Legacy Content

Great Animated Performances: Zazu as Supervised by Ellen Woodbury
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RW
After you left school, were people who mentored you or who influenced you within the industry?

EW
Not at first. I worked at Filmation for a couple of months. Actually Jules got me the interview that got me the job. They saw my master’s thesis film and hired me as an animator.

RW
What did you work on?

EW
She-Ra, Princess of Power. And then when I got to Disney, in October of 1985, everybody was inspiring.

RW
So was Eric Larson still there?

EW
I took him stuff and would talk to him about stuff. He would say things like “You know, if you really want to bend the knees, you have to go ahead and bend them, really bend them.? It didn’t matter to him if the character’s legs were so short that if it was a teeny little bend, he’d say “No. Bend them. Bend them!?

She laughs and shrugs.

EW
There was a group of us. Me, Scott Anderson, Terry Naughton, Lori Noda and several others that all came in sort of at the end of GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE. I was doing clean-up. And then I was the assistant to Dave Pacheco. Dave knew I wanted to be an animator and he let me do hair and drapery on all of his scenes and that was great. He was very generous.

We had a year of down time before OLIVER & Co. started, and I remember going to Matt O’Callaghan and he was so generous. He was really verbal, and really energetic and so encouraging. He’d take the time and go over my drawings and he was just a really nice guy.

And then I was an animator’s assistant working with Mike Gabriel, who was wonderful. I remember he said ‘It’s in the eyes. You have to look in the eyes.’ I didn’t know what he meant, so I’d go home and pour over the films and without saying it, because it’s actually very difficult to explain, something just clicked and once again I said to myself ‘oh, I get it! It’s in the eyes’ and it’s because Mike taught me that, and I always remembered it.

It’s in the eyes, alright, in those bright, curious eyes. It is a gift to have about one’s own character a willingness to try anything. Has this fearless calm always been there, I wonder? Is this easy-going approach to each new challenge something she learned from her parents or has it always been a fundamental part of her?

RW
When were you approached to work on THE LION KING?

EW
I approached them. Nobody knows who you are unless you go to them.

George (Scribner) was the first director, and I sent him a note saying I’d be happy to work on his movie. And he said “That’s great.? Everybody was interested in doing POCAHONTAS, and not that I didn’t think it was going to be a great movie, but I was more attracted to doing animals. And I think I was still on ALADDIN at the time. Then they changed directors to Rob (Minkoff) and Roger (Allers) and I went to Roger and I asked him to lunch. And I was so afraid to even broach the subject and we’re talking and eating and finally he says ‘So, you invited me to lunch. Why?’ And I could feel my face burning, and I was sweating and so scared. Finally I said ‘Oh….uhhm…I had this idea that I’d like to be a lead animator on your movie.’ I’d done some little side characters in RESCUERS (DOWN UNDER) and BEAUTY & THE BEAST. I did the Koala in RESCUERS and the foot-stool in BEAUTY & THE BEAST. I got to study dogs and turn it into furniture and it was fun. Then I read the LION KING script and the part of Zazu and I thought ‘Oh, I get this guy, I’d really like to do this character!’

RW
I can certainly understand that. I was visiting in 1990 or ’91 and I was interviewing some people and being given a tour of the visual development for this new film that they described as Hamlet in Africa. And the people who were taking me around to meet people turned around and I wasn’t there. I was about five or six yards behind them, standing mesmerized in front of this one board filled with drawings and screen shots of this wonderful bird character. He had so much appeal and so much life and personality that I couldn’t stop looking. I remember that at the end of the afternoon they took me into a screening room and showed me a clip of what would later be seen in the theatres as the preview - the Circle of Life opening, and it was still just a work reel all in pencil. And I kept watching and hoping I’d see this little bird character that I’d seen on the boards in the hallway. Here I am watching this amazing opening and all I could think was “where’s that little bird?! I want to see more of that bird!? Even a year later when that preview first hit theatres, I was most looking forward to the film for a chance to see that bird!

EW
He was really fun to do.

And it shows. Strong vocal….opened up, passed along, knocked out of the park.

RW
So how long was it before Roger Allers responded after your lunch appeal?

EW
Well, I wrote a ton of letters. I wrote to Rob and Roger and Don, and sent them footage, and presented my ideas and tried to give them all the examples of why I was ready for the responsibility and offer up all the arguments for why I would be a good choice. Initially they offered me the mother (Sarabi). And I thought ‘well, I don’t have that understanding of what a mother does, and I don’t particularly want to be a mother. I don’t have children and I’m just not drawn to that character.’ So I turned it down. And for a long time that was it. I thought ‘Oh great, I blew it. I should have just bit the bullet and accepted what they were offering me.’ But I couldn’t. I knew that I would be unhappy. It didn’t make any sense to do something that I knew wasn’t going to be enjoyable. Then, to my absolute delight, they offered me Zazu! I think Rob had a lot to do with that. I think Rob was the one who pushed that decision in my direction.

 

 

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