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Glen Keane Wows at MoMA New York

The ‘Duet’ director and Disney master animator shared his wit, wisdom and love of animation with a packed MoMA crowd.

Host John Canemaker (left) with Glen Keane.

A few weeks ago I was sitting in a hotel suite, face to face with Disney master animator Glen Keane learning about Duet, the experimental interactive short he created for Google.

Tonight (tonight being Monday April 6th) though I’m sharing him with several hundred people in a small theater inside New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Glen is back in town for one night in his ongoing world tour on behalf of the film, an event hosted by animator/animation historian John Canemaker. Except for a brief Q&A overseen by John at the end of the evening, Glen is onstage solo, talking about a lot more than the film—talking in fact, a lot about himself.

Glen scratches his head while describing his animation process.

He never used the word, but I will; Glen Keane is a spiritual person, spiritual in many ways. This evening, and back when we chatted privately, he didn’t mention his “Adam Raccoon” children’s books, stories that retell biblical parables in anthropomorphic form. But it’s evident when he speaks of his love of animation: “you have to keep pursuing it because something is calling you… I see the line I make as sort of a seismograph of my soul—it goes past your eyes and hits you in your heart somewhere.”

Glen is responsible for such classic Disney second “golden age” characters as Ariel, Pocahontas, Beauty’s Beast, Aladdin’s Jasmine and Tarzan. In an earlier draft of this item I referred to them as “the characters he creates and gives depth and emotion to,” but Glen himself might disagree with me: “I believe the characters I design exist before I design them. It sounds crazy but that’s been my experience, there’s a certain point when they reveal themselves to you - and you recognize them.”

Glen is also a very funny person and a talented raconteur, sharing anecdotes of his life and career that evoke regular doses of audience laughter: “The key to success in any art form is never losing the thing that made you love it when u were a child - don’t be a professional, be a child who gets paid a lot of money…Tim Burton was my animating assistant on The Fox and the Hound, doing the vixen; it was terrible casting, he hated it. We were softening her teeth so they’d look like Disney teeth; he was adding maybe 100 teeth and claws that looked like Beast claws. ‘This is really cool Tim, but save it for your own movie - I don’t think Disney is ready for this’”…a still of Google programmers at drawing boards appears on the screen behind Glen; “I was teaching the programmers figure drawing, and” - it’s replaced by a still of a puzzled Glen standing by an equation-filled whiteboard that could’ve come from Einstein’s den -“they were teaching me algorithms.”

Glen draws Beast for the crowd.

Throughout his presentation Glen offers the audience inspiration. “When you’re taking something in your own life and presenting it to other people you’re vulnerable. It’s only when I’m sharing who I am I hear a voice in my head saying “don’t do that!” Every time I refuse to listen to that voice something good happens,” and quotes Goethe to the assembled fans, friends and animation students: “‘Whatever you do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic – begin it now.’”

Joe Strike's picture

Joe Strike has written about animation for numerous publications. He is the author of Furry Nation: The True Story of America's Most Misunderstood Subculture.