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AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH GLEN KEANE

Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for RadioFree.com
October 24, 2010

For its landmark 50th animated classic Tangled, Disney offers a contemporary take on the traditional fairy tale of Rapunzel for a modern audience. In this incarnation, Rapunzel (voice of Mandy Moore) is a feisty teen whose seventy feet of magical hair has the power to act as a perpetual fountain of youth. For this reason, she is coveted by the selfish Mother Gothel (voice of Donna Murphy), who kidnaps her as a baby and secretly raises her in a tower in the middle of the forest. Growing up in such isolation with a pet chameleon named Pascal as her only friend, Rapunzel spends the days painting, cleaning, and dreaming of life in the outside world. She also becomes increasingly fascinated with a symphony of floating lights that seems to fill the sky every year like clockwork. On the eve of her 18th birthday, Rapunzel's curiosity finally gets the best of her, and with the help of Flynn Rider (voice of Zachary Levi), a thief on the run from both his double-crossed partners and a law-enforcing horse named Maximus, she sneaks out of her tower to embark on a journey of self-discovery.

In addition to its lovable characters, heartwarming story, and family-friendly comedy, Tangled raises the bar in terms of technical proficiency. The CG-animated feature looks stunningly gorgeous, rendering textures, liquids, and lights (not to mention Rapunzel's lengthy, brilliant, golden locks) with deft beauty. Also notable is that this movie marks the first time computer animation has been able to successfully capture many of the nuances of traditional hand-drawn Disney animation. This is due in no small part to the contributions of supervising animator Glen Keane, the man responsible for bringing to life such beloved favorites as Ariel in The Little Mermaid and Beast in Beauty and the Beast. Visually, the film looks remarkably like a living, breathing painting, populated with characters who demonstrate great expressiveness.

While covering press opportunities for Tangled, we had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Glen Keane, whose work is known by animation enthusiasts everywhere. In this exclusive interview, the famed Disney animator talks about his reason for handing over the task of directing to filmmakers Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, his inspiration for the character of Rapunzel, the influence of Japanese anime on his approach, and the unexpectedly symbiotic relationship of hand-drawn and computer animation, and what the future may hold for the artforms.

Tangled is available on Blu-ray and DVD starting March 29!




RadioFree.com: In your past work on Disney features, you've often been credited as "supervising animator," but in Tangled, you've been credited as "directing animator." Is there a practical difference between the two roles?

GLEN: Well, actually, on the film, I am credited as supervising animator, but earlier on I was credited as directing animator. I decided I didn't want the credit directing animator because it separated me too much from [fellow animators John Kahrs and Clay Kaytis], who I shared, as a little triumvirate, the overseeing of this animation. But the reason it was there was that for many years, I directed the film. I started this movie 14 years ago, and in 2008, I had a heart attack and decided I would step back from directing and focus on overseeing animation. And it allowed me to still have a title, a role, of something that I wanted: oversight. But in the end, I felt like Byron and Nathan...I had such enormous confidence [in them], I didn't really want that title there.

Of all the animators involved in the extensive process of creating a film like this, who is responsible for the initial design of the characters? Who is the first to draw them?

Well, in the case of Rapunzel, that was me--designing what she's going to look like--really, from the very beginning, thinking about my own daughter. Claire is an artist--very strong-willed kid. Always, in her bedroom, wanted to paint the walls, wanted to paint the ceiling. Just exploding creatively. That's Claire. And actually, in this movie, we hired her as an artist to paint Rapunzel's paintings. All of the walls are painted by her. She's an artist and went to an art school in Paris. So there was a lot of her that went into this design of this character for me.

As a kid, did you have a similar desire to draw and paint on everything? I'd imagine in might run in the family, especially with your dad being a cartoonist...

Yeah, very much. I was constantly drawing on everything. [And] my dad was drawing on everything. He would draw on the walls. He had caricatures above his door in the studio. You know, I would crawl under a desk as a little kid and I'd look up and dad would have been there ahead of me and done a drawing that says, "What are you doing under this table?!" [laughs] You know, that kind of stuff. That's dad.

Like many of your past characters (I'm thinking of Ariel, Aladdin, and Tarzan in particular), Rapunzel and Flynn have amazingly expressive eyes and often speak with their hands. Are those traits your own signature marks on the film?

I think so. But I think it's also from John and Clay, and their love of hand-drawn animation. John's background is CG, and Clay's background is hand-drawn, but they both can animate on the computer. And they constantly valued what I could bring, which I really am so thankful for both of them. They didn't say, "Glen, look, you don't understand CG, so we'll take it from here." They pulled me in constantly. In our work area, they had my drawings of my past characters all around the walls, so you could see the Beast and Pocahontas and Aladdin and Tarzan and Ariel everywhere. They embraced that. And they allowed me to be me. So I constantly drew over everybody's work in the dailies. The directors would sit behind me, and I'd draw over top of the animation up on the screen, and the animator had that waiting for them back at their desk.



When you have a project like Beauty and the Beast, in which different animators are overseeing the individual characters (you for Beast, James Baxter for Belle, and Andreas Deja for Gaston), how do you all come together to make sure your differing styles blend together seamlessly and feel like they belong in the same world?

Well in the past, we would all get together and we'd put our drawings up on the walls and we would draw over top of each other's work and try to come up with a credible, believable world, so one character didn't feel flat and the other dimensional. In CG, it's the same kind of a thing. Jin Kim, who is another character designer who worked really closely with me...I asked him really early on to design characters, because half the time, I can't tell the difference between his drawing and my drawing. We have a very...I call it "sculptural drawing." He thinks that way. He animated on Treasure Planet with me--very sculpted, dimensional approach. And so he and I both would do the designs and then work with modelers. And we really only had a few modelers that we focused on. So there was this collective learning of the style of the film. John and Clay really loved a broad, say, Peter Pan kind of a style of animation. We were aiming for that kind of stylization. There's bone and mass, but stretch and flexibility. So every character had to fit that zone. We really knew exactly what it is we were looking for right from the beginning. It was important that John and Clay and myself all had the same goal that we were shooting for.

To what extent do you think the style of Japanese anime has influenced Disney animation over the last two decades or so?

Well, it's hard to ever separate the huge influence that Japanese animation has had on me. I was just in awe of Miyazaki's work, and have emulated his sensitivity, his approach to staging. That had a gigantic impact on our films starting with Rescuers Down Under, where you saw the huge Japanese influence on our work. That's part of our heritage now, which we don't back away from.

Do you feel that CG animation is finally getting to a point where you can capture the "heart" of 2D, and have more expression and spirit come through the artwork?

Yeah. It really is. I was amazed at watching the movie, finished. It struck me that every time there was a shot up there, I was seeing the animator who animated it. Because I could see a little of them--the way they manipulated the character. There were expressions that were theirs, that I knew. I knew every animator, every time it was up on the screen, just by the style. And I thought, "I thought that was only true with hand-drawn!" Because I could always tell [the difference between animation by Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas, and Ollie Johnston]...Could see it exactly the same in Tangled. Every animator's personal expression is up on the screen, and it's actually happening. I don't know that you could have said that before.

What do you see for the future of animation? Will everything go CG, or can hand-drawn make a resurgence?

I think that hand-drawn has to be liberated, just as CG needs hand-drawn to liberate itself. I think hand-drawn is going to give it wings. Tangled is a new level for this artform because of the impact of hand-drawn, but the computer can do the same thing for hand-drawn. Any time that the computer has intersected into my hand-drawn world, I've always felt challenged to draw more sculpturally, dimensionally, more credibly--from Tarzan surfing down the vines to Beast and Belle in the dance, or Silver with the mechanical arm. But what I think could be wonderful is hand-drawn doesn't have to go through a clean-up stage any longer, you could use a computer to paint in more of a pastel way...I mean, there can be so many new styles. Because the look of classic Disney animation is really a technical restriction that was invented because you had to paint cels. And it's no longer the case now. You can do anything. So I see a new future for hand-drawn as well--more liberated, more personal expression for the hand-drawn artist.

Thank you very much for your time, Mr. Keane. It was a pleasure speaking with you.

Michael, great questions. I had fun talking with you.


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