A Glimpse Into Beauty and the Beast Success
By CLAUDIA KOERNER / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Animator Dave Pruiksma talks about the characters he's drawn over the years as if they were people. According to the 20-year-veteran of Disney Feature Animation, that's the key to creating more than simple cartoons.
Now a teacher at Laguna College of Art & Design, Pruiksma is passing on the values he learned from Walt Disney's original team to a new generation of artists. In his time with Disney, Pruiksma worked on characters including Flounder in "The Little Mermaid" and the Sultan in "Aladdin" as well as supervising the animation of Mrs. Potts and Chip in "Beauty and the Beast." The teapot and teacup mother and son are now back in theaters with the rerelease of the film in 3D.
Q. What does it take to be an animator?
A. An animator is basically an actor. I think of myself more as an actor than as an artist. The art is important because that's how I draw my performance. I'd be very (hesitant) to get in front of a camera and do the kind of performances that I've done on film. What an animator does is they really think of the character as a real character.
Q. How do you bring your characters to life?
A. We think of them in the third person. We get inside their heads and figure out who is this character, and how would they act, how would they move, how does that voice that comes from another actor marry to that image. And then we put them in situations in the film, and they roll them and we draw the performance. It's not thinking of it as a cartoon, but thinking of it as a character and a performance and getting inside that head and really being that character. As a supervising animator, I don't draw every scene. Sometimes I'll have other animators in my unit, and my responsibility is not only to see that the character looks consistent from scene to scene and sequence to sequence, but that the performance rings true.
Q. Do you have any favorite projects from over the years?
A. I get asked that a lot, and my answer is always the same. It's sort of like a parent picking a child. They all have unique qualities. An animated film takes so much longer to make than a live action film. You spend several years of your life on it. There are times in my life I had happy times. And some of those happy times are attached to the films. I love something about each one of the characters. From a standpoint of overall joy and satisfaction, I probably have to say "Beauty and the Beast," which is why it's so exciting it's been rereleased and so well received. People really seem to resonate with that film. I knew it when I was cast on it – this is it, this is the one.
Q. You worked mostly on Mrs. Potts in the film.
A. Mrs. Potts and Chip, her son. He was added later in the film. He got such a big response when I animated the first couple of scenes that (former Walt Disney Company film division chairman and current DreamWorks Animation CEO) Jeffrey Katzenberg asked me personally if I could in the last three months add a lot more. When Jeffrey asks, you don't say no. And we did. It was fun.
Q. What is it about the film that makes it that quality resonated?
A. I think it's an archetypal theme of love, and just the selflessness of the film. The main story, the Beast and Belle, that's one story. But then there's the object story where they care so much for the Beast, but they also have their own needs. They're not morose about their situation – they're pragmatic about it. But at the same time, they long for this other thing. At the end, it's so triumphant. Everything is just upswept, much like the films of the '30s and '40s. They have that great Cinderella moment, where everything is pulled together at the end and everybody is happy. It's a happily ever after film. I think people still want that.
Q. When you started with Mrs. Potts and Chip, what were you trying to do with the characters?
A. That was an interesting challenge because basically they're just kind of heads. So I had to figure out the physics of it, as well as the motion, how do they get around? In thinking about this overweight woman sort of bustling around, I would say she kind of has that little waddle. So I got that into the teapot pretty early on.
I think the biggest challenge was creating characters that were believable as objects. They had the solidity of porcelain but still were flexible enough that they felt fleshy. If you went too far with the fleshiness, it looked like rubber, and it looked silly. We had to come up with a way that the cranium stayed very, very solid, like a skull. Then all the features had to stay hooked, so you had to draw really solidly to move these things around. Once we had that, I could be a little more flexible with the jowl area...They have to point to a spoon in one scene. (Mrs. Potts) has no arms, she couldn't pick it up, so I had her gesture with her head. Then Chip hops over and nudges it with his nose. That was the way of getting that done. Animation is a pragmatic medium – you use whatever is available to you.
Q. What do you see as the future for animation?
A. The future looks very bright, in fact, much brighter than when I was getting into the field. There were two places you worked – Disney or Hanna-Barbera. Now, there are many, many different venues and many smaller studios. There's a lot more opportunity, and you can do a lot more different jobs if you're versatile. Here at the school, we teach a very strong foundation of art first. We're teaching artists who think first as artists, and then they learn all the skills needed... It's very important that we're not just teaching people to do jobs, but we're teaching thinking, working artists with imaginations, with something more to offer than just hands.
I stopped animating after about 20 years because I didn't like the direction the studio was going... It's a huge rush for me to work at a school that's as dedicated to quality work and creating artists as LCAD. I'm very proud of being part of this school, and I thin we're rapidly becoming the world class school for character animation.
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