40. The Assistant Animator Part 1

There is a fairly good chance none of you understand what is going on. You’re probably saying to yourself “An assistant animator’s not a person it’s the name of an occupation. What they heck does Ponti think he’s doing?” The other question you might be asking yourself is “I thought this was a blog about 50 people? What’s going on?” Well why don’t you listen to my explanation and reasoning then you might not think I’m so crazy.

The deal is after the infamous strike of 1941 for decades it was all but impossible to be promoted to the rank of animator. Some of the top men like Eric Larson and John Lounsbery did continue to advance people but for the most part the top guys wanted their status and didn’t want any competition. This was a huge shame because it robbed the studio of taking efficient use of tons of talent. Unless you want bad movies you’ve got to realize that Disney needs to continue training new animators their magic and has to continue to advance people (today is no exception, for all the Disney executives that could be listening. Yes I do believe the Talent Development program needs to be expanded and there needs to be a few more young, rookie supervising animators. Don’t hate me this is in best intentions.) Combining the fact that the assistants back in the day were super talented and very influential but keeping in mind I can’t give them credit for a career as an animator they didn’t have I’ve decided for #40 I’m going to honor 5 artists under the title the assistant animator. Over the course of the next few days I’ll separately be putting up a tribute for five of the best assistants. Here is the first artist I’m honoring in this post:

#1 George Goepper

George Goepper started at Disney in 1933, a time of great expansion and growth for the staff at the Disney studios. Snow White was going full swing into production and tons of talent the studio didn’t already have was needed to make such a daring production. Artists were recruited around the country to work on this once-in-a-lifetime project that would change the medium of animation and even the film industry in general forever. However hard work was nothing short of expected from everyone working in the studio. Years later George Goepper told Milt Gray that when inbetweening back then “We all worked our little fannies off because you never knew when you were going to be fired.” He became an assistant on the one and only Norman Ferguson, oftentimes called “Fergy”. Fergy was the first animator to put in great showmanship and thought process into his characters, most famously in his animation of the flypaper sequence in Playful Pluto. He wasn’t a great draftsman and drew very rough despite his great understanding of staging and accuracy in his drawings. This required Fergy to have many assistants. Among these assistants besides Goepper were Jack Hannah, later the director of many Donald Duck cartoons, and most notably John Lousnbery, who would later go on to be one of the best personality directing animators at the studio for decades. “Although Fergy put more work into held poses, he cared less about action extremes and therefore would leave them to his assistants to finish,” explained Goepper to Milt Gray in the same interview used above. Among the notable projects George worked on with Fergy included Pluto in the famous short the Pointer and the Dance of the Hours segment in Fantasia.

Sadly Fergy began to have a decline in the quality of his work in the mid 40s leading Goepper to become the longtime assistant of Eric Larson, one of the humblest of the great Disney animators. According to Burny Mattinson in his interview on Animation Podcast Larson was relatively easy to follow up because he worked on fours and his structure wasn’t too complicated unlike the very particular demands and scenes on threes done with the assistants of Frank Thomas and Milt Kahl. Among the films George Goepper worked under him on included Bambi, Lady and the Tramp, and Sleeping Beauty.

Like Eric Larson, George Goepper was very humble and a very mild-mannered person. He was a big fan of film and was a sculptor as well. At some point Goepper left Disney for Hanna-Barbara where unlike at Disney he was able to be a star. His career was honored by the Animation Guild in 1988 and he also taught animation at Orange Coast College in California for many years. Unfortunately Goepper is no longer with us but his contributions stay in the scenes he worked on and he is one of the most underrated talents in the history of the Disney studio. I personally believed he would have made an excellent animator if he were ever given the chance for the job.

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6 Responses to “40. The Assistant Animator Part 1”

  1. Shawn Doyle Says:

    George Goepper started with Disney June 1, 1933… NOT 1936.

  2. Christopher Hei Says:

    did Bill Hajee worked on The Rescuers and Pete’s Dragon, If so?, what characters did he animate, because he was already experienced in animation as early as 1964.

  3. Christopher Hei Says:

    Wait, i know!, Hajee freelanced for these films plus The Small One, after he was kicked out of Chuck Jones Enterprises, he stopped freelancing for them in late 1978, and began to animated full length feature films that were made in his home country of Great Britain, like Pink Floyd: The Wall and The Plague Dog, plus several Peanuts television specials and two original specials Happily Ever After and Two Daddies? for Bill Melendez, well, i think that Hajee returned to Disney to help Glen Keane animate the Beast in Beauty and The Beast and The Genie in Aladdin before he retired.

  4. Christopher Hei Says:

    well, i discovered that Hajee was in fact, an assistant animator!, Hajee have animated only 29 pieces in The Rescuers because i think that he had several visits to the studio and occasionally during his visits, he would assist either Ollie, Frank & Cliff on the film and the only sequences that he assisting animated were four in “The Pirate’s Cave” ,did three scenes in the “Rescue Aid Society” and one in “Mice Land” and the only parts that he got to do more work on were 21 parts in “Escape”, however, to the present day, he is incorrectly and falsely credited as a character animator, however, he also get to do some shots of Elliot in Pete’s Dragon and the next year, for a short time, Hajee finally became a character animator when The Small One was in production and he also did great work on it!, he also mysteriously animated a scene in The Fox and The Hound. however, due to allegations against him made by Bluth and his “merry men” of animators that he ruined their work on Small One and Dragon, so he left Disney after two years and went to become one of Britain’s most accomplished animators.

  5. I am a relative of Eric Larson, Thank you for the wonderful words mentioned about him.

  6. Lynnea Oakes Says:

    My fondest memories of George Goepper are still so clear in my mind as I think back on my precious time as one of his young art students in the 1980’s. He spoke in great detail, (after my irritating insistence) for enlightenment concerning the creative process behind the making of the “Jungle Cruise” ride at the California Disneyland Park. I will forever think of the original plans that he showed me every time I board onto one of those charming covered boats. When the ride first “launched”, I think of how it must have been such a new experience for that era. A “wild adventure” of Elephants at play, alligators threatening the guests and the sights and sounds of the jungle, complete with a comedic captain. Every detail was thought out, and I was honored to personally hear from one of the talented artists and visionaries that was pioneering the creation a new world. He was a dear and gentle man, and I’m one fortunate soul to have known him, even for a much too short of time.

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