By Sarayu Pai
Pumped up from horchata boba from Boba Guys, some friends and I sauntered into CEMEX Auditorium for an evening with Glen Keane, the former Directing Animator at Disney. The event was sponsored by Stanford Speakers Bureau, one of the oldest organizations on campus, started almost a century ago in 1935. There were throngs of people all buzzing with excitement, packed like sardines in the comfy chairs of GSB auditorium. Being a staff member for the Daily has its perks, since the organizers directed me to check in at the “VIP” table and escorted me to a spot in the front row — quite preferable to standing in the line that snaked around outside in the nippy NorCal breeze.
The set up seemed remarkably simple and intriguing. A projector screen depicted characters Keane had integral roles in designing, such as Ariel and the Beast. Glen Keane conveyed an admirable air of humility, donning simple jeans and a sweater. While nonchalantly introducing himself and talking about the process of creating the Beast from Beauty and the Beast, he drew with a thick pencil on some sketch paper with a camera projecting onto the projection screen the deliberate lines and curves that formed an exquisite esquisse.
At first, the sketch seemed a bit messy, but after time, an extremely accurate rendering of the Beast appeared. While he was sketching, he mentioned his process for ideating the Beast, which essentially is the amalgamation of features from multiple animals, including a buffalo’s head shape, a lion’s mane, a cow’s ears and most importantly, a human’s stormy blue eyes. Keane’s other works include Aladdin, Tarzan, Pocahontas and The Little Mermaid.
He described himself as an “actor with a pencil” and said that you truly “live in the skin of the characters that you animate.” He joked that drawing Rapunzel reflected a lack of something in his life — a joke, since he admitted to having a bit of balding.
Art seems to be an integral part of Keane’s family’s life as well. He mentioned how his father, Bil Keane, is the creator of the famous, family-friendly comic strip The Family Circus, which is currently drawn by Glen Keane’s brother Jeff Keane. Noting his childhood interest in drawing, Keane brought up how painting is like a conversation, which is what creativity should be. Creating art cannot be a unilateral process, and it must be collaborative between artist and artwork. While contemplating his pencil, he suggested that simplicity is the paragon of sophistication, and that drawing is a seismograph for the soul (an analogy particularly relevant to those of us who live in California).
Keane proceeded to show us animation in the works with a grainy, shaky clip from the beginning stages of creating The Little Mermaid. With the development of Tarzan, the technology of animation advanced, because dimensions could be emphasized using computers. While Tarzan scenes played during the working stages, Keane would draw directly onto the screen, making faces as he drew and showing how he stepped into the skin of the characters that he was bringing to life.
Following his illustrious (no pun intended) career at Disney, Keane went to work for Google.
He spearheaded the short film Duet, with its ethereal and nostalgic music and story of two babies growing up to fall in love as adults. The film was comprised of simple drawings, but was beautiful nonetheless, deeply pulling at the audience’s heartstrings.
For the 2018 short film Dear Basketball, for which he collaborated with former star NBA player Kobe Bryant, Keane won Best Animated Short Film. The project commenced when Keane received a call from Bryant, who expressed interest in creating a film based on his personal letter to the Lakers upon retirement from the NBA. The film, grounded in a narration of the letter, used drawings of Bryant as a child and adult.
Keane took the time to share a humorous anecdote about a time when, due to an administrative mixup, he was denied special entry to the Disney theme park even after dropping the names of all the characters he animated. After waiting in line with the rest of the general public, he sat down in a huff, and the Beast in costume happened to join him, gloomily. When a little girl ran up the Beast and showered him with affection, Keane he was struck with the beautiful realization that one of our roles as humans is to make things for other people to appreciate.
Prior to the Q&A session, Keane carried out a brief demonstration of the Google-pioneered technology, Tilt Brush, which is a 3D Virtual Reality drawing software. Wearing a headset that covered his eyes and with two controllers in his hand, Keane drew Ariel the mermaid gazing at a fork in 3D while zooming in and out. While the little mermaid crooned “Part of Your World” in the background, Keane used many colors and motions to complete the drawing. The timing of the song and progress of the drawing were synchronized perfectly.
The evening at CEMEX was, hands down, one of the best events I have attended during my tenure here Stanford, and I’m sure that many in the audience share the same sentiments. Keane’s humility, humor and talent were awe-inspiring and a clear example of how dedication truly pays off in the end.
Contact Sarayu Pai at smpai918 “at” stanford.edu