To all aspiring animators

In 1973, an aspiring young animator named Will Finn wrote a lengthy piece of fan mail to one of his idols, Disney legend Ward Kimball (pictured above), and Kimball responded with the wonderful letter below — an endearingly enthusiastic reply filled with friendly, sage advice. Even 15-year-old Will’s swipe at Hanna Barbera was dealt with expertly as Kimball admirably chose to defend the work of smaller studios by way of a brief economics lesson. Thankfully the advice paid off, and Will Finn has since enjoyed a successful career in cinema, having both animated and directed for Disney themselves.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Will Finn; Image: Ward Kimball, via.)




(213) 849-3411 CABLE ADDRESS: DISNEY

Nov. 13, ’73

Dear Will Finn:

Dear Christ! when you write a letter, you really write a letter! When I was in my second year high school I could hardly get through a sentence. From the jist of your essay I take it that you are shot in the ass to become an animator. Well, that’s just fine. It helps to know what you would like to do this early in the game. However, take caution. Don’t try to rush it or force it. First off, you gotta finish high school. Then you have to take the first important step: ART TRAINING! This means at least three years in a reputable art school or art college. And to be ready for that jungle out there you gotta be a jack-of-all-trades. By this I mean, you gotta know all the insides and outs of film making. And with animation in mind this means: BASIC DRAWING, LIFE DRAWING, DESIGN, LETTERING, ARCHITECTURE, COLOR THEORY, MATERIALS AND THEIR USE, PAINTING, MODELING, ART HISTORY, WORLD HISTORY, ANATOMY, HUMANITIES, FILM EDITING, SOUND CUTTING, RECORDING, STORY SKETCH,—You name it, you gotta be with it. What I am trying to say is that becoming an animator is a growth process that involves basic curiosities for all things, because man, animation is just not making things move, it is THINKING, THINKING, THINKING! You can’t know enough about everything. Curiosity is the key word. See everything! Do everything! Find out what makes everything tick. How does it work? What motivated this— What motivated that. Learn from others, BUT DON’T COPY THEM! Try to retain your individualism while learning the basic rules. Don’t become dogmatic because you’re going to change your mind about what you like and what you dislike hundreds of times before you’re thirty! This will happen if you develope your imagination along with your curiosity. You gotta be able to draw a grand piano from any angle as well as a pretty girl looking over her shoulder. Learn a musical instrument. Any godamned instrument. Play it to have FUN. This will help if you become an animation freak. Remember this: You really can’t animate a person dancing a boogie, or chrleston, a frug, a twist, a ballet, unless you can do ’em yourself, or at least analyse clearly the basis for each step. You can read all the animation books in the world but learning the art has to be done while doing. You notice that I have ignored some of your topics of discussion, but this is done to stress the point that you should be thinking of first things first and this means finishing your education as required and then going on to specialize in additional training, all the facets required of a truly, well-rounded animator. Go see the “yellow Submarine” if you have not already done so. Go see “Fritz the Cat” and if it requires parental guidance, then bring your old man! See everything, as I said above. Go to film festivals. Be a Laurel and Hardy fan. Study Buster Keaton. Study their timing and how they stage a gag or a comedy situation.

Of course, Hanna Barbera are pretty crude compared to Disney’s. But this is a problem of economics. H&B are filling a need and it is a business just like selling washing machines. We all can’t be part of an organization such as Disney’s with almost untold capital to underwrite full animation. Lots of Cartoon Co.’s would like to indulge in full animation, but the economic realities of the jungle prevent it. It’s o.k. to have an idol and a goal but a realistic assessment of what’s going on in the world of animation and the reasons behind it all are very important. Blah! Blah! Blah! If you find that you don’t at first like this reply to your seeming knowledgable letter, put it aside and read it again at a later date, and you will see that hidden between the lines is a lot of good advice, even though the writing is crude, to say the least!