I've written it before and I'll do so again. Cranky is deep into animation and cartooning, which is one of the reasons I devote so much time to promoting these flicks. GLEN KEANE, the supervising animator on Tarzan is a second generation artist. You may be familiar with his father Bill Keane's work on The Family Circus cartoon panel, which has been running since the now grown Glen was a little kid. More on that below. At the time he was offered Tarzan, Keane was in Paris, and requested that he be allowed to work at the Disney studio there. It was an appropriate choice . . .
did you start working on Tarzan?
Glen Keane: September 1996
CrankyCritic: After Burne Hogarth had died. He was not aware that the movie was going to be made?
Glen Keane: No. Hogarth's impact for me goes back to when I was eight years old. My dad gave me a book called "dynamic anatomy" by Hogarth when I was in 4th grade. I remember going to school with all these drawings of [Rodin's] "The Thinker" and all the guys on the school bus looking over my shoulder going 'Hey! Keane's drawing naked guys!' I want them now to see this film so I can be vindicated! When I went to Paris, drawing the figure has always been my greatest joy. I went there to study anatomy and sculpture. Burne Hogarth had been there, and died, in Paris. When they asked me to do Tarzan it felt like all the forces were converging and saying 'Glen this is why you're here right now.'
is so much history and so many visualizations of the Tarzan character. Was it
a daunting prospect to make it your own?
Glen Keane: As soon as you hear the word "Tarzan" you've got Johnny Weismuller in your head, swinging on the vine. It's an icon that's already established. Disney is usually the one that establishes that for our films. [laughs] I did not feel any allegiance to the Hollywood Tarzan. It didn't interest me to do that Tarzan. It did interest me to do whatever Burroughs intended. So I got the book and read his book. I had the book when I was a kid but I could never get into reading it because it had this great cover on it that Frazetta drew, Tarzan wrestling this gorilla, and every time I'd pick up the book to read it it was "do you want to read or draw?" and I'd try to draw the Frazetta. I visited Danton Burroughs and he had the original of the illustration. And I was "aw, you're so lucky you've got that"
that book totally influenced the look of this Tarzan?
Glen Keane: In reading the book I discovered that this was a Tarzan that's going to move like no other. He watches the silverback gorilla. He walks on his knuckles. In order to walk on your knuckles – you can't. Try it. After five seconds you'll be going aaargh! His forearms have to be powerful and his wrists have to be huge. People say he has really big hands, it's not because his hands are big. The hands now incorporate the whole wrist. The flexibility of his hip requires an anatomy that has evolved. It was extremely important; the only way we could make this character believable was to have a crew who could draw the character in a very classical style of anatomy. We brought the anatomy teacher from L'Ecole des Beaux Artes in to the studio o teach musculature.
the way he moves on screen?
Glen Keane: The movement of Tarzan? I'd been watching how Johnny Weismuller moved on the vines. What bothered me was that the vine was doing all the work. It was passive, almost like jumping on the Metro. I wanted Tarzan to be actively attacking, aggressively moving through the jungle. My son at the same time was going skateboarding at the Trocadero, across from the Eiffel Tower, and the kids would hang out there. They would never skateboard anything flat. It was always on the ramps and going down backwards on the stairs. Max was coming home with bloody knees and I'd say "Max, why are you doing this?" "Well, it's fun!" Yeah, but why is it fun? I was looking at these extreme videos and the idea that adrenaline and fun and living on the edge and all of that; it just seemed so obvious that Tarzan, when he moved through the jungle, it isn't just going from point A to B. The moving is fun for him. Why can't it be like skateboarding? Let the branches be like sidewalks covered in moss and whoosh! Tarzan is sliding down these things. He can leap out and grab the vines, like gibbons do. It really liberated the feeling of movement for me.
is not a very vocal character, which means a lot more work -- facial and body
expressions -- for you.
Glen Keane: Yes, that's a good observation. The problem early on is that Tarzan was being overshadowed by Minnie Driver's voice. [Driver voices Jane - ed.] She was just incredibly fascinating to listen to. She brought so much to her character. Tony Goldwyn's lines of dialog were very sparse because he didn't speak a lot. We thought "How is Tarzan ever going to compete with Jane?" Early on, Tarzan was becoming invisible, but there was no animation done at that point. Tarzan is defined by how he moves, more than how he speaks. It's like Bambi. There are scenes in Bambi where there is no dialog. There's just a deer moving. And it stops. It's ears move. It turns. It's fascinating watching the deer move. With Tarzan, a story sketch may have shown him going from here to there, but it was the actual animation of going from here to there that was a beautiful thing to watch; to see him move like an animal. It brought Tarzan to life.
told a trip to Africa, to observe gorillas in the wild, affected the look and
the story of the movie.
Glen Keane: I went with my son to Uganda. You hack your way through the jungle with machetes and there comes a point where the guide says "get out your cameras. The gorillas are around the corner." I grabbed my sketch book. The guide looked at me like I was an idiot. I started to do these sketches of the gorillas sitting out there, a family of about 13 gorillas; it was like a Shangri-La that I saw. It was answering a question that I had: why did Tarzan struggle with the decision whether he was going to leave with Jane or stay with the gorillas? Gorillas. Beautiful girl. Hmm, which direction to go? When I saw this paradise, I didn't want to leave. I felt that Tarzan's struggle was going to be about; that this was his family though he didn't look like them, your family is people you love and who love you. It's not the people you look like. That was a lesson he had to learn.
dad, Bill Keane, is pretty eminent illustrator in his own right. Has
he seen the film?
Glen Keane: He's seeing it later this week.
CrankyCritic: Has he ever said anything to you like "I just have to do a panel a day!"
Glen Keane: [smiles] Dad is very jealous. When he comes to visit the studio, he comes in and there's hundreds of artists all together. He works alone and he is jealous of that kind of inspiration and teamwork.
CrankyCritic: So you would be "Little Billy"?
Glen Keane: Yes. Dad says I was Billy, though I did not draw all those comics that Billy does. That's dad taking over. He says those are the hardest ones to draw.
your dad inspire you to draw?
Glen Keane: I always felt that drawing was the most natural thing to do and I had this live in teacher. I could knock on his door and "Dad, I can't draw this horse" and he was always there to show me how to draw. He kept encouraging me to approach my drawing in a more classical sense. Anatomy. I feel like I'm still heading in that direction. It's interesting. When I first started at Disney, the old guys would say the key to Disney animation is sincerity. At that point you don't know what that means. I was pushing harder on my pencil trying to draw sincerely. Now I understand it's taking the things that happen in your own life, and there's so much of my own personal life in Tarzan. The things that happen that I drew on to animate the scenes. It's like my dad saying I draw the things that I know. The things that are real to me. That's what people want to see. They can tell if you're drawing something that you've experienced or not. It comes through.
Keane did clue us in on his next project: Treasure Planet, a reset of Treasure Island in space. Keane will be animating Long John Silver, which will force traditional animation and computer tech together. The character's creation will combine both methods to make a Part-cyborg Part-human.
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