Basics of Animation Presentation at the Walt Disney Family Museum

As a follow up to the two previous Basics of Animation sessions, Peter Kelly, a CalArts graduate and senior animator at Lucasfilm/Industrial Light & Magic, was prepared to go through a step by step summary of the animation process. He felt honored to be speaking at the Walt Disney Family Museum since his roots are in Disney animation. It was after seeing Disney’s Beauty and the Beast when he was 16 that Peter became motivated to pursue a career in the animation field.

Peter began the presentation by breaking down the animation process in the following three steps: Poses, Arcs, and Timing.

First, Peter described the importance of poses: How the poses should be visually entertaining and how important it is for the the characters to have clear and recognizable silhouettes. As an animator, it’s important to emphasize a ‘line of action’ and to avoid using a straight line of action. To help illustrate his point, Peter showed a short segment from Walt Disney’s The Sword in the Stone of Wart lifting the sword out of the stone. Peter would pause at different points of the scene to highlight the key poses.

Hands and hand gestures are also very important while animating a scene. Peter shared another scene from Walt Disney’s The Sword in the Stone in which much attention was put into the activity of Merlin’s hands.

Moving over to arcs, we learned a little more about how animators use exaggerated arcs of movement of the body to help the action appear more appealing on film. Peter showed a couple of postproduction scenes that he felt were beautiful examples of how animators used arcs. For example, one scene was of Jane describing her first encounter with the ape man in Disney’s Tarzan.

Peter then discussed how an animator achieves both comedic and realistic timing. Referencing snappy movements for comedic timing like those found in Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum dancing around after they first meet Alice in Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. And the snappy speed of King Louie flinging a banana into Mowgli’s mouth in Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book.


Realistic timing is achieved by animating movement with more fluidity. Peter played the short clip of when we first meet Sheer Kahn the tiger in Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book. In the clip, we were able to see the amazing realistic timing of Sheer Kahn’s shoulder movement as he sneaks up to attack his prey. Peter followed that clip with a short video that illustrated the steady, fluid pace of Pinocchio skipping.

It was during this time that Peter emphasized how the animator should have no more than one character moving on screen at one time so that the eye knows where to look.

Peter also touched very quickly on how animators use exposure sheets to share frame by frame guidance regarding things such as camera angles, lighting, and dialogue. One of Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men, Eric Larson, said that an animator should spend a whole day planning out a scene. The exposure sheet is a tool that an animator would use to accomplish just that.

One of the last production clips we saw during this part of the discussion was of master animator Glen Keane acting out Beast’s invitation to Belle to join him for dinner in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, to which she responds with “I am not coming.” It was a perfect example of how the animator became the character and had the scene planned out in his head.

Let’s Animate
The next part of the discussion was setup almost as a class. First, we were asked to listen to a sound file of Medusa demanding that Penny go down to grab the diamond from Disney’s The Rescuers. A scene beautifully animated by one of Peter’s favorite animators and one of Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men, Milt Kahl. Peter than asked us to describe how we would animate what we heard. What would we be listening for?

After listening to a few responses from the audience, Peter’s suggestion was to listen for accents in the dialogue and to think about how an animator could emphasize them. We were able to watch the scene and see how Milt Kahl used dramatic poses to support the dialogue.

We then moved on to Peter flipping through key drawings, like flip books, of rough animation that were on display. We reviewed scenes from Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, The Rescuers, and Aladdin. Peter used this time to highlight what is thought to be the most important principle of the 12 Basic Principles of Animation that are described in The Illusion of Life book by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston: Squash and Stretch. Through the use of squash and stretch, an object will not remain rigid while in motion. The object will move with elasticity while retaining it’s volume.


For the last part of the presentation, Peter spent some time summarizing the important roles of the other key members of the animation division. In Betweeners fill in the animation between the key poses of the characters, illustrating from point A to point B. The Clean-Up artists specialize in picking the correct line, out of many lines, to produce a clean version of the rough animation. Not only does a clean-up artist need a skilled eye but also a steady hand to produce the fine results. Animation was just as much of a team effort back then as it is today and each artist can take pride in knowing that their effort and contribution was appreciated.

We then moved on to the evolution of the Ink & Paint team beginning with the labor intensive process used in the early days of animation of transferring the clean pages of animation onto celluloid by hand. For each frame, the artist would ink the outline of the character then fill in the outline with paint. After the transfer process has been completed, the cels are photographed one at a time to complete the sequence.

Later in animation, the method of Xerography was introduced. This process allowed the key animators’ drawings to be copied directly to celluloid, allowing the audience to see the work of an animator’s hand with the side benefit of saving both time and money. In 1961, Walt Disney’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians was the first full length film to use this process. The Xerography animation process was improved during it’s use in Walt Disney’s The Rescuers by introducing various toner colors, such as medium-gray toner for a softer line on the cell.

Peter closed out the presentation with a few animation segments showcasing Madame Medusa from Walt Disney’s The Rescuers and the action packed sequence of Rafiki facing off with hyenas in Disney’s The Lion King.

-What have you (Peter Kelly) animated?
-Peter referenced one of his latest animation scenes of Hulk punching Thor in The Avengers


-Do you prefer to animate in traditional animation or CG?
-13-14 years ago, traditional animation would have been his preference. His preference now is animating in CG.

-Are 2D animators dedicated to specific characters and 3D animators dedicated to specific scenes?
-It varies.

-With the recommended CG application being Maya, what is the 2D equivalent?

-What kind of references does he (Peter) like to use?
-Acting out specific scenes as an animator.

-In the final cut of what the audience sees, what is exactly his and what is added?
-He’s responsible for the performance of the character, others will then add layers to the scene such as dust, lighting, and atmosphere.

-What is the most difficult thing to animate?
-Walking and the Rattlesnake Jake from the ILM animated feature, Rango

-How can we get into the art of animation?
-Student version of Maya was recommended.

-What do studios look for in a reel?
-Mood and attitude of character; the reel needs to have “weight”.

-Anatomy classes part of his (Peter’s) education?
-Yes, as well as sketching.

-What was a highlight and/or biggest milestone in his career?
-The production of ILM’s Rango and being greeted by his hero, Glen Keane, after his student film won the top award.