50. Eric Cleworth
Cleworth is the second farthest back leading towards the table behind John Lounsbery.
Eric Cleworth isn’t a familiar name to all fans of Disney yet he is one of the best action animators ever with a great flair for movement. He started at Disney in 1939 and stayed until his retirement around 1970. Cleworth is one of the most underrated Disney animators and he was part of the B-Wing, the animation wing that wasn’t as glamorous as the more famous D-Wing but said by many to be equally talented. Fortunately this blog allows Cleworth to get some much-belated recognition as one of the 50 most influential animators on my blog and he’s my first post!
If there was one thing Eric Cleworth knew it was how to make something move correctly. Every action in his scenes is caricatured but correct and completely believable. He oftentimes studied life action reference material to make sure his movement and actions were correct. Here is what Cleworth told Charles Solomon about studying rattlesnake footage for the dragon fight in Sleeping Beauty: “The dragon’s motions have a ponderous, reptilian grace that suggests powerful muscles moving a bulky body over the rocky terrain. The long neck and narrow head dart with serpentine fluidity.” Eric was also quite good at doing comic animation and broad action, something many B-Wing animators were best at. His skill at motion makes his slapstick scenes pull off better than most other animators and gives them more believability than the average animator who would only animate slapstick from their mind.
Eric Cleworth’s impact comes largely from his unselfishness and his skill & efficiency as a character animator. Part of what makes the original Disney classics so good is unlike quite a few of the later films every scene is well-drawn and animated well. If you didn’t understand character, personality, or acting you wouldn’t move pass being an inbetweener. A lot of this is due to the unselfishness animators such as Eric Cleworth had in that they didn’t leave to a place where the could be a top animator and stayed as an affective “bench” animator at Disney. Yes I do think that a lot of the top guys weren’t kind in that they purposely stopped men from being in their same league but I think a lot of credit is owed to the animators who did put up with that because of their love for the art form. If Eric Cleworth had been an animator in the 1990s I’m sure he would have been a supervisor at least a few times.
Although it took me a long time to learn a significant amount of information about him, I now am personally inspired by Eric Cleworth in many ways. If I have learned anything from studying Cleworth it’s the importance of understanding motion and how something moves. I used to think that if you could draw a design well you could be a great animator. However as I began studying great animators like Eric Cleworth, John Lounsbery, Robert Mckimson, Manny Gould, Art Babbitt, and Bill Tytla to name a few I realized that their use of movement to reflect meaning and personality was their most important asset besides feelings and acting. I began to study walks, hand gestures, and other motions. I noticed that how a person moves often shows how that person feels and what their personality is like. After I began studying this my sketches became much more dynamic and began to show more life. Another way Cleworth has influenced me is that if done properly caricature can make a character just a believable if not more believable than a character drawn straight. His study of motion and action makes his stuff comes off very well and points out how many animators of that breed fail. Many action and comic animators just have fun and don’t put substance in their work. Last Cleworth’s career helped me learn that it is important to do whatever task well and be unselfish with your animation. Eric was never a supervising animator but he still was a great animator and did all the work he was assigned well. I’ve learned that you just have to do whatever you’re given well and your best effort.
Peter Pan- Animator
Lady and the Tramp- animator in Woolie’s unit (did some of the action sequences including Tramp scarring off the other dogs when Lady has a muscle)
Sleeping Beauty- Animator: Dragon
One Hundred and One Dalmatians- Animator: Horace and Jasper, Nanny
Sword in the Stone- Animator
Jungle Book- Animator: Hathi and Elephants(did almost all the animation Lounsbery didn’t do including a decent chunk of the inspection scene)
Aristocats-Animator: the hound dogs