33. Aaron Blaise
Disney Florida has always been a very interesting subject to me. My interest in animation came just a little too late for me to be aware of it before it closed down. However it has always fascinated me that there once was Disney magic being made not far from where I live. Today’s post is about a person in the countdown who not only worked at the Florida studio but also is the only one to grow up in Florida. His name is Aaron Blaise and he’s number 33 on my list of the most influential Disney animators.
Born in the sunshine state in 1968, Aaron Blaise had no desire to be an animator growing up. He loved drawing and painting animals so his dream was to do illustrations for National Geographic Magazine. After high school he enrolled in the Ringling College of Art and Design (keep in mind this was quite a bit of time before it became one of the most famous animation schools in the country) and was an illustration major. While at the school, Blaise disappointedly found out that National Geographic only used freelance artists, something he didn’t want to be. Uncertain of what would become his new career path, he saw that Disney was coming to the school recruiting. Blaise then put together a portfolio, showed it to them, and was accepted into a six-week internship at the California studio with the one and only Glen Keane. Keane taught Aaron the basics of the medium and his example made the intern realize the potential of the medium. After the internship was over he went back to Florida this time to work at the brand-new Disney Florida Studios as an assistant animator. His first projects were working as an assistant on the short Roller Coaster Rabbit and the feature Rescuers Down Under. However Blaise’s big break came when Glen Keane, remembering him from the internship, hand-picked him to supervise the Beast animation done in Florida. Working with the master at his peak is an experience Blaise feels very fortunate of. “Glen has a wonderful way of elevating anyone that works with him,” said Aaron in an interview. “I had never taken anything on that caliber, but Glen had a faith in me that inspired me to want to elevate my game.” His breakout scenes on the Beast earned him the opportunity to design and animate his own character, Rajah the Tiger in Aladdin. Here’s a quote from an interview where Blaise tells the story of how he designed the tiger: “I did hundreds of tiger designs, trying to achieve the fluid Hirschfield look that the film’s art direction was trying to achieve. I struggled until one day I saw the hood ornament on a jaguar car. The little sculpture had a lot of qualities I was trying to achieve in my designs. I drew a lot of inspiration from the metal on the hood of a car! My designs were soon approved!” He also did some footage of Jasmine under the supervision of the great Mark Henn. Nest he supervised young Nala in the Lion King. “The biggest challenge on that film was getting the locomotion right,” said Aaron. “Four-legged walks, trots, and runs can be tricky, especially in transition from one to another. Getting something to look natural while still getting the acting across can be difficult.” After the Lion King Aaron Blaise went on to supervise Yao and the Ancestors in Mulan before going on the direct Brother Bear, the last film animated at the Florida Studio before its tragic closing in early 2004. Now he is back in Florida working for Digital Domain directing an upcoming computer-animated film. He loves being back in his home state and also has two kids that he loves very much. Aaron’s brother Travis Blaise was also an animator at Disney at one time and is now working on his own ideas in hand-drawn animation.
Aaron Blaise is one of the best animal animators in studio history and is an expert at animating and drawing anything on four legs. “I’ve always loved painting animals and nature,” reflects the animator. If you study his animation of animals his walks are amazing and the anatomy is very well-studied. You feel the weight of the animal as it moves and the motion is completely believable. I recently saw some of Blaise’s life drawings he did of elephants at the Miami Zoo recently and let’s just say they’re some of the best sketches I’ve ever seen in my life. I wish I could put them in the post. The muscle in the trunk and the essence of the elephants’ size was amazing. Also try to find some of the concept art he did for Brother Bear. There’s a real sense of strength and drama in every one of them. Besides drawing from life Blaise also uses thumbnails extensively in his scenes. To get a sense of his approach here’s him describing the making of a scene with the Beast: “Glen gave me the sequence where Belle was trying the bandage the Beast’s arm in front of the fireplace. It was a meaty sequence and I spent weeks planning it out doing little pose ideas we call thumbnails. It took me weeks more to animate it but in the end Glen and I were both very happy.”
In terms of impact Aaron Blaise is significant in that he was one of the first talents to emerge from the Florida Studio and development of animators like him was crucial in the studio being able to make feature-films by themselves. Also like I said before he is one of the best animators in the history of the studio at animators and is in the ranks of Eric Larson, Milt Kahl, John Lounsbery, Ellen Woodbury, and Alex Kupershmidt in that area. Digital Domain Florida is very lucky to have the opportunity to have him at their studio as a great director and valuable mentor.
In many ways I’m very inspired by Aaron Blaise. Artistically I find his skill at animating animals and use of great draftsmanship very inspiring. Also he was one of the animators whose example really made me realize how important it is to study life and motion as well as how helpful it can be to use thumbnails when planning your scene. I personally love to study his work and am a big fan of his drawing style. I also think it is very interesting how he broke into the business. Instead of being inspired just by other animators and going to study animation in school Aaron had a completely different goal and studied illustration. Thank you Aaron Blaise for inspiring me as well as many other and for animating such amazing work.
Rescuers Down Under- Assistant Animator
Beauty and the Beast- Animator on Beast
Aladdin- Lead Animator on Rajah and Animator on Jasmine
Lion King- Supervising Animator on Young Nala
Pocahontas- Animator on Pocahontas
Mulan- Supervising Animator on Yao and the Ancestors