Friday, 18 July 2014

The Other Book Every Animator Should Own

The original animation bible
The Illusion of Life was first published in the 1970s. It caused a sensation among animators, because it represented for the first time in print the accumulated wisdom of the Disney studio - set out in detail for anyone who cared to learn. The 1970s were a lean time for animation; Walt Disney was dead and the revival that would come with Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and The Little Mermaid was still far in the future.

The Illusion of Life was written by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnstone, two of Disney's so-called "Nine Old Men", two of his top animators who had been with him since the early days and whose work had much to do with the development of the Disney style. Between them they created some of the most memorable moments in Disney animation.

The last film they worked on was The Fox and The Hound, not by any means a great film, but better than the next one that Disney would release - The Black Cauldron. By the 1970s Frank and Ollie were doing less animation, and focusing more on their book. The idea was to create a "bible" for future generations of animators, an authoritative reference work that make sure that the craft of animation developed under Walt Disney's benign leadership would not disappear. At the same time, they would tell the story of the Disney Studio.

The book is really two books in one. Around 10% of it is a manual of methods, a how-to guide for the aspiring animator and film-maker. The rest is the story of the Disney Studio - and a compelling story it is too. So good in fact, that it easily distracts the student from their purpose - to learn the nuts and bolts of animation.

Years ago, I took my copy of the book to a Xerox machine and copied all the bits that were relevant to the study of animation, so that I would not get distracted by the rest. It worked, but the original book is still a much more beautiful thing to take down from the shelf and enjoy.

Like The Animator's Survival Kit, The Illusion of Life is a book that should be on every animator's shelf.


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