K.C.: You place great emphasis on acting.
R.W.: Totally, totally! It is the main emphasis. Without it people would get bored after 20 minutes, as they so often do with animated features. The Disney features aren’t boring – not the good ones.
K.C.: Do you think that is one of our problems here in Britain, that we do not pay enough attention to (a) Character animation and (b) Story construction?
R.W.: I don’t know about the second, but certainly the first. You see, I don’t think Disney paid a lot of attention to good story construction. I think they gave their attention to characterisation. Frank Thomas told me several times that Disney often said to them, “Forget the damn story and get the entertainment there. Take a critical sequence with the main characters, and get something going that everybody wants to watch, but forget the story.”
In my opinion, the difficulty of getting-the-story-right is used by the makers of bad animated features to excuse the fact they cannot do the character animation, they cannot make personalities ‘live’. When you get the personalities ‘living’, the story becomes less important. Situations and personalities are what count. The “Jungle Book” storyline was like a short … a boy goes through the jungle … but it was an amazing piece of animation, and that’s what held the attention of the audience.
We are relatively pleased with the story of “The Thief” but, good god, the story’s nothing. It is what is happening on the screen. Does it involve you instantly or doesn’t it? I mean, that’s it! And that’s the hardest part with animation, to make things totally believable, and everybody wants to avoid it. I was the same for fifteen years. I was a graphic artist in animation … thought I was ever so clever, until one day I realized I didn’t know a damned thing. I couldn’t suspend disbelief for more than 15 to 20 minutes. I thought I had better go and study ‘how you do it’. So we did … and it was a nasty shock to realize when you thought you were wonderful and were covered with awards, that you didn’t know how to do it, at all.
And that’s not just the problem with British animation, it is THE problem! In the case of the Bluth people, they do know how to articulate characters, but they are deliberately trying to emulate Disney, which is a very strange thing to want to do. And in my view, although they know how to articulate movement well, they over animate, they can’t keep the stuff still, you cannot see what anyone looks like they’re flashing around so fast.
K.C.: Very different to “Watership Down”. I’m told that when Phil Duncan came over from Disney’s to work on the rabbits, Mark Rosen insisted on conventional rabbits rather than Disney-type creations.
R.W.: Well, I’d agree with Rosen on that score. And another thing, I do not like stop-start animation. That’s why people don’t go to see animation. Stopping and starting is a pain in the neck to watch and does not ‘live’. That is not what we are into; quite the opposite!