Some Kind Of Monster: Disney Television Animation Staff Art Show
The thing about animation is that it's art. I know that seems a little obvious, but what makes an animation wonderful is when you forget that you're looking at something someone drew, painted or sculpted and believe completely in the world of the characters and their story. That's why we spend a lot of time on this site talking about comic book artists, illustrators and visual storytellers, because the great paradox of their work is that one of their best measures of success is how much of it is, in a sense, invisible. They deserve recognition.
Possessed with that point of view, it was with great pleasure that I attended Disney Television Animations second ever staff art exhibition at the company's offices in Glendale, California. Titled "Some Kind of Monster," the show featured original works created by not just the visionaries and animators behind shows like Gravity Falls, Phoneas and Ferb and TRON: Uprising, but by producers, writers, office assistants, and anybody else on staff who wished to contribute.The wine and cheese-fueled event was very much a grown-up version of the great flat-beer-soaked Thursday night art openings of California Institute of the Arts, the school that's shaped legions of animation's best talents (from Tim Burton to Pixar's John Lassetter to Gravity Falls creator Alex Hirsch), and was a fun demonstration of how all Disney's beloved series begin with some artist's idiosyncrasies put down in pencil, ink or paint. The theme of the show was monsters, which allowed for contributors to create a lot of cool work that wasn't directly informed by Disney's current animation slate (although quite naturally a lot of it was). Indeed, some of the pieces were quite dark, and some were explicitly political given the season.
Highly placed Disney staffers were on hand to talk about the shows. Senior Vice President, Original Series Eric Coleman said he was very eager for viewers to see Wander Over Yonder, the forthcoming new series by Powerpuff Girls creator Craig McCracken. Phineas and Ferb co-creator Dan Povenmire suggested he'd be down for a crossover with Gravity Falls.
Phineas and Ferb co-creator Dan Povenmire, SVP Disney TV Eric Coleman, Phineas and Ferb co-creator Swampy Marsh
Speaking of Gravity Falls, several Disney staffers told me they were very familiar with the dedicated podcast by ComicsAlliance contributors Eugene Ahn (aka Adam WarRock) and Chris Haley, who were also invited to the exhibit but did not attend on account of the fact that they actually live in a place so far away from LA that it might as well be Gravity Falls. These gentlemen's enthusiasm for the Hirsch series persuaded me to give it a shot, and it is definitely something special; more like the wry Cartoon-Cartoons of late '90s Cartoon Network than you may typically associate with Disney's less edgy idiom (the same goes for much of the company's current slate). Those of you who haven't seen Gravity Falls should watch the episode "The Time Traveler's Pig."
Besides the company's obvious investment in creativity and encouragement of fun in the workplace, my major takeaway from the evening was that Disney is keenly aware of the fact that while their animated shows must appeal to younger viewers, they enjoy an adult viewership who shares their appreciation for aesthetics and story. As I said, Gravity Falls won me over in a big way, and I've always suspected TRON: Uprising may be the company's specific offering for that older audience. When I asked about the series, Disney reps told me the new episodes beginning with last week's "The Reward" see the exceptionally beautiful show achieve a new level of sophistication. We've said it here before, but with character designs by Robert Valley, storyboards by Eric Canete and direction by Powerpuff Girls and Samurai Jack veteran Charlie Bean, TRON: Uprising is something adventure and sci-fi comics readers would really dig.
Disney provided some photos of the event that are much better than those I shot clandestinely with my iPhone, so check 'em out: