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Advancements at Disney

John Musker’s lecture was lively, fascinating, and deeply genuine. His openness to reflect on past work and to discuss the administrative challenges of directing delivered a nuanced insight into contemporary “Hollywood Animation.”

Most importantly, Musker was able to convey the ongoing challenges of revitalizing and contemporizing the language of animation to meet the needs of new audiences.

For example, Musker’s genius move of transplanting an essentially “1980s American teenager” character into the role of a main character in The Little Mermaid made for an exciting hybrid story–a classic lesson translated into relatable contemporary characters and tastes.

This breakthrough paved the way for multiple Disney successes–Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King (i.e. Hamlet) in which a classic story is given a contemporary character to pin our hopes to, and a softened ending to reflect the needs of a younger audience.

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Ariel’s behavior, emotional resonance, and styling suggest a contemporary personality within a classical story

This is not an unusual move, one of our best examples of adapting characters is through religious iconography. The character of ‘Jesus’ in Chrisitanity was adapted from his modest non-representational iconography to reflect his growing European audience. He was eventually given Caucasian skin and contemporaneous clothing to attract new audiences, and even today we can see adaptations of his image and story to benefit new communities.

Through the hits and misses of his career, we can track Musker’s attempts to expand his audiences while staying true to the quality that defines his craft.

The intimacy of handdrawn animation remains captivating, and maintaining and expanding the craft within the digital age is essential.

Musker’s reflections on the process was especially interesting after David Silverman’s musings on challenges of transitioning ‘The Simpsons’ brand into the digital realm.

As artists breaking into the field, these thoughts will be essential as we explore our own solutions to the changing shape of 2D animation.

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