21. Eric Goldberg
Part of what I love about animators is that they come from so many different backgrounds yet they have so many things in common. All of them love the medium and work very hard to do the best work they can but all of them have a different approach. Also it’s fascinating to me how sometimes someone with a more alternative background and a style that is very unique from most other animators can have more of an impact than most of the ones who went the more conventional route. A perfect example of this is Eric Goldberg, 21 on our countdown and the subject of today’s post.
Eric Goldberg dropped jaws and blew away doubters when he animated arguably the most cartoony character ever in a Disney film, the Genie in Aladdin. Instead of being inspired by Milt Kahl and Ollie Johnston Goldberg looked at nonDisney inspirations such as Al Hirschfield and Chuck Jones when animating the character. The combination of expression, caricature, precision, strong poses, understanding of character, and expert use of animation tools is what put him on the map.
Eric Goldberg was born in 1955 in Pennsylvania before moving to Cherry Hill, New Jersey (also the town Tony de Rosa grew up in but the two men didn’t meet until decades later.) As a kid he was fascinated with the cartoons he saw on TV and developed a deep enthusiasm for them he has had ever since. At the age of 6 Goldberg discovered flipbooks and did them constantly with both the cartoon stars he loved and his own characters he created. By the preteen years this had turned into making actual animation and his films began to win awards at local film festivals. Eric even got to make an appearance as a teenager on a local TV station! Around this time he began searching real hard for anything related to animation and in both high school and college pursued all the stuff available. At the age of 17 Eric Goldberg got in contact with Eric Larson, got encouragement in applying to the training program at Disney, and even got to visit the studio where he showed his stuff to Disney legends such as Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, and Milt Kahl. However after all this encouragement he was denied entry into the program because they had no interest in gag animation and animators who could character design. Also they didn’t want to have someone who already knew how to animate come in because the guys there wanted to take someone who knew how to draw and teach them to do the stuff they did. Although discouraged Eric knew that there were other places in animation he would love to work at. After high school he went on to attend the Pratt Institute in New York where he got a solid education in fine arts. Goldberg also did freelance in animation including for his animation teacher while he was in school. In 1975 the golden opportunity to break into the business came when Richard Williams came to New York and started work on a production called Raggedy Ann and Andy. Eric himself had been in awe of the beautiful animated titles he had done for live-action movies and many of the animators who worked on the cartoons he loved (Gerry Chiniquey, Emery Hawkins, and Art Babbitt among others) were working on the film. This made the aspiring animator leave Pratt and work full-time on the film as an assistant animator to the great Tissa David, an animator who worked in New York for several years most notably for John and Faith Hubley. This also was his first contact with many of his future colleagues including Tom Sito. After Raggedy Ann and Andy Eric Goldberg came to ask Dick Williams for a letter of recommendation to work on Ralph Bashki’s Lord of the Rings but instead took an offer to follow Williams back to his studio in London. It turned out he made the right choice and the Richard Williams studio was the perfect place for him to develop as an animator. At the studios Eric animated on commercials with many different styles which exposed him to many different types of animation and gave him the opportunity to learn how to be creative. Also he got the great privilege of getting to know Ken Harris, the great animator for Chuck Jones at Warner Brothers. Through Harris Goldberg learned the importance of working pose to pose and of using X-sheets. Harris was a master of the charts, knew how to accurately place the breakdown to make the movement work, and most importantly was an expert at making a pose strong and clear. This really made the young animator’s head spin and immediately he transitioned from working straight ahead to working pose to pose. He also learned a lot from the other animators at the studio including Russell Hall(who later animated almost all of Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit) and Dick Purdum(who later ran a successful studio in England.) From Dick himself he really learned the importance of analyzing action and showing personality and character through movements and walks. After leaving the studio in 1981 Eric came back to New York and met his future wife Susan who he has been happily married with for almost 30 years. The young couple then moved to Los Angeles where the collaborated on a project called Ziggy’s Gift, which was unique in that they animated directly on cells. However soon the strike of 1982 came and took almost all work for animators overseas. Nervous about the situation Goldberg moved back to England where he worked as one of the founders of the commercial company Pizazz Pictures. There he and Susan gave birth to their two daughters who they love very much. Eric’s commercials soon gained much acclaim and his skill soon was no secret. Among the people who took notice were Tom Schumacher and Michael Finke who worked in management at Disney Animation Studios. Also through Susan he meet some of her Calarts friends including John Musker, who in 1989 directed with Ron Clements the massive hit animated movie the Little Mermaid. After Mermaid the directing duo went on to start developing Aladdin and Goldberg was approached to come back to Los Angeles and work on the film. He decided that he couldn’t say no to the project and needed a break from the stress of running a commercial studio (this got a lot of laughs since at that time the hours and scheduling of Disney was very intense). After reading the script Eric was pleased when the directors offered him the character he desperately wanted to do, the Genie which was being planned to be voiced by Robin Williams. He was so excited of the offer he locked himself out of his car! Since most of the animators where working hard on Beauty and the Beast Eric Goldberg got to be the first animator on the film and started making designs inspired by New York cartoonist Al Hirschfield, who he met by just calling him from the phone book during the production. Everyone was amazed at the job he did at taking Robin William’s voice to the hilt and making a cartoony but very sincere character. Goldberg’s work on the Genie was very inspirational in the direction the other animators went on the film and in the way the characters were designed. After Aladdin he was offered either to animate on the Lion King(all the supervising spots had been picked already) or help Mike Gabriel direct the highly-anticipated Pocahontas. Since he had the desire to direct Eric picked Pocahontas but soon realized that the film wasn’t going to be his style. Jeffrey Katzenberg was anxious to have an animated film win Best Picture and saw a completely restrained, overly-serious retelling of Romeo and Juliet with Native Americans as the way to go. This made it so the film was almost completely humorous and Eric was displeased with how the comic characters (the animals) weren’t part of the texture of the film and really didn’t add too much to the story. However he was pleased with Mike Giamo’s stunning art direction, the fact the background colors were unique and unconservative, and the strong peaceful message of the film. After Pocahontas Goldberg got to work on a film that was more his element, supervising Phil in the satirical Ron and John film Hercules. Although the character is grouchy most of the time he did an excellent job at making the character more sincere by making him restrained when feeling a deep emotion. After Hercules Eric collaborated with Susan on two segments of Fantasia 2000, the Carnival of the Animals and the Hirschfield-inspired Rhapsody in Blue. Both segments show great artistry and are highlights of the film. After Fantasia 2000 Goldberg left Disney to go to Universal where for a year he developed the aborted project Where the Wild Things Are. Soon after he found himself at Warner Brothers as the animation director on Looney Tunes Back in Action. After that he went on to work on Pink Panther shorts and Monkey’s Tale, a short made for a theme park attraction in Hong Kong. In 2006 Eric became the first major animator hired back under the new administration and management at Disney when the company decided to make better films and make two significant returns: to make new shorts and to make both CG and hand-drawn features, both of which the studio is still doing today. He supervised Louis the crocodile and the Almost There sequence in the Princess and the Frog and followed that by supervising Rabbit and a song sequence in Winnie the Pooh. Goldberg is currently working on an upcoming hand-drawn project at Disney where he continues to work.
Eric Goldberg’s style is unique in that it’s cartoony but retains great precision, skill, and sincerity in his animation. He animates pretty wacky, crazy characters but does it with excellent usage of the tools animation has to offer. Goldberg usually starts by finding the attitude poses in a sequence so he can tell what drawings communicate the feeling the character has and to make sure the scene reads in the clearest and most effective way. He works over and over again very lightly until he gets the feeling right and the pose reads. After finding the feeling he puts the anatomy over and connects it together. When he finds the right poses he starts making an exposure sheet which really helps him visualize how the scene will look like when it’s finished(he isn’t a fan of thumbnails because he prefers to work on full-size paper.) Eric always animates pose to pose because he feels it’s the best way to animate a scene. This can be very clearly seen in the introduction to the Genie in Aladdin. The character has really expressive poses that are connected together with great movement and accurate breakdowns. Another asset Goldberg has is that he’s excellent in understanding the character and establishing emotional rang . Even though he mainly animates sidekicks he understands they not only have to support the comedy in a film but also have to be sincere to show they have true feelings for the main character. There are two scenes done by Eric which show this really well: the scene where Phil feels hurt and becomes contained after Hercules argues with him and in the scene where the Genie undergoes the realization that Aladdin chose his freedom over becoming a prince. The later scene is really sweet and very emotional in a way few animators can do. Goldberg is also great at expressing a character’s personality through movement. For example he uses a bounce stomp on Louis to show that he’s a heavy crocodile who is passionate and unrestrained.
Impact wise Eric Goldberg is really important for his refinement of the wacky but sincere comic character. He follows in the footsteps of Ward Kimball in doing crazy characters that when it comes down to it have true feelings and are really caring towards the case. These types of characters had really disappeared until Duncan Marjoribanks animated Sebastian in Mermaid. I personally don’t have the heart to say that Eric’s performance was better than Duncan’s or vice versa but the two have very distinct differences. While Sebastian is more flamboyant and passionate because the bridge between the character’s inner and outer feelings that Marjoribanks so expertly closed Goldberg’s Genie is more theatrical and a performer while he becomes restrained and mild when his feelings and desires come over him. For example the Genie is explosive when he is performing and putting on a show Sebastian’s feelings are always the motivator for his actions. Also Eric is important because of the master technique and approach to pose-to-pose animation that he brought to Disney. In many ways as I said above the alternative route he took of getting into Disney was pretty rewarding and he had more of an impact than he might have if he went to Cal arts and entered the Disney training program.
What I find inspiring about Eric Goldberg is his technique and his understanding of character. When I first read his book Character Animation Crash Course my eyes opened even more to the possibilities of character animation and I started to work hard on making the poses in my sketchbooks clear and read in silhouette. I also started to study walks and the reason behind movement more. Most of all Eric’s animation really made me think about the feelings and motives different characters have and how they can be shown through strong poses. On the technical side I think Goldberg’s animation is very inspiring because of the way he uses the tools in animation such as X-sheets so well and takes full advantage of him. Eric Goldberg also is the very first person I ever wrote to in animation and the first one whose advice I got to hear. As a man he’s just as entertaining and sincere as his work. Eric tells lots of great stories and comes up with great jokes but he is also very resourceful, genuine, and sweet. Pretty much any animation student I know that’s talked to him finds him to be very helpful and a great teacher while in the professional world many of his colleagues have said working with him was a blast and an experience they’ll always cherish. Away from animation he is a great family man and always puts value in them. In a nutshell I find him very inspirational as both an animator and man. Thank you so much Eric Goldberg for being a great inspiration to me and for your contributions to Disney Animation.