When I was elementary-age in the early 1970s, I was captivated by a book in the little county library of my small town, a huge white hardcover coffee-table tome called The Art of Walt Disney: From Mickey Mouse to the Magic Kingdoms by Christopher Finch. It was a reference book — so it couldn’t be checked out — and it seemed to have a permanent home out on the table beside the copier. Who would want to shelve such a book? It was made to be open and pored over by people enthralled with Disney movie magic.
This particular book has been updated and reissued several times, and not too surprisingly, is still in print. I still recall the book’s reproduction of an animation cell from the favorite of Disney himself, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, showing bubbles on a bar of soap spilling to a stone floor, painted to actually look clear.
But everyone knows that though Walt Disney and his original vision have long since passed on, the Disney animation machine keeps on going. A brand-new Disney animation book to be released next week doesn’t dwell on past achievements, which have been covered, but includes in its focus new digital techniques. Yes, those hand-drawn single cells were amazing and groundbreaking, but they ain’t always done that way anymore.
The Alchemy of Animation: Making an Animated Film in the Modern Age by veteran animation producer Don Hahn is a step-by-step introduction to modern animated filmmaking, studying the roles of all the players involved in creating animated features, from directors and story artists to musicians and computer animators. It explores behind-the-scenes work on more recent Disney films like Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons, as well as showing the mechanics of stop-motion flicks like Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach.
Books about Disney animation abound — try doing a search sometime. But this one goes behind the mechanics, and while practical, tries to expose the creative spirit still behind even the most high-tech animation advances.