Image from Jack's Twitter feed
Prior to his tenure at R.I.T., Jack worked for two years at Disney under Snow White animator Shamus Culhane. During class, he would tell us the odd story of time spent with Culhane who, as Jack put it, was driven to near alcoholism while animating the famous "Heigh-Ho" scene from Snow White as he dealt with puzzling out the technical aspects of drawing seven near-identical characters marching in lock-step and yet trying to ensure that they all had their own unique personality and movements.
Jack would later become one of my three thesis advisors and the one who would provide the most help as I struggled through the trials of trying to complete a hybrid hand-drawn/digital animation when I had only really been animating (or doing any serious drawing) for two years.
Jack designed his three animation classes such that the first would teach foundational skills in hand-drawn animation while getting us to start thinking about producing a larger hand-drawn animation. The second class would build on the first as we took a character conceptualized in the first class and get us animating with that character. The third class would build on the first two as we finalized a script, treatment, storyboard and build an animatic.
As I've been going through my filing cabinets to reconstruct (and archive) my animated films, handouts, and notes from Grad School over the Summer, for this month's animation, I decided to use DragonFrame to recapture and retime several animation assignments from Jack's first class.
This first assignment was designed to get us warmed up to hand drawn animation by taking a stack of notecards and creating a pair of metamorphosis animations between a pair of shapes.
Then, Jack had us create a title animation for a fictional company of our own devising which we could use at the beginning of future productions in his class.
The last "animation" assignment we did was to animate a person laughing. Jack provided us with some keyframes for reference material and it was up to us to redraw the keyframes then figure out the in-betweens and animate them.
Jack was a fount of valuable information during my thesis. When I mentioned how I was struggling with drawing my scenes, it was Jack who suggested I draw fifty poses each of my two characters every day before working on a scene. That turned the trick. Within a few short weeks, my creative block was shattered and I was barreling through my thesis. The point that he was getting at through that particular exercise was how I needed to know my characters in far greater detail. And by doing multiple drawings of various poses, I could study them from every angle, every expression, even practice their body language. At that point in my thesis, I was trying to run, but I had barely begun to crawl.
After completing Jack's third Introduction to Classical Animation class, he wrote me the following note.
I saw Jack at Erik's memorial service and spoke to him a couple times afterwards. The last time we exchanged e-mails, about a short animation I had just completed (Stress), he encouraged me to never stop looking at my work with a critical eye and striving for greatness in my animation:
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Thank you for sharing your animation with me. I thought for a second I was back at RIT. It was a pleasant surprise seeing you at Erik's memorial service. You look well, and from what you said, and i've seen you're moving on into the future. I wish you luck.
My only criticism of the work you shared with me, including the tape you sent, is your characters are one dimensional. Yes, they move, but with no sense of life. Timing, aceleration/deceleration, speed change, etc. Do more, don't just settle for movement, give me movement that means something. You are too talented to settle for less. End of crit, I'm not your teacher anymore, just a friend.
Hope Ottawa was beneficial, and enjoyable. Lookin forward to being there in two years. I'll buy you a drink and we can toast to old times.
Stay well, happy, healthy and productive. Stay in touch.
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On Thursday, April 28, 2016 at the age of 78, Jack died at home with his family. He left behind a loving wife and family and a legion of students who learned great lessons about animation under his steadfast guidance.