Stubbornly Hand-Drawn

Earlier this month, long-time Disney animator Nik Ranieri (whose nearly quarter-century career was highlighted by his work on Lumiere and Kuzco) officially parted ways with The Walt Disney Company, joining the prestigious, ever-growing crowd of “High-Profile, Hand-Drawin’ Animators No Longer Employed by Disney.”

On his Facebook page, Ranieri describes the last few years as “the most difficult of my career,” but his parting gift — a hand-drawn test for Wreck-It Ralph’s Ralph – is offered with Ranieri’s insistence that there’s still life and magic in the medium. And it’s a perfectly example of why so many animation fans aren’t ready to give up on “hand-drawns” just yet .

The last couple of years have been the most difficult of my career. At times I was filled with hope that my skills would be utilized in a new hand-drawn film. At other times, I doubted that a hand-drawn feature – hybrid or otherwise – would be produced at all. We were pretty much kept in the dark for over 2 years and once the word did come out that no more hand-drawn features would be produced, it was only a matter of days before we were “given our notices”. I’m not so much sad that I was let go as I am sad that they gave up on a medium that, if given the right treatment, could be a viable product once again.

As a parting reminder of my last years at Disney, here is my last hand-drawn test for a Disney production. I was asked to animate the character of Ralph from “Wreck-it Ralph”, as a guide for the animation of the character in the film.

That’s a magical half-minute right there. I’m not entirely sure why it works so powerfully on me. I suspect it’s at least partially because I can “see” its creator in the background, and I love that sort of personal stamp/connection. But I think it’s also that I find myself drawn to the slight imperfections of something made by hand. And the organic-ness of that sort of creation brings it to life in a way that I think computer animation struggles to match. (The Man Who Planted Trees is a perfect example of something that’s not quite as polished technically, yet which feels much more reel as a result of those very imprecisions and imperfections.)

The result of Ranieri’s painstaking labors is a 30-second snippet that really grabs you. And that is probably much more applicable to its creator’s mood and current state in life than he realized it would be when he first began working on it.

What does the future hold for Mr. Ranieri, anyway? He’s not sure. But he’s as ready for it as he can be.

You may wonder, what will I be doing now. I can’t tell you that because I don’t know. It is said that when God closes one door, He opens another. I pray that He will guide me to the right door and that I’ll open it with confidence. Not in myself but in Him who guides my path.

(HT: Cartoon Brew)

About Joseph Susanka

Joseph has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. A grateful resident of Wyoming, he spends his free time exploring the beautiful Wind River Mountains, keeping track of his (currently) seven sons, being amazed by his (currently) lone daughter, and thanking his lucky stars for Netflix.