid from Iowa could become one of Disney Feature Animation’s directors intrigued me and influenced me in my dreams to pursue animation. Can’t wait to see what Part 2 will bring, and Ron, if you read this, just want to say Hi from another former Iowan (right now I’m in John Musker territory, aka Chicago).

  7. Great Podcast, keep em comming. I really can’t wait for the new ones to be put online.


    from the Netherlands

  8. Ward- I agree. I’m working on interviewing people from other studios but I feel like I could spend a long time just speaking to the people within these walls. It’s starting to feel like an audio documentary as all the perspectives are coming together. Having someone else’s eyes on your work is a difficult thing to deal with at times but it nearly always yields a better result.

    Benjamin- you got it.

    Paul- what you don’t understand: the podcast is actually controlling your life.

    Josh- thanks for the comment and thanks for being my voice message this show.

    Lamont- thanks for that story. With every podcast, I receive emails from people who are from the same place as the guests and they all have that sense of ownership of their success, which I think is great. Goes to show you, no matter where a person is from, hard work will make great things happen.

    Barry- yes, I always felt like working with them was like learning from a teacher. A great experience.

    Michael- You’re welcome. Thanks for commenting.

    Lars- neither can anyone else. 🙂 I’m working on it.


  9. Hey Clay, I loved the interview with Ron and John. It sure helped me fill in the blanks concerning all the things that happened after my departure from the studio at the completion of “The Jungle Book.” The Cal Arts Group, the Bluthies, all fascinating stuff since I was a part of that strange “middle group” of guys that were neither old or new. Sort of the forgotten artists of Disney.

    Anyway, I’ve always been a big fan of Ron and John from the day I attended that pitch for “The Little Mermaid” many years ago. What an incredible contribution they’ve made to the art of animation, and the Walt Disney Studio in particular.

  10. Well, just an animation viewing oink here. Can’t claim to live in towns the animators come from or to work in animation or even know the names of the animators that work so hard on the feature films and shorts we see but I have to say I’m really loving listening to these animator interview podcasts, great stuff. Keep them coming!

  11. Floyd- I’ve listened to the first part more than a few times (thanks to the editing process) and then I just listened to the whole thing again with The Intro Voice the other night. Now, I know I’m not tooting my own horn because Ron and John did all the talking, but I found it fascinating. I learned a ton as well.

    Charlie- Thank you so much for commenting. You may be one of the first “non-industry” types to give feedback and I couldn’t be happier to know that this is reaching “regular” folks like you.


  12. I cannot wait to feel the next parts. I am very curious to know if Ron E John they will return to direct a new film… even the Don Quixotte!!!

  13. Hey Clay!!
    I just wanted to tell you that I have been listening to these at work and I find them to be incredibly entertaining and inspiring. You are a talented interviewer.
    I can’t wait to hear Ron and John part 2.
    I hope they talk about their final year at Disney and I hope they get angry enough to start swearing.

    Thanks again!

  14. Giorgio- I wish I knew what they were doing too. Some smart studio will snap them up.

    John- I’m honored to hear that. I do my best in the interviews. As you can tell from Part One, Ron and John made my life so easy. I had a big list of questions that I never had to ask because they covered everything I wanted to know. I just sat back and laughed most of the time. I’ll see what I can do about the swearing. Thanks for writing in.


  15. I went to high school with Ron – we graduated in 1971 – and was on the school newspaper staff with him. I can vividly remember his doodling next to me during dull religion classes, and the charactachures he drew of our teachers and fellow students. He was extremely quiet and shy then, using his art to speak for him.

    He was gracious enough to come back to Sioux City several times, even signing video cassettes at our class reunion. I talked to his wife about their recent visit to Copenhagen (my wife and I had just been there a few months before) for promotions for ‘The Little Mermaid.’ First class folks, both of them. Clearly he had matured and become much more outgoing by then.

    Today’s New York Times business section has a story about Disney animation, and I couldn’t imagine Ron and John sticking around in that new environment. Let’s hope this change in Ron’s life is a good one for him and for all of us.

    Cheers from Sioux City, Iowa

  16. This has been my favorite interview yet. Great job Clay!

    Ron and John were so personable and honest. I loved hearing about how John worked with Cliff Nordberg and how Ron worked with Frank Thomas. I’d even like to hear more detail about their experiences and the things they learned from Frank and Cliff both drawing wise and acting/technical animation wise.

    I’m very lucky to be a working as an intern/trainee in the story department at an animation studio now, freshly graduated from CalArts so hearing about Ron and John’s early experiences was really inspiring. I’m eagerly awating the next parts of the interview to hear about Ron and John’s experiences in the story department at Disney.

  17. HandDrawnFan- What an insightful comment. Thanks for sharing that with us! It seems that Ron has quite a following in Iowa. I’m sure we’ll all be enjoying Ron’s latest work in the not too distant future.

    Bugs- Yes, they really are special guys. They’re always like that, not just on-air. I’ve heard many people say that they chose to work on their films because of how fun it always is. Have a great time in the story department. There’s quite a bit more about that in the next couple shows.