28. Will Finn
Will Finn is one of the wackiest and most comic animators in Disney history. He was one of the first animators in the second generation to follow the lead of Duncan Marjoribanks by using completely original acting skills and animating in a completely unique caricature style. Before I tell you his story I highly recommend you check out Finn’s blog Small Room at http://willfinn.blogspot.com/. Will puts up a lot of excellent original artwork there and sometimes writes stories about his career.
Will Finn was born around 1958 in New York. He became interested in animation as a kid, particularly the work of people such as Chuck Jones and Ward Kimball. After high school Finn went on to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh in the Graphic Arts Program where he met Eric Larson when he visited the school in 1978. That October he moved out to Los Angeleswhere he found a very dry industry and had trouble finding work until Larson got him into the training program at Disney. However in 1979 he left Disney and followed the Bluth group in their quest to start a new studio. For the next five years Will worked at Bluth as an animator on the feature the Secret of NIMH as well as video games such as Dragon’s Lair. In 1984 he began freelancing with Filmation where he met future Disney colleagues such as Larry White and Mike Show. Fortunately though he wouldn’t be staying in the slums of Filmation for long. Around this time he met Disney great Glen Keane who gave him a personal endorsement to the people at Disney. This got Finn the opportunity to come back to Disney in 1987 to work on Oliver and Company where he animated under Ruben Aquino on Francis the bulldog and Georgette the poodle. After this work on Mermaid started up and Will Finn made a drawing of Sebastian the crab that really impressed Howard Ashman. Although Duncan Marjoribanks redesigned the character and supervised the animation Finn did animate a few scenes of the crab as well as almost all the animation of Grimsby, Eric’s sidekick. He to this day is very critical of his work on Grimsbybut I personally think he nailed the character. This was followed by being a lead animator on the Chairmouse in Rescuers Down Under before going on to supervise the animation of Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast. After the success of Beauty Will next supervised Iago the parrot in Aladdin and then did character designs for Pocahontas. His last time animating a character for Disney was supervising Laverne the Gargoyle in the Hunchback of Notre Dame (he was also the story supervisor on that film.) In 1996 Will Finn left Disney to go be one of the directors on Road to El Dorado. He then returned to Disney where he and John Sanford took over for Mike Gabriel and Mike Giamo as the directors of Home on the Range. After Home on the Range Will became a storyboard artist for DreamWorks and Imagi. He is now designing characters for Ash Brannon’s feature film Turkeys.
If there is one word that describes Will Finn’s animation it’s fun. His scenes are always very cartoony and have very broad acting. Study his work and you’ll notice he uses big, expressive eyes that look like they could have come from a Tex Avery cartoon. My favorite Will Finn scene is the one where Iago is pretending to be a flamingo. Study it frame by frame and you’ll notice that the individual drawings are just as enjoyable to look at as the animation put together. I also love his expressions in his Cogsworth animation. The clock’s nervousness and personality is very readable through the broad expressions and strong poses Will used. Finn’s work also has a great speed and rhythm to it. The timing is always very complementary of the expression and the action. This unity is crucial in making the audience believe such characters exist.
Like I said above Will Finn’s impact comes in that he was one of the first second generation animators to really do their own thing and not be afraid to do something comic or spontaneous. Before animators of this breed came along it seemed like all the animators were scared to do an action or expression that wasn’t completely normal or wouldn’t have been done by a master such as Milt Kahl, Ollie Johnston, or Marc Davis. Of course as I’ve mentioned before on this blog Duncan Marjoribanks really was the one who first pushed the envelope in this area and did his own thing but Finn was one of the first to follow. Personally I really want to see Will Finn animate again instead of doing storyboarding and directing. He really is a genius and his spontaneity in his scenes always gives great life to the screen.
What is inspiring about Will Finn is the spontaneity and expressiveness that comes with his animation. You feel the character come to live more believably because of this than you would if you played it safe. Just like how characters in Shakespeare plays and Dickens novels are more believable because they aren’t very realistic and are meant to represent a feeling all of us have oftentimes the more caricatured, wilder characters are the ones that become the most believable to an audience. However it’s important to put the intellect behind your work and make sure that when they do something abnormal it’s in coordination with an intense emotion or feeling. Studying the work of animators like Will Finn is a great way to learn this. Thank you Will Finn for your great work and being an inspiration to so many people.
Oliver and Company- Animator on Francis and Georgette
Little Mermaid- Animator on Sebastian and Lead Animator on Grimsby
Rescuers Down Under- Animator on Frank the Frill Lizzard
Beauty and the Beast- Supervising Animator on Cogsworth
Aladdin- Supervising Animator on Iago
Hunchback of Notre Dame- Supervising Animator on Laverne