6. Glen Keane

Disney animation, whether it’s in hand-drawn or CG, has the potential to be incredibly powerful and personal. When an animator puts their personal voice, heart, and soul into their animation this result can be achieved. To do so however you’ve got to be willing to challenge yourself artistically and really animate the feelings and emotions inside your heart.  This type of emotional animation is the kind that Walt envisioned and the type that he used to make his films speak to people and really impact an audience.  The stronger and more powerful the emotion, the more likely it is that the impossible dream and mystical secret to animation can be accomplished.  Animators who have this ability are few and far between. Only an artist at the highest level who believes in real emotions and can connect with his characters in a very intimate way can even dream of achieving this. If anyone living in the world has beaten this challenge and made this dream a reality, there is only one answer possible: Glen Keane, number 6 on our countdown and the subject of today’s post.

Glen Keane is known for being a key essential piece in making it possible for the second generation to thrive and for being the ultimate driving force at Disney animation for over 30 years.  His work has unbelievable artistry, strong emotions, soul, heart, passion, inspiration, transformation, communication, draftsmanship, and understanding.  Keane’s animation transcends the medium and takes things to a level that few have ever reached.  He does work that is completely original and has a different perspective than that of most animators (he sees himself first and foremost as an artist, instead of as a Disney animator), which allows it to have sensibilities and strength that would be almost impossible in anyone else’s work. “There is a need in me to do something personal,” explained Keane. “There has to be. This is what I constantly challenge young animators to do. I’ll say this is your moment on Earth to be an artist. This is your moment. So find something real personal and put yourself into it. Don’t put yourself in past Disney films. Make it personal and real. This is exactly how I’ve approached everything I’ve done hear and the only reason I’ve been able to stay at Disney all these years.” “There is nobody like him,” simply put animator Matt Williams. “Glen’s work has this great dynamic power,” Rusty Stoll admits in awe. “His approach is all about emotion and I love it,” says honorable mention Michael Cedeno. “I’ve learned a lot from him and loved every minute I’ve worked with him.” “Glen is a heartfelt, sincere guy who believes in things such as love and true emotion and he always wants to share that in an audience,” said Tangled director Nathan Greno. “He’s pretty high up there,” reflects honoree Mark Henn.  Among Glen’s best work includes Ratigan in the Great Mouse Detective, Ariel in the Little Mermaid, Marahute the eagle in Rescuers Down Under, the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Tarzan, and supervising the animation in the recent big hit Tangled. Also incredible is the influence he has had on his colleagues and the great mentoring he has done for so many artists.  Perhaps no other animator will be able to have the impact and influence over the films they’ve worked on and the artists around him that Keane has had for so many years and still does.

Glen Keane was born on April 13, 1954 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Bill Keane, the creator of the popular comic strip Family Circus, and the late Thelma Keane, being one of six children.  At a fairly young age he and his family moved out to Phoenix, Arizona.  Glen was greatly influence by his father being a cartoonist but found that his style of drawing would soon become very different than his father’s.  While Bill didn’t have much formal training and tended to draw more simplistic but sincere drawings, he urged his son to pay close attention to bold, passionate drawings as well as ones that have real life and solid anatomy to them. In the fourth grade he gave Keane a copy of Dynamic Figure Drawing by Burne Hogarth (highly recommended by the author and studying it will make animating worlds easier) and soon he was attending life drawing classes.  What Glen did take from his father though was an ability to communicate an expression and feeling through a pose and to make his work clear.  He would constantly draw in the desert and found that he had developed a very personal and intimate relationship with drawing and painting.  During high school, however, he was a great football player and wasn’t the typical cartoon geek that a lot of Disney animators come from. After high school Glen had to choose between taking a scholarship to Arizona State to play football and going to the California Institute of Arts to pursue a career in painting and drawing. Since he felt that drawing was like breathing to him and he just had to do it he picked the later option.  However an odd twist of fate happened when Keane’s portfolio that was intended to go to the School of Painting was accidentally sent to the School of Film Graphics, where he was accepted. “I never planned to be in animation,” he remembered. “It was something that just sort of happened by accident to me. I wanted to go into painting or illustrating. I just knew I wanted to draw. I didn’t know anything about animation. My portfolio went to Calarts to get sent to the school of painting but somehow or another it got sent to the school of animation, and I was accepted into that. I thought ‘Oh well, I’ll give that a try.’ And I found out about animation. It was a combination of all the arts together. And there was always this sort of ham side of me that wanted to act and I found out animation was really answering that desire. I love to draw figures and realized that animation requires a good understanding of anatomy and figure drawing, so I could use all that information in animation plus acting.” During his two years at Calarts Glen still didn’t realize that animation was his passion and looking back feels that the way animation was taught back then wasn’t at all what he knows it as today.  This was before the character animation program began and at the time they just taught the basics as well as what you need to get into low quality TV animation.  In the summer of 1973 Keane worked part time at the uninspiring, low quality studio Filmation on some of their poorly made TV series.  However everything changed when members of the Disney training program came to the school and presented their tests. “Suddenly I realized I could do that,” Keane fondly remembers. “I didn’t feel I was good enough to be an animator but that I felt I could do.” Around that time he applied for a job at Disney and showed his portfolio to the great Eric Larson.  Instead of marveling about what Glen was showing from what he had learned at Filmation, Eric just flipped through the portfolio really quickly, stopped on one drawing (a very simple, rough drawing of a figure), and said that if he could do some more like this one maybe he would have a chance. He also advised Keane to forget everything he learned about animation at Filmation because they wanted people who knew how to draw that they could teach how to animate.  The young man quickly started spending excessive time sketching and worked hard to improve his skills. In 1974 Glen Keane was hired at the Disney Studio. The next year he married Linda Hesselroth, who he loved from first sight and has been married to ever since.

During his time training with Larson Glen Keane found that his sensibilities were quite a bit different than those of the teacher. While Eric was very analytical and always saw what he drew in his head first, the young animator was more intuitive and relied on how he felt and what came out of his heart to have his animation and drawing come to place.  After finishing the training program Glen started inbetweening and assisting John Pomeroy, who at the time was working under Ollie Johnston. “While John always kissed the paper, I carved it like a caveman,” reflects the animator of the differences between the two men’s styles. However soon Keane got his work to be subtle enough to the point they couldn’t tell which drawings were whose.  Since Pomeroy was moving up, Glen then became Ollie’s assistant.  It would be Johnston that would turn out to be his true mentor and the one who would turn his life around forever.  He animated with pure emotions and was very intuitive, which matched up very well with Glen’s style although he was much more soft and subtle than the powerful dynamic style of the younger man.  Ollie inspired him to animate with his heart, use his own feelings to make his animation speak to people, and use subtleties to show the true emotions of the characters.  By the end of the Rescuers Keane was a full-fledged animator and he did some great scenes of Penny.  These scenes show great potential because the girl he animates them is truly a girl who feels traps and feels sad.  The boldness and passion shown in the eyes and drawings also gives us a bit of a glimpse of what is yet to come.  Glen also animated a scene or two with Bernard.  All throughout the production Johnston would constantly give him tips and look at his work to help him in every way realize his full potential and strive for better (they worked this way some on Fox and the Hound as well.) After the Rescuers Keane went on to Pete’s Dragon, where he animated Elliott the dragon, which turned out to be a character, he didn’t particularly enjoy.  “I never really got into him as a character,” he told John Cawley.

During the production of the Fox and the Hound the old guard began to depart (Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston left it in 1978 after doing some early animation on the film) leaving three groups in conflict: one was made up of second-rate talent from the first generation desperate for a chance, the Bluth Group, and a group of young trainees known as the Calarts Boys. The three groups came into conflict leading into much tension at the studio. “I was in my 20s and having people in their 50s and 60s inbetweening my stuff so there was just built in trouble,” Glen explains.  However he did get his big break on the film and it was his first time as a supervising animator.  There are two scenes he did in the picture that really show the great dynamic power he has as an animator. One is the scene Glen animated where Todd sees Vixie for the first time.  The expressions and attitudes of the love-stricken fox are so intuitive and you really identify with the way he is feeling.  I have always felt he must have used his feelings from the first time he met Linda for these scenes because the emotions of the characters are so real in the scene and you connect with the situation completely because it’s so clear. The power behind the drawings of both characters is also very phenomenal.  The second one is the bear fight, which is the only scene in the film that gives the audience a little bit of a tilt as well as an immense feeling of suspense and action.  When planning the scene Keane studied Wolfgang Reitherman’s animation of the fight scene in Lady and the Tramp for inspiration.  The suspense, dramatic staging, excellent draftsmanship, and use of weight in the scene is truly amazing. And blows the audience away.  It had been decades since such an exciting and well staged had been done at the studio.  While most of the Fox and the Hound is rather forgettable and dull the bear fight is a terrific scene and gives a quick glimpse into Disney’s more livelier, exciting films that would come in the near future. However as promising a talent as Glen was times were getting tough for him to flourish.  Although he animated scenes for the Black Cauldron none of his scene made it in the picture and the directors as well as producer had no desire for him to work on the film.  So after that Keane joined the crew on Mickey’s Christmas Carol where he was the lead on Willie the Giant.  For the inspiration he turned towards his then-18 month old son Max (he’s now working as a computer graphic artist.) From observing his expressions and antics he was inspired to animate this naïve innocent character but in this case inside a huge body.  Then Glen worked with John Lasseter on the pencil test for Where the Wild Things Are, which was made to show the potential of CG animation.  However the project was ended and Lasseter was fired for the studio. So after feeling there wasn’t a place for him in this environment Keane left the studio in 1983.

Although he officially wasn’t an employee during this time away he did for Disney one of the first major highlights of his career.  It was animating Ratigan, the villain rat in the Great Mouse Detective.  Ron Clements and John Musker wanted Glen on the film so they let him do the animation by freelance and do his work at home.  He remembers that most of his animation was actually down from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. because that was the only time he got enough peace and quiet to work.  “Ratigan was originally a very skinny character,” explained Keane. “He was a rat and we had him kind of as a weasly-looking guy but his design was too similar to Basil. I was thinking maybe we should be really bigger with him. At the time we watched the Vincent Price film Champagne for Caesar and listening to his dialogue I realized that’s the voice for him. He just had this sharp, quick way of speaking and the timing was great. You could tell he enjoyed being a rotten guy. Like Ratigan he felt like he was justified in doing whatever he did, which is important for a villain. The villain isn’t bad just because he’s bad, but he’s justified. He feels like he’s right. I started doing drawings of a much larger, huge rat character and it fit. So then we actually brought Vincent Price in and headed in that direction.” Another great inspiration for Ratigan was the use of the marvelous sculpture of the character done by Ruben Procopio.  I’ve always felt that Procopio’s sculptures really helped Glen realize his vision for his characters and work with the sculpted approach to drawing he uses in his animation.  In every way the animator’s performance on Raitgan is excellently done.  You can tell that Keane was really into that character big time because the acting and gestures he uses are so consistent with the character.  I love the strength of anatomy and weight he used to make the character seem so real. At this time Glen had begun to seriously study the work of Vladimir Bill Tytla, an extraordinary animator who animated with strong emotions and an artistry that has never been reached by anyone else in the history of animation.  You can see in Keane’s work elements and aspects that remind you of Tytla’s but it’s done in a completely original way. In the case of Ratigan you can see the inspiration in the way the animator used the mass of the body to communicate a pose, the bold expressions and actions he does, the strong weight, and most of all animation that has no gap between the inner and outer emotions of the characters. In every scene everything that Ratigan is thinking and feeling inside is communicated clearly to the audience and is shown in a very powerful, effective way. Every action and gesture the character does supports what he’s thinking, which is part of why the acting on the character is so top notch.  A must freeze-frame scene is the one where he is explaining his plan and leads into the World’s Greatest Criminal Mind song as well as the stuff in the song itself. During the final year of Glen’s three years away from the studio he went over to work on the feature film Chipmunk Adventure, where he animated the Girls of Rock ‘n Roll sequence.  Of course after that he was lured back to the studio for good and the rest is history.  The first film Keane worked on back at the studio was Oliver and Company, where he primarily focused on Sykes, Fagan, and Georgette.  Like Ratigan, Sykes is again a heavy villain but this time he went a different direction by making him very reserved and restrained in his actions and movements. He is always very contained and avoids showing emotion too much, which makes him contrast well to the livelier Fagan.  Study the scenes of the two of them together because they are great examples of having two personalities contrast as well as for understanding the character relationship. On the flipside Fagan is more appealing and lively in character. However Keane didn’t necessarily love animating the character.  “I enjoyed him but I always had a basic disagreement with the approach on design,” he explained. “I wanted him to be a short, fat little guy and instead he was a tall, skinny guy. I enjoyed animating him but I don’t think I ever got into that character as much as I would’ve liked to, not that I didn’t try.”  Personally I’ve always loved Glen’s animation of Georgette the poodle in her song Perfect Isn’t Easy because I love the way he used walks and posture to communicate that this is one sexy, spoiled and shallow character. You make a strong connection to her because everyone knows girls that are like that.  I also like the statement because since Keane believes in anything but being shallow in the animation you get the sense that his feelings towards people who act that way aren’t that positive.  The poses used on the character are excellent too.  The really secret to the scene however is the way Keane used the eyes to show Georgette’s feelings and thoughts throughout the scene. This type of communication is always extremely effective.  It would however be the next film that truly opened up the animator’s heart as well as the one where he really showed how subtle he could go but still do something stronger emotionally than almost anything that has ever been done at the studio. The film was the Little Mermaid and the character was Ariel.

With his success with villains and heavy character in the past in mind Ron and John originally planned on having Glen Keane animate Ursula the sea witch (Ruben Aquino did an excellent performance on her in the final film.) However everything changed when he listened to Jody Benson sing Part of Your World. “I heard Part of Your World, Jodi Benson singing that, and it just captivated me,” Glen reflects. “I had to do that. And I went to those guys and said, ‘I really want to do Ariel.’ And they said ‘Well I don’t known. This is supposed to be a pretty girl. Can you do that?’  I said, ‘ Look, I have to do Ariel. I mean, I can feel it in my heart.’” There is something really powerful about his animation of Ariel that really speaks to me. She isn’t like most Disney heroines who just want to win over a guy but actually has this strong passion and desire that she is desperate to have come reality. This strong emotion makes the transformation of her character so powerful and her situation so believable. Everyone has that moment when they so strongly want something that seems almost impossible and they’ll do anything they get it. Then suddenly at times it can lead to that impossible dream coming true and the passion you feel for that makes it mean so much.  As I said in the Mark Henn post Keane’s Ariel is actually quite a bit different than Henn’s Ariel.  While Mark took his inspiration mainly from how teenage girls behave and act as well as animate a girl that’s relatively young and naïve but still sweet and sincere, Glen animated a girl that was much more mature, had more depth, and most importantly had much stronger and deeper emotions.  Also while the former man used a more simplistic design for her and drew her in an appealing, soft way the later man drew her with more boldness and power.  For the inspiration Keane used a picture of his wife Linda to model Ariel’s face after and to connect with her emotionally. This definitely works because the emotional connection established with Ariel is one that’s very strong and sincere.  You feel for her and her situation.  While Glen did a lot of supervising on Ariel to make sure everyone did her right and did her well he also did a lot of the most important animation on her himself. One particularly powerful scene is the one where they’ve come up to land and through her expression we realize that she’d miserable for the rest of her life if she stayed a mermaid. That shot has such clear communication and really puts you in that emotional situation.  The best and most important scene he did however was animating the Part of Your World sequence.  In fact Glen was actually the one who saved the scene from being dropped from the movie.  Due to the fact he thought based off of a test showing the scene was too much for kids to handle Jeffry Katzenberg said it was going to be cut from the film.  “It was the very last thing I though possible,” remembered Keane. Ron Clements, John Musker, and Howard Ashman, all horrified, begged him to change his mind and explained how important the scene was to the movie but still the plan remained the same. However when Keane came up to Jeffry and said how this was important as well as explained how he could change it to make it more effective it was brought back into the movie. Everything about the scene is exceptional and you could say that in many ways it’s the scene that brought back Disney animation.  That song makes the entire movie work and Glen’s animation really allows us to feel for this girl in a way that the audience didn’t about anything for decades in a Disney film.  The film was a huge success and a lot of that is due to the inspiring, powerful but subtle animation he did on the character. Keane also supervised and did a little bit of animation on Eric, although Mike Cedeno (who was mentored by Glen) did the lion’s share of animation on the character. However the animator doesn’t feel too fond of the way the character turned out and how he was in the story.  “I would’ve liked him to have more depth of character,” he stated. “Instead he was kind of a standard prince.”

After the huge success of Ariel Glen Keane moved on next to going over to London to work on the Purdum’s version of Beauty and the Beast “I had never been to Europe before,” he said in an interview. “So it was so inspiring to go around Europe and sketch all this bold, beautiful art.” However the Purdum’s version was not working so the studio decided to start from scratch with the story crew back in California.  Keane then returned to the Glendale studio and started working on the Rescuers Down Under, where he was the supervising animator on Marahute the eagle(he also storyboarded the flight scene as well.) For his inspiration he spent some time with people who worked with birds of prey and used the care and passion he saw the people have as a resource to make the emotion of his animation more powerful.  In the final film Glen animated Marahute with so much powerful and you really feel excited as well as awed during the amazing flight scene. “Marahute taught me that real life is as entertaining as anything I can think of in my imagination,” he reflected. “Capturing how an eagle flies is really rewarding if you can make it feel real.” I highly recommend studying this scene because the use of cinematography and passion in this scene is mind-blowing.  After Rescuers Down Under Keane would be assigned one of the toughest assignments in the history of Disney animation and took it to a level that no one else could have envisioned. It is also in my opinion his best work. The film was Beauty and the Beast and he was given the difficult assignment of giving a soul and heart to the ugly, unassuming Beast.

In terms of story Beauty and the Beast was a huge experiment and very groundbreaking. Before it every Disney film that involved humans and romance had a perfect, good-looking male protagonist who were drawn very straight and perfected.  This time, however, the audience had to have feelings and sympathize not just with a guy who wasn’t perfect and typical but in this case a Beast! Not only did they have to see the good in the character but they had to accept something even harder, that Belle would fall in love with him.   Glen Keane, however, saw a soul and heart in this character that nobody else saw. He gladly took the challenge of making the emotional transformation of this character powerful enough to be effective while still making it believable.  The first problem Keane had to solve was the design of the Beast. Most of the work done up to that point had a human people with an animal head, usually looking similar to a mandrill.  However he felt strongly that the Beast should feel like an animal because it would serve as a constant reminder to him of what has happened to him and the flaws of his character.  “I wanted Beast to be comfortable on all fours, which is a big statement,” Glen explained to Charles Solomon. “This guy is not just a man with a beast’s head on; he is actually, physically, bone structure-wise, an animal.” For the inspiration in how the beast would feel and look like he constantly did life drawings at zoos and studied the anatomy and body structure of the animals closely.  Then he had to put all these different parts together to create one cohesive design that worked best for the character. “One day animator Broose Johnson came in and said ‘So what’s the Beast going to look like?,” remembers Keane. “This is after 6 months of searching and researching but I said ‘I’m not sure Broose. I don’t know.’ However then I started to draw and said ‘I like the massiveness of this buffalo head,’ and sketched out the weight; then I said ‘But with the brow of a gorilla,’ and I drew the brow there.  ‘But with the muzzle of this wild boar, and then the main of a lion but the body of a bear and the legs of a wolf.’ As I did that it just all came together.  So then there’s this moment when you recognize the character. I looked at it and said ‘That’s him. That’s what he looks like Broose. That’s the Beast.” With the design down now the animator had to face the challenge of deciding on the Beast’s characterization. If he was too sweet the story wouldn’t work and the change in his personality that is essential for the film wouldn’t be strong enough. If he was completely mean from the start and didn’t show any emotion it wouldn’t work either.  It took Glen a long time to get the character done but it all came together on one scene. It clicked when he animated the scene where the Beast is asking Belle if she could join him for dinner, which was brilliantly storyboarded by Burny Mattisnon.  The Beast’s first response is to do it in a forceful way but he realizes that he needs to be more chivalrous so he tries to control his temper.  Desperately wanting this chance so she can fall in love, he tries to put his act together and does his best to try to ask her in a polite way.  As hard as he tries though Belle still says no. Then the Beast gets frustrated and can’t control it anymore. He starts yelling and screaming before stating that if she doesn’t eat with him she doesn’t eat at all, while doing gestures similar to those of a child throwing a fit.  If you study the scene the change in emotion and acting in the scene is truly excellent.  You begin to understand and learn that his problem is he doesn’t know how to love or control his temper.   You see that he really wants to do good and truly tries hard to do it right but at a certain point the frustration makes him lose it. This is the first time where you really connect with the Beast and you accept him because you have either done that or have observed somebody do it (to be candid a few times I’ve actually acted a bit like that back in my immature early teens- everybody does at some point.) The poses and gestures also clearly state this making the communication very clear.  One pose I particularly love and is really powerful is the one where the Beast points his finger at the door gesturing to them that this was what he meant when he said she’d say no.  “The Beast’s biggest problem is he never learned how to love,” Keane explained. “This is where all of this came from.” What I love about all the Beast animation is the sculptural approach Glen gave to the animation and the analysis he gave to the character throughout the film.  Knowing it was important that all the animation of the character was deep and high quality he did a unique approach to supervising the character. Instead of animating all the major scenes himself and handing out the secondary scenes to everyone else what Keane did was give major scenes to the animators as well as to himself so all the animators in the unit could really get themselves inside the character and learn to really understand him. All the animation of the Beast is great and in particular Tony de Rosa, Aaron Blaise, and Broose Johnson did a lot of great scenes with him.  As for the scenes he did himself Glen did among others the Beast’s introduction to Belle, where he is very stern and angry, and the Beast’s Resurrection, which has amazing artistry and is incredibly powerful.  The hardest scene for him to animate though was the one where he lets Belle go back home because he loves her.  I love the drawings Glen did that show him think and are really subtle- they make the character arc all that much stronger. “I wanted to animate the incredible turmoil that was going on inside the character, and there was no action. The only way you can express those intense emotions is by subtly tilting an eyebrow or changing the shapes of the corners of the mouth. It’s very delicate work- completely the opposite of what you’re feeling inside.”

The next film Aladdin proved to be a bit easier for Glen Keane. “After doing Beauty and the Beast with all these angular, sculptural shapes it was great as an artist to do something more cartoony and fun,” he stated. However, he didn’t take his work on the character Aladdin any less seriously and it turned out to be another hit for him.  The challenge with him was that unlike most other straight princes in Disney history he had to be the one the story was told through and he couldn’t just be perfect or dull. Aladdin had to transform emotionally throughout the film and learn that having feelings and caring about other people is much more fulfilling and important than having superficial things such as money although it’s important to stand up for yourself and have courage.  This was unlike the other romance movies a film that had a lot of comedy and cartoony shapes in it rather than a serious tone making it extra important that the male lead was lively and interesting.  To solve the problem Glen gave Aladdin great charisma, charm, liveliness, and depth to make him able to connect with the audience and integrate with the comedy while still having true heart and soul and being able to drive the story.  You connect with him because what he wants is so universal: he wants respect, to be treated fairly, and to win over the girl of his dreams.  Aladdin makes mistakes but he learns from them and turns into a very proactive, lovable character.  To communicate this Keane gave him a very mellow, laid back walk with a bit of awkwardness and movements that are relaxed and show charisma.  I’ve always loved the eyebrows he gave the character because they work so well with the expressions.  My favorite scenes Glen did on Aladdin are the one where he sees Jasmine for the first time and the one where he is unsure what to say when Jasmine finds out he was the boy at the market. Both really speak to an audience and you really feel for the character very intuitively.  After Aladdin Keane immediately moved onto Pocahontas where he was brought on as the first animator on the film. He started doing storyboards and character designs so he could discover how he envisioned her to look and what was needed for the character. Unlike Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast (films that had comedy and sincerity very well integrated) Pocahontas had to be treated in a very straight way and everything needed to be taken super seriously.  The lines even stated what the characters were thinking so everything needed to be really subtle.  For Pocahontas Glen did work very hard on the subtleties and was very particular in the way she was drawn. “That film was really not fun to work on but working with Glen on it was a once in a lifetime experience,” remembered honoree Tom Bancroft. “You even had to submit a life drawing portfolio to get into the unit even though you already worked at Disney.” “When I came back to Disney on Pocahontas Glen was really one of the ones who most embraced me being back,” states honoree John Pomeroy. “Working with him on the look of the characters and the animation on the film was a wonderful experience.” Although Pocahontas can be a little too serious and straight, Keane really did some phenomenal animation on the film.  The highlight without question is the powerful, breathtaking Colors of the Wind sequence. Glen did some amazingly subtle animation on that scene as well as did some absolutely beautiful charcoal drawings.  “When those charcoal drawings come up in the Colors of the Wind, that’s the only time my artwork has ever gone directly on the screen in my whole career,” the animator points out.

In 1995 Glen Keane decided to take a sabbatical from the Disney studio and moved out to Paris, France where he planned on developing a personal project on his own.  However Disney was soon to follow him and they convinced him to supervise the title character in Tarzan at the Paris studio.  Although most of the other units were in California Keane and a group of primarily young talented artists did the character overseas.  “Tarzan was presented and it felt like something I was born to do,” he simply stated.  Glen was fascinated by the story behind this ape-man who was a human but had been raised with gorillas. To show this to the audience he made Tarzan have movements and behaviors like an ape but also had him walk upright at certain moments to show that he was really a human.   This makes the confusion of identity so clear and believable to the audience. The thing that’s so strong about Keane’s animation of Tarzan is the strength of the realization he makes about who he is and the way his unconditional, deep love for Jane inspires him to change but his love for his ape family makes him have inner turmoil about what is right.  Ultimately he learns to take responsibility and ends up having both of his loves coexist in a fulfilling way.  I love Glen’s Tarzan animation because it’s so deep and really well thought out. You can tell he was so inspired by this character and really felt his situation and emotions in his own heart.  Another thing worth studying about Tarzan is the use of anatomy and European-esque sensibilities in design to help enhance the unique feel of the film artistically.  One scene that is a must to study frame by frame is the one where Tarzan meets Jane because it shows Keane’s ability at using subtleties that really have so much meaning behind them.  After Tarzan the animator returned to Burbank in 1998 although he was a little burnt out from the exhausting, difficult experience of supervising Tarzan and having to work hard to communicate with the people back home (it was a difficult enough experience with Disney Florida so indeed it was even worse at Paris.) Glen’s returning film was Treasure Planet, where he supervised long John Silver.  Although Silver is more complex in terms of design and has more behind him than most of the characters in Treasure Planet the story and character wasn’t strong enough to get him into doing what he normally does. Keane’s work on the film just isn’t as deep and inspired as his other work although he did try.  He even strongly considered leaving the studio after the film because he didn’t feel challenged.

After Treasure Planet Glen Keane finally decided to really move forward with his personal project and try to make it a film.  He had a desire to animate the character of Rapunzel so he decided to make a story around her. Although they wanted it in CG the studio gave him open arms to the opportunity to direct a feature film.  Early on however Glen firmly decided that he would really challenge the computer on this film and push the artist to make it have the feel of a hand drawn film.  Around this time he also brought his daughter Claire on the film who would help out with the visual development and color design.  Originally Rapunzel was supposed to be a rather dark, serious but personal film.  Keane’s sensibilities just didn’t spread to contemporary humor and cartoony animation; what he needed was passionate, bold stuff that really speaks to people.  In 2008 a couple of events put the future of Glen’s career at the studio in question.  One was the fact that the Rapunzel project wasn’t really picking up momentum and directing didn’t really work well with his skills. Another one was the fact that Keane had a heart attack and had to take six months off to recover.  During this time he stepped down as director of the film and let Nathan Greno and Byron Howard take his place. The film was also renamed Tangled and given a more contemporary, humorous feel. However when it was time for animating Glen came on as the supervisor of animation as well as the designer of the characters. Throughout the film he really pushed the CG animators to take their work to the next level and not accept what the rig was giving them. “It was very important that I never animated on a computer on this film,” Glen stated in an interview, although he did several pencil tests for the film and had great influence over the animation.  “I couldn’t sympathize with their struggles. I had to push them.” The results were truly phenomenal: Keane’s voice is in every shot of the film and the animation done on the film disproved many of the complaints about CG animation. While many people before had said that computer animation was incapable of having deeply personal and subtle animation as well as couldn’t look as good as a hand drawn film the animation done on the film has subtleties that are hard to obtain in hand-drawn and the work on the film is really powerful as well as high quality. It helped that many great hand-drawn animators such as Alex Kupershmidt (who did a ton of Maximus the horse), John Ripa (who did a lot of Flynn), Mike Surrey (who did a lot of the chameleon), and Nik Ranieri (who animated the guards as well as some of Mother Gothel and Flynn) on the film and their styles are pretty visible and prevalent in the final film.   Best of all there is real heart and sincerity in the film, which is very important in making a great animated film. Glen had finally done something no other animator had done before: make a film that was his artistic vision and done in his style throughout.  However in the aftermath of Tangled’s success there were some rumors that circled around that the master animation wasn’t too happy at the Disney studio. In March 2011 there were even rumors that Keane was on the verge of leaving Disney and accepting an offer by Jeffry Katzenberg to work for DreamWorks.  Around the same time fellow animators began to believe that the animator was going to retire to pursue his lifelong dream of working in fine art. However Glen chose to stay with Disney but his office was moved from the Hat Building to the main lot, where he got to return to his old office in the old animation building. Now he is working in his old office and is developing two ideas for very personal animated films.

One thing to remember about Glen’s style and approach is that he views himself first and foremost as an artist instead of a Disney animator.  He has no desire to just try to emulate the great animators of the past and instead has a desire to do something personal, high quality, and passionate.  Keane is an avid sketcher and analyzer so he takes a lot of inspiration from what he sees and experiences as well as from what he draws. “Everything I’ve ever animated is based off of something I observed and drawn,” he reflects. “I take drawing very seriously. To me I feel if you’re going to really push into where I think the acting needs to go, and if we’re going to really compete with live action, then our acting needs to go to levels where you’re really dealing with subtle, deep human emotions. The only way you can really capture that, besides being in touch with your own heart in the acting, is to be able to draw what you feel. It require a real understanding of anatomy and to be able to draw really well, to communicate.” Whenever Glen animates something he goes in touch with his heart and always makes sure to put his strong, real emotions into the animation to make it powerful and speak to an audience.  One thing that is particularly brilliant about him is that unlike many animators who are either more of an animator who does great acting or one that does great drawings with one skill being better than the other he is equally strong at both and both of them are excellent in his scenes. This makes him a very dynamic animator: he can use his technique and skills as a draftsman to communicate his emotional side in a way that’s very effective and can use his feelings and emotions to put strength and power in his drawings making the two complementary of each other.  In terms of design Keane uses hair as an important asset in communicating the character. He finds things about the hair that really show the character’s inner trauma (e.g.- Ariel’s hair floats as a reminder she is a mermaid but wants desperately to be a human, the Beast’s hair is like an animal constantly making him remember that he has been transformed into a beast, Tarzan has dreadlocks and wild hair to communicate the fact he’s an ape man and lives in the jungle).  Glen’s drawings are also very sculptural and have great depth to them.  “To me, animation, I think of it as sculptural drawing,” he explains. “I shade all of my drawings. Animators say to me, “Why are you shading your drawings? No one’s going to see the shading.” It’s like, you could get that done so much quicker if you didn’t do the shading, but I would never do the drawing like this, so I didn’t do the shading. It’s all about light and form and space.” Keane also oftentimes animates very rough to get the essence and feeling of the character first, then anatomy second.  He starts by studying the storyboard and listening to the track as well as filling out the exposure sheet. Then he uses thumbnails to figure out his scenes and put his inspiration on paper. Keane at this stage starts to think about the timing and phrasing in his scenes as well as elements of performance.  He spends a lot of time on finding the attitudes and actions that illustrate the acting in the scene.  Next comes working it out more thoroughly on the exposure sheet to get the action down pat. Then Glen works on finding the key poses and making sure they communicate what he feels is important about a scene emotionally.  He puts this together in a pose test to see if it works. After that he starts to pick up and does the rest of the drawings in a pretty fast rate.  In notes down for the studio Keane discussed his seven essentials for animation: “1. Make a positive statement. Don’t be ambiguous with your approach. Thumbnail until you have that clear approach and conviction. Be bold and decisive.  2. Animate from the heart.  Feel your drawings. Let your acting be an extension of how you believe the character feels. Put yourself in the place of the character you’re animating- associate. 3. Make expressions and attitudes real and living. 4. Draw as if you were sculpting. 5. Animate the forces.  6. Visualize and feel the dialogue. 7. Simplicity.”

Glen Keane is one of the most inspirational figures in Disney history and you could very well argue he is the most influential person in the second generation.  His personal, strong, powerful, dynamic, and deeply emotional work has influenced his coworkers and inspired all of them to do their best work. Seeing how he animates with so much emotion and how he approaches himself as a real artist, people have used Glen as a source of inspiration in deciding to do work that is strong and personal to them.  Perhaps no other animator in Disney history has had that much influence over the people around him. Artistically Keane’s animation is extremely influential because it had a level of thought, quality, and heart that hadn’t been seen at Disney for years. It really brought back and redefined great sincere Disney animation and the importance of it in making a film work. When Little Mermaid came out the phenomenal and powerful animation Glen did of Ariel really made the film work and made it possible for the film to bring Disney animation back to being a major player in the film industry.  Audiences hadn’t identified and connected with a character in that intimate of a way for decades.  Keane’s work also made it possible for their to be deeper, richer stories done in the right way because the power and strength he puts in his animation allows for that kind of heartfelt, sincere story to work.  His approach to characters is also very influential because he adds so much depth to them and really thinks about their emotional situation, inspiring other animators to do the same.  Glen today is very important to the Disney studio because he serves as a great mentor to the young guys there and has been challenging them to do work that is personal, strong, and emotional, something a lot of young people don’t do in the business. It’s worth noting that he has had more of his assistants and animators in his units by a mile become supervisors than any other animator in modern Disney history. Glen just is able to prepare them to have what it takes and bring their work to the next level. Among the successful people he mentored include Tony de Rosa, Tony Fucile, Mike Surrey, Aaron Blaise, Broose Johnson, Matt O’Callaghan, Randy Haycock, and Mike Cedeno as well as many more. Glen Keane has really made the greatness and accomplishments of modern Disney history in so many ways.

Glen Keane has been a huge influence and inspiration to me. In terms of animation and art he’s inspired me to try to put in my drawings emotions that comes from inside my heart and that I really feel deeply.  When you animate or draw from your heart you’re able to make your work stronger than you can any other way. Glen’s work has also influenced me to think about what is personal to me and to have a desire to be an artist and not just an animator. I’ve begun to really try to understand human emotions and to take inspiration from what I see as well as what I feel and experience, both things I feel Keane’s work and word has inspired me to do.  I also try to really take drawing seriously and challenge myself, all things he has taught and preached. His work is so powerful, bold, emotional, personal, and artistic that it’s mind blowing to me and I drop in awe of its strength. I would do anything to do something with just 1% of the passion and feeling of Glen’s work. However as much as I find his work inspiring and want to be like him I know that he believes that it’s essential to see yourself in your own right so I try hard to stay true to that.  Keane is also inspirational to m because he really believes in strong, real and true emotions such as true love, beauty, and soul.  His work always really speaks to me and a lot of what it speaks to me about is these types of qualities.  I want to be a great person, stay true to my heart and soul, and always am on a pursuit to find these true powerful feelings in life so looking up to someone like Glen is a great way to do that. I’ve heard he is a very moral and kind person as well as one who is always willing to help you out and give you some inspiration.  In conclusion I feel that Glen Keane’s work has inspired me to dig deeper into my heart, find inspiration in life, and always try to challenge myself to reach higher and do better. Thank you Glen Keane for your contributions to Disney animation as well as for being a great hero and inspiration to me as well as so many other people!

6 Responses to “6. Glen Keane”

  1. Rhett Wickham Says:

    Very nice. For more on Glenn, particularly his work on Ratigan, see the original 2006 extensive profile interview with him from the Great Animated Oerfirmances series (frequently quoted here by Grayson) go to

  2. He’s my animation hero.

  3. sorry to hear about your Dad; Heard last night holler when in town;

    mark herring

  4. sorry to here about your Dad

  5. I love Glean keane sketchs.i thing Milt kahi and Glean keane have increadible hands in animation world.animation is my life or my life is animation.

  6. you can’t place keane before kahl. Well you can, but you shouldn’t.
    I dislike his work and his clichés, but is a matter of taste. Congratulations for your blog! A big work!

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