John Pomeroy quickly drew with a sharpie on the first of three white sketchpads. The figure had a bob haircut, big eyes and a bow in her hair.
“Can anybody guess who that might be?” Pomeroy asked an overflowing audience in the Jule Collins Smith Museum auditorium.
“Snow White!” The crowd yelled in unison.
“Really? Yay!” Pomeroy cheered while throwing up his arms.
Pomeroy is an animator with 47 years of experience since Disney employed him as an animator at 21 years old. Students from Auburn High School, Opelika High School and Auburn University, as well as elementary kids, their parents and Auburn University staff came to the Jule Collins Smith Museum at 7 p.m. Tuesday night for a nearly two-hour talk. The talk was part of the Jay Sanders Film Series.
Pomeroy’s opening montage and introduction by Auburn University’s Dr. Susan Brinson highlighted some of his work. “Winnie the Pooh,” “Land Before Time,” “Pocahontas,” “Atlantis,” “The Simpsons Movie,” the list of recognizable names from most of the audience’s childhoods continued.
The audience learned how to make an animation pitch, the steps of making a feature-length animation, the creation of a character and the behind the scenes struggles of the animation business. They also learned why animal cartoon characters have only had three fingers since the beginning of Disney animation.
At the heart of every successful animation, says Pomeroy, is the concept of the “Willing Suspension of Disbelief.” For animators, that means the viewer puts aside the fact they are watching moving drawings and get involved with the characters and, most importantly, the story.
To do this, live people are videotaped, sketched and photographed while moving. The material is studied and a character is drawn from every angle with countless small variations of structure. Study of live people is key, Pomeroy says, because “animators are reporters with pencils.”
The gusto of the audience, unable to keep from whispering their recognition of the characters of their childhood or hold their questions 20 minutes past Pomeroy’s allotted speaking time, shows that animation speaks to people in a way other media forms can’t.
The art comes from studies of real life, and from those studies comes a representation of our culture: how we act, our biases and prejudices and our core beliefs about the human and American experience. Core beliefs like true love in “Snow White,” the dangers of capitalism in “Atlantis,” or the importance of taking care of the planet in “Pocahontas” are all represented in a media format generally accepted as made for kids.
But why do cartoon animals have three fingers?
To save the animator’s time and the company’s money, of course.