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Great Animated Performances: Zazu as Supervised by Ellen Woodbury
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RW
It sounds like getting too caught up in over-thinking a moment, or focusing on technique and not trusting the feeling.

EW
Yeah, oh yeah. It’s far better to get down the broad strokes and then go back to refine.

RW
I wonder if that’s how some animators get caught using certain tell-tale visual vocabularies that make it possible to pick their work out of any scene? They fall in love with a detail before they get the entire idea completed, and it may work beautifully and be very distinct and clever, but then you see that same detail again - as if it’s become almost a habit and it shows up in performance after performance. The little bent knee waddle that Milt Kahl perfected comes to mind. You see him use it over and over - from Roger in 101 DALMATIANS all the way through to Georges Hautecourt in THE ARISTOCATS, and almost everywhere in between. I’m not so arrogant or stupid that I’m trying to take some posture on Milt Kahl as if he was anything other than a truly gifted and brilliant animator. I actually love that little waddle.

EW
And the wobble of the head that you see in ROBIN HOOD.

RW
And in BEDKNOBS, where he uses both!

EW
Except it looks more natural, somehow, on those characters. Maybe it’s the shapes and the designs.

RW
Yeah! Even though it’s his little ‘trick’ I still love it. I love everything he ever did - especially Medusa and Shere Kahn. It’s just that I think that something which distinguishes you from many other animators is that your work doesn’t show any of those patterns - or at least I don’t see them.

EW
Oh, well thanks. That’s good. Thanks. You know the old guys, Frank and Ollie and those guys always said that Milt was a better choreographer and draftsman than he was an actor.

RW

Yeah. And there are very few animators who have somehow managed not to rely at one point or another on some visual short-hand that they favor. I’ve written before that Ruben Aquino is one animator that never seems to repeat himself in any way. Your work, too, is just as specific and unique without ever telegraphing anything that would make someone say “oh…that’s such an Ellen Woodbury move or gesture.?

EW
Something Duncan taught me when working on ALADDIN, and I can’t even remember what scene it was in, but he was talking about this one scene and trying to figure out what business he was going to use because he had already done a brow wipe or something. He’d already done that and wanted to find something new to do, and that stuck with me as something like ‘Oh, okay, don’t do the same thing twice.’ Always keep it fresh. Always look for another way to do something. Find another gesture that supports the same idea; still the same personality but a different gesture - still their gesture, but new.

RW
In the past you’ve always had two directors, and now, what’s it like working with a single director?

EW
Working with Mark is really easy. He is not down to the nitty gritty. He has the big umbrella, and then there are certain ways things need to go - certain shadings, certain leanings or shadings or something like that. But other than that it’s pretty much wide open as long as you maintain the shading that is needed in that scene, then it’s okay. I’m only on my third scene, and he’s tremendously open to people’s ideas.

I did work with Eric Goldberg on RHAPSODY IN BLUE, and man…man that guy is like …wow, he’s just on a pedestal of his own. I mean he’s WAY up there in my esteem. That was so much fun. He was so clear and he was SO helpful, encouraging and...I mean you’d show him something and he’d go “Wow!? And he’s so generous with his laughter. He’s so generous with everything. And if you’re not doing something the way he wants you to do it, he’ll take a paper and lay it over yours and say “more like this, this is what I was thinking? and you go ‘Oh, okay, great.’ There’s no “You did bad I’m right.? There’s not any of that kind of stuff, it’s just “this is what I want? and “this is how you can do this.? Rhapsody is VERY stylized movement and he gave us this mini-lesson in how to these things move, because they don’t move like real characters move. They have a very stylized way of their own, and he showed me this. I did the Milkman where he puts the bottles down. I think he did maybe three or four drawings - like an arm or just a leg and he’d say “bend over like this and keep the silhouette and keep the back straight? and it was just so clear. And it went through like lightening. Everybody wanted to work on it, and we got to do three or four shots and that was it. I could have done ten more, easily, because had such a good time doing it.

As far as one or two I don’t think it really makes any difference. Maybe if it got to three it might get a little schizophrenic, I don’t know I’ve never worked with three, but I never had a problem. Like with Ron and John they always seemed to be on the same page, and with Rob and Rog on LION KING, they were on the same page.

Whatever page they were on, it was imprinted with a plan to get out of Woodbury just the sort of performance she aims for when she muses on the idea of getting to know a character. Zazu is the role with whom, thus far in her work, she seems to have been the most involved and intimate.

She takes a great vocal performance, in this case Rowan Atkinson, and opens it up to its full advantage. Aside from the elements of Zazu’s design that spring from a caricature of Atkinson himself - big eyes, prominent probiscus, bushy brows - under Woodbury’s carefully researched watch Zazu never limps into being just a cartoon version of Atkinson. This isn’t Birdie Mr. Bean. In fact, admirably so, she steers him away from the obvious and makes him specific and unique to his time, place and purpose in the Pride Lands. Zazu is also endlessly fascinating to watch move. He is appealing and a perfect compliment of all his naturalistic structural elements and anthropomorphic compromises.


(c) Disney Enterprises

 

 

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