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Building a better bunny (Rabbit) with master animator Eric Goldberg

Building a better bunny (Rabbit) with master animator Eric Goldberg

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In honor of Easter, I thought it might be nice to shine a spotlight on one of Disney's better-known bunnies: Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh.


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Now I don't know how many of you saw that full-length version of "Winnie the Pooh which Walt Disney Animation Studios produced last year, but Rabbit was the same only different in that animated feature. Thanks in large part to the talents of master animator Eric Goldberg.

To explain: "When Don Hall and Stephen Anderson initially started developing their 'Winnie the Pooh' feature, they were looking for ways to add some additional comedy to this film. And over time, Don & Steve identified Rabbit & Owl -- as they had appeared in the original "Winnie the Pooh" featurettes, anyway -- as being characters that weren't quite as well-defined with the audience as Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and Eeyore were," Eric explained in a June 2011 interview with JHM. "Which is why we then began exploring the idea of making Rabbit & Owl slightly more neurotic & comical this time around."

But Goldberg -- being the careful craftsman that he is -- didn't want this new, far-more-comical take on Rabbit to just seemingly come out of nowhere. No, Eric wanted this slightly-more-neurotic version of A.A. Milne's character to come from a natural place. Which is why Goldberg repeatedly watched the original "Winnie the Pooh" featurettes, looking for some character-driven moment to draw his inspiration from.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"And if you'll watch those original 'Pooh' featurettes carefully, you'll notice that -- from time to time  -- Rabbit will do this really wild take. As if this character has grown incredibly frustrated with having to deal with these dumb stuffed animals day after day after day," Eric continued. "Well, I took that previously established character trait of Rabbit's and just enhanced it, expanded it. I began to look for moments within the story of our 'Winnie the Pooh' feature where I could really ratchet up Rabbit's frustration levels  for comedy."

Mind you, Goldberg always made an effort to make sure that this newer, funnier version of Rabbit (which drew some of its inspiration from John Cleese's performance in that classic Britcom, "Fawlty Towers") was still recognizable as the same character that we'd previously seen in all the "Pooh" featurettes.

"In situations like this, I believe that -- when you're working with a character that your audience are already very, very familiar with  --  you always have to honor that character's anatomy. You can't necessarily change the way that this character moves or looks. The audience just won't accept a change like that. That's  going to take them straight out of the story, straight out of the movie,"  Eric stated. "But if you can use the emotion found within that particular scene of your movie to justify having the character that you're animating react in a way that the audience hasn't previously seen before -- doing  a slow burn or a big, funny take -- Well, then that's okay. But only if -- after your character has had their big comic reaction -- they then return to looking just like the Rabbit that audiences always have known," Eric said.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which -- I know -- sounds like kind of a departure from the way that Walt Disney Animation Studios has typically done things, especially when it comes to the "Winnie the Pooh" characters. But John Lasseter himself actively encouraged Anderson, Goldberg and Hall to explore this newer, fresher take on these much-beloved A.A. Milne characters.

"John was looking at some early animation tests that we did on 'Winnie the Pooh.' And he told us, 'You know, what the Nine Old Men did with these characters was great. But you guys are great too. This film is going to be your generation of animators' take on these characters. So don't be afraid to push things for comedy if you feel that you have to,' " Eric said.

Which isn't to say that Goldberg had Rabbit doing his Basil Fawlty impression in every single scene of this full-length animated feature.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"I'm a big believer in always having my character service the story. Whenever I animate someone, I always try to think about who my character is, how this character is constructed, what that character's role is in the movie's overall  story and -- more importantly -- what this character is thinking & feeling in the scene that I'm animating right now," Eric explained. "And if a big comic take or reaction actually works within the confines of a particular scene ... Well, I'll then go there with the character that I'm animating. But only if it's in service of the story."

That's the kind of careful, thoughtful, methodical approach to animation that only comes from 30+ years of pushing a pencil. And as the supervising animator of the Genie in "Aladdin" (not to mention co-directing "Pocahontas" as well as being the creative force behind "Fantasia 2000" 's masterful "Rhapsody in Blue" sequence) ... Well, it's no wonder that Goldberg is now considered to be one of the absolute masters when it comes to this cinematic art form.

Which is why this huge wave of excitement rolled through the animation community last month when it was revealed that this industry giant will soon be sharing some of his secrets with the first-ever Eric Goldberg Animation Master Class

And if you'd like to take part in this 12 week-long workshop -- which will be held at the Laguna College of Art and Design starting on June 9th -- you'd best move quick like a bunny. Because Goldberg is selecting just 16 students to work with him on all phases on a brand-new, hand-drawn animated short.  And the deadline for submitting your portfolio and application -- May 1st -- is less than four weeks away now.

So why not take advantage of the sugar rush that comes from eating far-too-much Easter candy and send in your portfolio & application today? Hop to it, okay?

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