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Disney Legend Shares the Soul of Character Animation

January 27, 2024 | Campus News

In his first visit to Malaysia, Glen Keane was invited by The One Academy to conduct a masterclass to the academy’s students, alumni, industry professionals and secondary school students on January 13 at EX8, Subang Jaya. One of Walt Disney Animation Studio’s longest-serving lead character animators, he was named a Disney Legend after a career spanning nearly 40 years there.

Having trained under the “Disney’s Nine Old Men”, he is most well known for bringing to life many beloved characters such as Ariel in The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas, Aladdin, Beast from Beauty and the Beast, Tarzan, and Rapunzel in Tangled. He was the recipient of the 1992 Annie Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in the Field of Animation, and in 2007 he received the prestigious Winsor McCay Award for lifetime contribution to the field of animation.

“With the Beast, I didn’t know what he was going to look like. As soon as I drew those eyes, I could see the character looking out at me. I said, “Well that’s him, there he is – the Beast.” Animation is like that, you start to discover something inside yourself that rings true with what you’re animating,” said Keane while doing a live drawing demonstration of the character.

“Whenever we are creating something, it’s a conversation that we have with our artwork. We would come up with something new, because our art is speaking to us as we’re making it.” He added that an animator has to live in the skin of the character that they are animating and believe the situation that the character is in.

His father Bil Keane, a cartoonist who drew comic strips about his family, had told him to “draw what you know”. Keane holds onto those words and his family very close to his heart. The Little Mermaid character Ariel was based off his wife Linda, while his son Max was his inspiration for Tarzan.

“Observation is the skill that we all need – it’s learning to see.” He carries a little sketchbook around with him and sketches observations of his surroundings, even sketching while his wife was shopping in Kuala Lumpur. He shared how a pencil is a great example that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. When held, the line goes all the way down the arm to the heart, and the thing that nobody can see in the heart, can then be seen when connecting the pencil to paper.

When the transition from 2D animation to computer animation came, Disney had been split into two camps – the ones that were excited about it, and the ones that were fearful of it. “And for me, any time technology has crossed my path, I found that it forces me to be a better artist,” Keane admitted.                                         

Since retiring from Disney in 2012, he founded Glen Keane Productions as a way to further his exploration of animation, design and film, while continuing to animate, teach and inspire new generations of artists. He showed the audience a peek of the project that they are currently working on, which is animating Beethoven’s 9th symphony that is about 70 minutes long, into a 15-minute express version with the same intensity and flavour.

His collaboration in 2017 with the late Kobe Bryant, ‘Dear Basketball’ based on a poem Bryant wrote on his retirement, received an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film at the 90th Academy Awards. “The film was so wonderful and so special because it was about somebody’s love of something, and to animate that kind of heart was a gift for me,” he said.

In response to a student who expressed worry for his future as an animator with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), he assured him by saying, “The concept of AI is not new. We’ve lived through it so many times in history, the idea of technology coming along and feeling like it’s going to replace the things that we love. It doesn’t take anything away from us; it’s giving us something to choose to work with. I really believe there’s a path for using AI, but it really requires artists to use it.”

“I have never seen a school like The One Academy, and I’ve visited so many animation schools. These facilities that the students have is unparalleled. It’s the highest technology and the greatest level of challenge for students to rise to. I wish I was a student today, because this is where I want to go to school,” said Keane about his impression after having visited the college campus.

The One Academy’s regular invitation of industry experts to share their knowledge and insights with students not only enriches the academic experience, but also bridges the gap between education and real-world application. This commitment ensures that students are not only well-versed in theoretical aspects but are also equipped with practical, industry-relevant expertise, preparing them to excel in their respective creative fields.

The One Academy is committed to providing the best art education programmes and continues to nurture its students passionately through its “Masters Train Masters” coaching philosophy, which has been practised for over 33 years, by providing diploma and degree courses in Advertising & Graphic Design, Digital Animation, Digital Media Design, Film Visual Effects, Interior Architecture & Design, Illustration, Fine Arts, Paris Fashion Design & Pattern Making, Computer Science & Game Design. For more information, visit www.toa.edu.my or call 03-7875 5510 or e-mail your enquiries to [email protected].

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