Ten Ques­tions For Don Hahn

Animation Magazine - - Final Shot -

There’s no telling what amaz­ing, cre­ative project Os­car-nom­i­nated pro­ducer ( The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Malef­i­cent), author and doc­u­men­tary film­maker Don Hahn will come up with next. We thought it was a great time to catch up with the tal­ented Re­nais­sance man now that his new book Yes­ter­day’s To­mor­row: Dis­ney’s Mag­i­cal Mid-Cen­tury (Dis­ney Edi­tions, $33.24) is avail­able for sale. What prompted you to write the book? I grew up in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, which is a place like no other. Peo­ple have al­ways come here to rein­vent them­selves in a land of sun­shine, beaches and op­ti­mism. The first free­way was built here, mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign sprang from here, NASA ex­plored space from here, the first theme parks like Knott’s Berry Farm, Santa’s Vil­lage and, of course, Dis­ney­land came from the imag­i­na­tion of Cal­i­for­ni­ans. Walt Dis­ney didn’t go to New York or Chicago. He came to Los An­ge­les to make it as a film di­rec­tor, and it’s this town that sup­ported and en­cour­aged the arts and artists to build his ideas into re­al­ity. That perfect storm of peo­ple and events in the mid­dle of the 20th cen­tury has al­ways fas­ci­nated me and that’s why I wanted to write this book and tell this story. What is the most sur­pris­ing thing you learned while you were re­search­ing the sub­ject? The most sur­pris­ing rev­e­la­tion was how Dis­ney­land was con­ceived, built and fi­nanced. Walt him­self set up a sep­a­rate com­pany, WED En­ter­prises, to de­sign and build the park. He used set de­sign­ers, not ar­chi­tects, to vi­su­al­ize the themed lands. ABC Tele­vi­sion fi­nanced it as part of a tele­vi­sion deal to sup­ply pro­gram­ming for the net­work that was orig­i­nally called Dis­ney­land. It was an ex­plo­sion of clever deals, impossible deadlines and bril­liant civic plan­ning that went into the con­struc­tion of the park and the story of Dis­ney­land alone was worth writ­ing the book. Why do you think we are still drawn to the mid-cen­tury pe­riod’s art, life­style and de­sign prin­ci­ples? So much of the mid-cen­tury aes­thetic was the shed­ding of de­tail and or­na­men­ta­tion in fa­vor of sim­ple state­ments in ar­chi­tec­ture and art. The world had suf­fered through two World Wars, a Great De­pres­sion, and be­fore that a cen­tury of Vic­to­rian life that must have have been con­strain­ing at best. Then Matisse and Pi­casso start to shed old for­mal styles and paint with sim­ple shapes. An­i­ma­tors like Oskar Fischinger picked up on the ab­strac­tion in this work, as did Dis­ney in some of his pre­war films like Fan­ta­sia. But af­ter the war it was films like Sleep­ing Beauty, Jun­gle Book and 101 Dal­ma­tians that started to show the mod­ernist am­bi­tion of the artist and the au­di­ence ate it up, my­self in­cluded. Mid-cen­tury meant sim­ple, el­e­gant, mod­ern, space age and op­ti­mistic, and that never goes out of style. Can you tell us a lit­tle bit about your up­com­ing doc­u­men­tary The Gam­ble I’ve been in­ter­ested in ar­chi­tec­ture all my life, par­tic­u­larly in mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture. Few peo­ple know the work of Charles and Henry Greene, who were sim­ply the mas­ters of Arts and Crafts ar­chi­tec­ture and brought a mod­ern

sen­si­bil­ity to their houses. One of those houses was de­signed and built for David and Mary Gam­ble, heirs to the Proc­ter & Gam­ble for­tune. They com­mis­sioned the Greenes to de­sign and build not only the house but the fur­ni­ture, car­pets and light fix­tures through­out the home. Be­cause of this ap­proach to de­sign, the Gam­ble House is truly “Ar­chi­tec­ture as Art” and at this point in my ca­reer I only want to tell sto­ries about the artis­tic he­roes in our world. The Greenes only de­signed and built for a short time at the begin­ning of the cen­tury but their work is in­cred­i­bly bril­liant and you can visit the Gam­ble House to­day and see the ef­fect of their artis­tic vi­sion. Plus, it’s Doc Brown’s house from Back to the Fu­ture. What was the best part of exec pro­duc­ing this year’s live-ac­tion Beauty and the Beauty was a plea­sure be­cause so much of the story work and heavy lift­ing had been done by our crew back in 1991 when the orig­i­nal film came out. Bill Con­don, the di­rec­tor of this year’s live ver­sion of the film, was able to cap­ture the spirit of the orig­i­nal, but also flesh out the story in a way that added more di­men­sion to the story. Most of all, we were lucky to at­tract a bril­liant cast who took the work of our an­i­ma­tors and ran with it. Emma [Wat­son] and Dan [Stevens] as Belle and the Beast were able to do the impossible and make us fall in love with them as char­ac­ters as they them­selves fell in love … not an easy task con­sid­er­ing that Beast is vir­tu­ally an an­i­mated char­ac­ter. What do you tell naysay­ers who com­plain about live-ac­tion adap­ta­tions of Dis­ney’s clas­sic toons? Sto­ries are meant to be told and in the case of these new films, they are meant to be re­told. It’s been 25 years since we made these movies and to have other film­mak­ers retell them with to­day’s tech­nol­ogy is ex­actly what the movie busi­ness is: telling and retelling the great­est sto­ries on Earth. Not ev­ery­one will like ev­ery de­tail, and that’s to be ex­pected even of orig­i­nal movies. But to bring these sto­ries to a new gen­er­a­tion doesn’t negate the orig­i­nal film, and yet of­fers a new movie-go­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to au­di­ences who never tire of hear­ing these sto­ries told over the past thou­sand years or so. What was the toon that changed your life? I loved Jay Ward car­toons when I was grow­ing up. They still stand as the fun­ni­est and best. What was best gift you ever re­ceived? Aside from my daugh­ter, Gary Trous­dale, the di­rec­tor of Beauty and the Beast, once gave me a plate of fake waf­fles com­plete with syrup and but­ter. They are in­cred­i­bly re­al­is­tic, like the kind a restau­rant would use in their front win­dow dis­play. That’s been 20 years ago and peo­ple still want to touch them and take them ev­ery time they come into my stu­dio. The magic of fake waf­fles is the gift that keeps on giv­ing! What’s the best ad­vice to give peo­ple who want to suc­ceed in the an­i­ma­tion busi­ness? Per­sist. No­body gets hired on the first re­sume or the first port­fo­lio. Get your work out there and seen, get it on the web, and make sure it’s al­ways up to date, then stay in touch with the re­cruiters who hire for their stu­dios. Don’t rule out small stu­dios. Some of the best work is be­ing done in smaller, more ex­per­i­men­tal stu­dios where you will likely be called on to do a lit­tle bit of ev­ery­thing. Fi­nally, be open to change. You might leave col­lege want­ing to be a rig­ger at Pixar, but as you ma­ture as an artist, keep your eyes open to other jobs, to growth and learn­ing and to how your tastes are chang­ing. What is the secret of lead­ing a happy cre­ative life? Stay busy. Make other peo­ple happy. Travel. Be open to new ideas. Be cu­ri­ous. Study other artists, an­i­ma­tors, painters, sto­ry­tellers. Read bi­ogra­phies. Ex­er­cise. Travel some more. Keep your over­head low so that you can save money for rainy days. Love your work, and if you don’t, move on to new work. Plan in short spurts — you don’t al­ways have to know what you are go­ing to do for the rest of your life. Travel again. Find a life mate that you can share your strug­gles and vic­to­ries with. Live in a place that you love and make a home that is a safe haven for you. Al­ways be a teacher and a learner. Re­spect oth­ers, es­pe­cially those with less power than you. Draw more. Laugh more. Eat more pie. And fi­nally, travel.

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

The mid-cen­tury art aes­thetic in­flu­enced Dis­ney clas­sic such as Sleep­ing Beauty (1959), 101 Dal­ma­tians (1961) and The Jun­gle Book (1967)

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