The Disney Animation Burn Books
Juvenile, profane, penile and potty obsessed rants against authority…
The artists attached to the story development department I managed for Disney from 1985–1992, during the so-called “2D Renaissance”, were true free thinkers. You didn’t manage them, per se, you tried to create an environment where the best ideas and gags could emerge. These insanely talented people all went on to have remarkable careers as directors, and are all still working today: Kelly Asbury (Shrek), Chris Sanders (How to Train Your Dragon), Kirk Wise (Hunchback of Notre Dame), Gary Trousdale (Beauty and the Beast), Kevin Lima (Enchanted), Rob Minkoff (Lion King) and Brenda Chapman (Brave). We put a bunch of rebellious, outspoken, opinionated, and ambitious young artists in a bullpen in a former Burbank airport building behind Disney Imagineering in Glendale, and this is (some of) what happened there.
I’m not sure who started it, but their banter, put downs and satirical cartoons were collected and placed on a big wall board. At the end of the year, creative services manager Greg Blair would take them down and make photocopies of what I now call “The Feature Animation Burn Book”. I was recently reunited with these amazing books by animator and story man Kevin Harkey, whose words are included here as well.
These little “books” are juvenile, profane, penile and potty obsessed rants against authority and being a working stiff. In other words, they are all kinds of awesome!
I recently showed the full set of the Burn Books to Disney Theatricals President (and former Animation producer) Tom Schumacher. “I’m not sure I should be touching these,” he said, reverently. “Human resources would probably fire everyone in here”.
A lot of development work consisted of working on material collaboratively, and watching it be destroyed, collectively, and then starting over.
Often artists expanded on their colleagues’ works. Sometimes they topped them with a completely new, better idea. In front of the producers. Oooof.
The “story men” (and woman, Brenda Chapman) pitched their story boards with a pointer and elaborate body movements and hilarious voices. Often they impersonated celebrities like Robin Williams. Because these boards were by definition works in progress, enthusiastic presenters were often hammered during the critique that followed the pitch. The late, great Joe Ranft was probably the best pitcher I ever saw. He had the ear of a mimic, was a skilled improv performer (and magician), and master storyteller.
Here’s another brilliant Trousdale original. It shows the studio’s head honcho Jeff Katzenberg bragging about work he is genuinely proud of, while unseen in the background he’s busily undermining the foundation of that same work. I have always thought animation, because of its long and deliberate production pace, was more of a producer’s medium than live-action pictures. I think that’s what led Katzenberg to focus on animation exclusively.
The job of a studio executive is inherently insecure. It’s nice to see the guys understood our position.