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Tangled - Glen Keane interview

Tangled

Interview by Rob Carnevale

GLEN Keane, the lead animator on Disney’s Tangled, talks to us about his passion for this 50th animated classic and some of the artistic challenges it represented.

Keane is widely regarded as one of the top talents in animation and is responsible for creating high-profile Disney characters such as Ariel, The Beast, Aladdin, and Pocahontas. He also serves as Tangled‘s executive producer and has been working on the Rapunzel character since 1996.

Q. Do your achievements on this film give you particular satisfaction?
Glen Keane: For me this film is a marathon. It’s something I was starting to think about developing in 1996, and to see it actually come to fruition is really wonderful, particularly when my normal reaction when I see one of the films I’ve worked on is, the more times I see it, the more mistakes I see in the animation. The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, it’s like: “Oh gosh, I wish I could have that back and re-work it.” But this film… every time I see it, it gets better. I just keep seeing more and more wonderful little touches that the animators put into it, and I’m becoming more and more convinced that it’s the best animation that Disney has ever done.

Q. Really? That’s high praise given Disney’s legacy…
Glen Keane: I’m astounded by it. I don’t know how to animate on the computer, and I’m really grateful that I worked with a couple of other guys. We called it our triumvirate, John Kahrs and Clay Kaytis, who really understood computer animation but loved and embraced hand drawn, which is Disney’s heritage. They found tools and ways for me to be able to contribute and participate in the film where I could draw over the top of the computer animation, and I could suggest that, if I was animating the scene I’d push the arc of the attitude a little bit stronger in this character, I’d exaggerate it a little further. Or we could make this look and make that eye just open up a little bit further, and then the animators would have those drawings back in their offices waiting for them, that they could apply and adapt. That was our goal, to take the best of both worlds, of hand drawn, the best of computer, and put it into one.

Q. Did you look at past attempts to bring the Rapunzel story to the screen?
Glen Keane: There’s a weird thing about me and characters with hair, from Ariel or Pocahontas to Tarzan with his dreadlocks and now Rapunzel… it’s like I’m trying to make up for some loss in my life, I don’t know what that is [laughs]. But I find that you’re drawn to certain stories, and there’s something about fairytales that have deep roots. They connect really deeply to you, and those are the stories that I find myself drawn to. I love characters that believe the impossible is possible. At one point, I animated villains in our stories, a bear or a giant, then on The Little Mermaid Ariel just called to me and I started to fall in love with characters who had that burning desire inside of them, this hope.

And I think that’s what led me to this story. I then started to think about whether we had done some research on it. I talked to Joe Grant [1908-2005], who was the head of story on Snow White, and who continued to work at Disney up until about six years ago. He was still driving in to work, he’s no longer alive, but I remember asking Joe: “So, did you guys, did you and Walt work on this?” And he said: “Oh yeah, I remember us working on Rapunzel and Beauty and The Beast, it was a really hard nut to crack, so we just put it down!” You can understand why… they were the last two fairytales that we cracked.

Q. What makes Rapunzel so difficult?
Glen Keane: They just take place in the tower, or in the dining room sitting at a table. That was, I think, why it was so wonderful to see what Byron and Nathan brought – bringing Rapunzel out of the tower… bringing this really fresh new take to the fairytale.

Q. Do you find yourself asking what would the old guys do?
Glen Keane: I know that Frank [Thomas] and Ollie [Johnston] were always saying: “Glen, you’re going to do greater things than us some day!” Which you just could have taken like: “Yeah, don’t try to make me feel good, I know we’re never going to do anything as great as you guys.” But with this film I start to understand in what dimension this is moving further forward. There are moments in this picture… Mandy’s performance was so sincere, so real. Where Rapunzel is crying, and singing to Flynn as he’s died, this was so deep. We have a group of female animators at work who wanted those scenes. I remember after seeing Little Mermaid, Ollie said: “You know we never would have animated it that way.” I said: “What do you mean?” And he said: “You animated some faces that were kind of ugly, and we always tried to do everything pretty…”

I remember specifically John Kahrs, in that scene where Rapunzel is looking into Flynn’s face and crying, he was saying: “Go for the ugly face, go for the ugly face!” It’s that moment when a character is crying, and all of the muscles are pulling and contorting. You don’t want a camera on your face, but it was right there. It was so beautiful, so moving, when these guys issued those scenes to the animators there were tears in their eyes. It was an incredibly emotional film. In those ways I really do see what Frank and Ollie were saying… that some day we would do something greater than them emotionally and artistically and in every way.

Q. What were some of the challenges of animating the horse, Maximus?
Glen Keane: Right from the start you’ve got a character as a horse whose eyes are in the wrong part of his head to play emotions. They’re off to the side, because they’re looking for predators. So, the first thing you’ve got to do is start to design it so that you can play human emotions. He’s basically a super cop, but half horse, half dog. As a matter of fact, in an earlier version the guy that rescues Rapunzel has a dog and one of the first things these guys did was threw out the dog, and put in a horse. I was like: “What? That was my dog, that was my family dog you guys threw out, how could you do that? And a horse?”

But then I realised that it was a horse and a bloodhound, and it was so much better, like two things that you never thought of… like peanut butter and chocolate make a great candy bar. There was something about this character that was so fun. So, anyway, we started designing these eyes, putting them closer to the front, but not so close that it felt like a human face – still far enough that it still felt like a horse face. Take that jaw and stick it out so he’s tough and he’s got an attitude, give him a big bull neck and pretty soon he’s really tough. And then once you’ve got that you’ve got a perfect character for Rapunzel to just melt that guy.

When she starts, it was great, the whole scene, everybody was just dying to want to animate that moment where she says: “He’s such a sweetheart!” And Flynn says: “He’s a bad horse!” It was so much fun to watch that character melt at Rapunzel’s hands. It gave you so much more to play with, you know, because these characters were so rich.

Read our review of Tangled

Read our interview with co-directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard