48. Howard Swift

Sometimes an animator is talented in an unconventional way. Not only do they not apply the rules but their style is so unique and genius in its own right that there is no need to even understand the rules. However they understand thoughts, acting, and emotions making up for their less-than-adequate draftsmanship. This is the case with Howard Swift. A straight-ahead animator and crazy guy in a largely pose-to-pose, serious studio, Swift made his mark by animating some unforgettable scenes: the ostriches dancing in the Dance of the Hours sequence in Fantasia and of course animating half of the one and only Pink Elephants on Parade sequence in Dumbo. Just as he was growing into his own as an animator the strike of’41 happened and Frank Tashlin brought him over to Screen Gems. No one will ever know if his genius and talent would be considered past its prime like Fergy or if he would be regarded as unique but special talents like Ward Kimball but we can’t analyze work on movies he never worked on.

 

     One thing everyone took notice in Howard Swift was his unbelievable speed and his ability to start from scratch. “Howard Swift was quite the character,” said Disney layout great Ken O’Connor. “I found out that if the director looked at the animator’s test and said ‘I think this is not quite right,’ the average animator would go back and change 5 drawings. That would be it. Howard would take the scene, throw the whole thing in the washboard, and start over. He was so fast. He’d do the whole scene over and make the corrections as he went along. But Howard didn’t know about the laws of fine art, including perspective.” The best example of his working speed was when he worked straight-ahead at animating the “fun stuff” of the pink elephants in Dumbo where he animated 100 feet in one week, something unheard of back then. “I animated the elephants straight, on twos- just as straight ahead as you could do it,” Swift told Michael Barrier. “I didn’t make any key poses. I just put down a piece of paper and made the next move.” However Swift was also capable of personality animation. Study the ostriches in Fantasia and you’ll see what I mean.

 

     Howard Swift’s impact would have probably been larger if it weren’t for his leaving the studio after only a few years. However he was one of the animators that proved that animation with no rules could exist in films and worlds with personality animation that was more realistically done. This would be followed by genius performances by Ward Kimball, Woolie Reitherman, John Sibley, Duncan Majoribanks, Eric Goldberg, and many others. It would be an overstatement to say Swift is even a somewhat crucial figure or inspiration in any of those people’s careers but he was one of the first animators of that breed for sure. Also he was a great animator and that accounts for something.

 

     What I have learned from Howard Swift is that sometimes it is necessary to have fun and work with no rules when animating. Keep in mind though that his cartoon acting ability made it possible for this to be pulled off. I myself want to someday master the art of cartoon acting and I know that to have fun and have no rules you must know those skills. Without them it’s just silly dry stuff with no substance. Also his work inspires me to be creative and not fall into your own mistakes. Sometimes it is better to start over with your work when there obviously is a key mistake in it. Artists need something new to challenge them and they can’t linger in their flaws if they’re going to get any better. Last of course if his career reminds me to have fun with whatever I do.

 

Swift’s Work

Pinocchio- Animator on Geppetto(uncredited)

Fantasia- Animator on the ostriches in the Dance of the Hours

Dumbo- Animator on the Ringmaster(including Parade scene and the part where he says”Duuummmboooo…I got it! I got it!) and all of the second half of Pink Elephants(the iceskying, the elphants running into eachother, the elephant with the lightning bolt, the camel elephant, the monster made up of elephant faces, etc.)

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One Response to “48. Howard Swift”

  1. Kris Fox Brown Says:

    Howard Swift was my Great Uncle, he was married to Ginny also an animator. When I was little and was starting to lose my front teeth, Howard wanted me in one of his toothpaste commercials. I lived in Anahiem then, he had his own studio in L.A. He also invented Bosco Bear, the Hamms Beer Bear, and Speedy Alkaseltzer. They aslo had lots of pets and two particular Siamese cats of theirs were the basis for the two cats in “Lady and the Tramp”.

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