35. Tony and Tom Bancroft
There has been a share of brother pairs working in animation in the history of the medium. Robert Mckimson’s brothers Thomas and Charles worked for a time at Warner Brothers when their very talented brother was animating and directing (I know he’s not Disney but I tell you Robert Mckimson is one of the most underrated directors in all film history.) Aaron Blaise’s brother Travis worked at a time at DisneyFlorida. However there’s only one pair of twins to be both supervising animators at Disney. They’re Tony and Tom Bancroft. Today I’ll talk about both of them in this post for number 35.
The Bancrofts were born in 1967 and grew up in California. Both grew to love family entertainment and character-driven stories. “Besides deep-fried chocolate covered oreos there isn’t anything I love more than character driven stories,” says Tony in a nutshell. In the late 1980s they started at Calarts along with classmates including Pixar great Pete Doctor. However both decided in 1989 to go up the next level and join Disney. Both were assigned to work in the Florida studio as assistant animators on the Rescuers Down Under. The Florida studio was brand new at this point and many young animators were brought in to work there including Alex Kuperschmidt, a good friend of both of the Bancrofts. They were also fortunate in having star animator Mark Henn down there with them as the nucleus of the new studio. Henn is one of the best personality “emotional side” animators in animation history and has been acclaimed by some to be the modern day Ollie Johnston. He is still at Disney today and one of the leaders of their hand-drawn program. Tom in particular was inspired by Mark’s example and credits him as his mentor. A year after joining Disney Tony was transferred to the California studio where he was put under another Disney great, Will Finn. He worked under Finn on Cogsworth and Iago and began to see an increase in both the quality and amount of footage he received. When many of the top animators rejected offers to supervise characters on Lion King due to a desire to be a part of Pocahontas a new for new supervisors were needed for major characters. Tony was picked to supervise Pumbaa the warthog and worked alongside Mike Surrey, an underappreciated major talent in the industry who supervised Timon the meerkat. “It gave a great opportunity for myself and mikeSurreyto kind of rise up and supervise a character,” stated Tony in an interview. “Up until that point it was hard to move up because there already was Glen Keane and Andreas and stuff that were all supervising and you had to wait until they retired to move up! But when they started making two movies at once they needed a whole new crew of supervising animators which gave me a high opportunity at that time.” After the somewhat-surprising super success of the film Bancroft was chosen to direct Mulan, the first ever animated feature to be fully animated at Disney Florida. In the meantime Tom had emerged as one of the most talented animators at the studio and Tony picked his brother to supervise Mushu the dragon in the film. When finished in 1998 Mulan turned out to be a major success for both the brothers. Tony once again moved back to California where he supervised Kronk on the Emperor’s New Groove before leaving in 2001 due to his dissatisfaction with Disney at the time and desire to start his own company Toonacious. Tom also left Florida around the same time to move to Nashville. Both brothers have had success in the field of commercials and entertainment. Tom has even published a book on animation. Tony is now working at Divide Nine Animation Studios as the director in creative development. Tom is working with former Disney colleague Rob Corley at their company Funny Pages Productions in Nashville.
To Tom the most important thing to do an animation is to thumbnail your scenes. He is an avid thumbnailer and does it to plan his scenes and to find the ideas behind each one. His mentor Mark Henn is also a big advocate of thumbnails so this makes a lot of sense. When animating a scene Tom puts a lot of effort into thinking about the scene and putting thought into what the character is going through. He also makes sure that the expressions his characters have directly communicate what they’re thinking and show the meaning behind those gestures. The eyes and expressions are always at the center of a Tom Bancroft drawing. He focuses less on the technique and posture of the character putting more emphasis on the communication of the drawing.
Like most brothers Tom and Tony are very much alike in some ways but extremely different in others. Tony’s animation usually has a focus more on the performance and the timing. When he animates his characters fluidly move in a way that shows the type of character they are and that gives them a unique performance. Study Tony’s scenes of Pumbaa and Iago. His Iago scenes in Aladdin show more of the out of control side of the character and his scene where he is exhausted is amazing. His movement feels like someone who is warn out and exhausted. You feel the pain the parrot is going through. The comic expressions are also a good aid to the expert timing. In the case of Pumbaa he put great use of broad acting and caricature in the animation. He moves in a way that shows that he’s a not-that-bright, good-hearted warthog. “Pumbaa is a very soft-hearted, romantic character,” said his animator. It’s always really amazing when the animation is done to the quality you see the character and don’t think about the voice actor or the technical side of animation. Personally I have always preferred sincerity animators that emphasis feeling rather than more analytical, technical animators. Not surprisingly I’m always studying lots of scenes by Bill Tytla, Eric Larson, Ollie Johnston, Glen Keane, and Mark Henn when I’m at home. I appreciate technique more when I’m not thinking about it when I’m watching animation unless I force myself to look for it (which I do frequently.)
Impact wise both Tony and Tom Bancroft have left their mark in that they were two of the top young animators to emerge in the early to mid 1990s, a time when many new animators were coming to the Mouse House. Also they are both amazing animators who really understand characterization in animation.
Both of the Bancrofts are big inspirations to me. Tom has inspired me in making me realize the importance in planning a scene as well as having clear communication of character in your animation. Also he made me realize that the major jump in being an animator is when you begin to move your character with thought and meaning instead of just focusing on moving and drawing something. Tony has inspired me in his use of timing, caricature, and broad acting. Thank you Tom and Tony Bancroft for the great animation and for influencing us all.
Rescuers Down Under- Assistant Animator
Beauty and the Beast- Animation Assistant
Aladdin- Animator on Iago
Lion King- Animator on Young Simba
Pocahontas- Animator on Pocahontas
Mulan- Supervising Animator on Mushu
Tarzan- Animator on Tantor’s Family
Brother Bear- Additional Animator
Rescuers Down Under- Additional Animator on Frank the Frill Lizzard
Beauty and the Beast- Animator on Cogsworth
Aladdin- Animator on Iago
Lion King- Supervising Animator on Pumbaa
Hunchback of Notre Dame- Additional Animator on Gargoyles
Emperor’s New Groove- Supervising Animator on Kronk