Interview with Animator Broose Johnson

While at Disney, Broose Johnson worked on movies such as Oliver and Company, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Lion King, and Brother Bear. He has been a clean-up animator, a lead animator, head of story, and just about everything in between. After Disney Animation closed its Florida studio in 2004, Broose joined Cecropia and helped create a unique hand-animated video game called The Act. He currently works for a company that is producing a series of books and DVDs to teach English to children in Japan.

Broose was kind enough to allow me to interview him about his career, the future of animation, and much more. Hope you enjoy it!

Interview with Broose Johnson – Part 1 (mp3): Broose introduces himself, explains how he got interested in animation, and gives an overview of his time at Disney. He also shares his thoughts on the closing of the Florida studio.

Interview with Broose Johnson – Part 2 (mp3): Broose talks about transitioning from movies to working for a video game company, explains the challenges of freelancing (and the benefits of his current gig), describes how being a Christian has affected his work as an animator, ponders animation’s future, and gives advice to aspiring animators.

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2 thoughts on “Interview with Animator Broose Johnson

  1. Excellent interview, and I can’t draw to save my life. Well worth the time to listen. The only addendum I would’ve made involved Broose addressing some of the rumors of animators inserting non-family-friendly easter eggs into Disney films. Those urban legends have been circulating for a long time, and it would’ve been nice to hear them squashed for good by someone who was there.

  2. Loren, I received the following response from Broose:

    HAH! Okay… so here’s the skinny about that (as far as I know – or was ever aware of at the time).

    What makes this a difficult and confusing problem to answer is this: Disney DOES sometimes hides things in their movies – however, they aren’t what you think. There ARE, in fact, two occasions where an artist/director might hide (or try to hide) something in an animated movie.

    1) As a ‘wink’ or a ‘nod’ to the audience.
    Usually fairly inconspicuous – for the audience to notice, most likely on a repeat viewing. These are done by the studio ON PURPOSE or with the Studio’s ‘consent’ (meaning that they are aware of it and just left it in).

    For example, In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, after Quasi’s big show-stopping song in the towers of the cathedral, the camera pans through the city for the purpose of introducing Captain Pheobus. While the camera is moving, Belle from Beauty and the Beast can be seen in the bottom right of your screen, coming out of a bookshop.

    In Aladdin, as the Sultan is creating a tower of animal figures The Beast, as well as a Frisbee dog, can be seen among the animals.

    In the Mickey Mouse version of The Prince and the Pauper, a sword is knocked from Donald Duck’s hand… and sticks into a caricatured portrait of then President of Animation, Peter Schneider.

    Pixar has ‘hidden’ the Pizza Planet delivery truck in every one of its pictures.

    Okay, these are just a few small examples of the film makers giving a ‘wink’ or a ‘nod’ to it’s very observant audience (I know that there are quite a few more, but I can’t remember them off-hand).

    2) As a ‘wink’ or a ‘nod’ (or outright laughter) from the artist’s colleagues.
    Once a week we would all get together and watch the scenes that had been created that week. These were called ‘Dailies’ (because, in the early days, they were every day), and we would all sit in dead silence and watch what our buddies had done, and see how the picture was shaping up. Well… what an audience! Many of us couldn’t resist a chance to crack each other up, so – every once in a while – someone would do something to their scenes to bust up the place. One of the ones I remember most clearly was of an Ariel scene by Shawn Keller. Remember the scene in The Little Mermaid where the sisters are all performing in a big show – a show that’s supposed to be the ‘introduction’ of young Ariel to ‘merpeople society’? Well, Who Framed Roger Rabbit was still a big deal at the time so, as the huge clam is opening up and the sisters are preparing to sing Ariel’s name, who should pop out instead but Roger Rabbit fluttering his eyes and looking very coy. It was quite funny and the silent room erupted! Later, Shawn received his typical list of notes from the directors about tweaks to the scene and simply listed there was, ‘Lose the rabbit’.

    The same thing happened in the ‘olden days’ as well. There was the example passed down through the ranks that one animator once handed in a scene of Pluto that was, well… anatomically correct. He wanted to see how far down the chain of departments it would go before somebody noticed it and, uh… modified poor Pluto. Also, in a scene from Pinocchio, the Little Wooden Head and Jiminy Cricket are escaping Pleasure Island – and an effects animator thought it would be fun to have them being trailed by machine gun fire bouncing off the rocks around them.

    My friend Russ Edmonds did a fun little piece of animation where Rafiki goes to present baby Simba to the animals below… and accidently drops him of the cliff. Very funny!

    So, those are the two kinds of hidden ‘Easter Egg-y’ kinda stuff that I was ever aware of. On purpose, with the Studio’s knowledge – and For his/her fellow artist’s enjoyment. Pretty boring actually…. and here’s why: Animation is extremely difficult and time consuming. Usually you are doing everything within your power just to get your work finished on time. Frankly, having the time and energy to animate a joke as well would be pretty overwhelming. Actually, I animated the scene in Aladdin where the Genie creates a big tornado that sucks up everything he had created during the song “Never Had a Friend Like Me’ and I had every intention of adding The Beast (the character I had worked on in the previous film) to the swirling masses being pulled back into the lamp. Of course in a scene like this you never would have been able to see him without going frame by frame… but that would have been part of the fun! However, when the time finally came, there was just no possible way for me to get him in. With all that was going on in that scene, I was lucky to get it done in time at all – and that’s usually the case with all the artists – they love a good joke, but don’t have the time. As for the jokes that are done for each other – it’s simple… we expect them to be taken out. Either by us or by someone down the line somewhere.

    “Fine”, you say, “What do you say about the stuff that HAS gotten through? – for example:”

    “…The Priest’s suspicious looking bulge in The Little Mermaid?” – If you will fast-forward just a couple of scenes or so you’ll see that it’s merely an unfortunate combination of an odd camera angle and an oddly designed knee. I know Tom Sito, the guy who animated that scene, and I can tell you he has no interest in ‘derailing’ his work by sneaking something inappropriate like that into a scene.

    “…Aladdin on the balcony saying, ‘All good teenagers take off their clothes’?” – This is just an odd line, “Take off and go!”, and a low audio mix. I also know Aladdin directors, Ron Clements and John Musker personally, and they are a couple of family men who haven’t got a subversive bone in their bodies. Besides – what would be the point? Why would they want to throw something like that in the middle of their movie? PLUS – what kind of sentence is, “All good teenagers take off their clothes” anyway? These are intelligent men… and that is the most coherent sentence they could come up with? And… do you realize how many people would have to go along with it to make it through all of the various departments and into the picture? Hundreds! Please, the whole thing is silly.

    “…How about S-E-X in Simba’s kicked-up dust in The Lion King?” As far as I know, this is the only one that may be somewhat true. Even for us ‘in the building’ at the time it was hard to get a clear picture of what happened. For what we know, the effects animator was bored and thought it would be clever to have the dust spell out S-F-X which is the abbreviation/nickname of his department, Special Effects. The problem is that he/she made it too clear and it looks too much like S-E-X. I know that’s the same answer that you’ve probably heard and it seems far-fetched, but I lean towards believing it. Like I said, this job is really hard, and animating effects (fire, smoke, water, shadows, etc.) can be downright mind numbing. Adding a bit of levity in the scene would help to ease the tedium. I don’t believe it was ‘malicious’. If he had put S-E-X in there on purpose – there are clear records of who animated what. He would have known that, if it was noticed, it would be a piece of cake to find out who’s responsible and that he could most likely lose his job. That’s why I tend to think that it was a little inside joke that went wrong.

    I never did hear who it was that did it, but I’ve had my suspicions. However, we did hear that the person did not lose their job.

    My final thought is this: When we’ve been accused of sneaking ‘harmful’ material into our movies I always wonder what they think we would gain by tainting our own product? We love these movies like or own children – the idea of sneaking something malicious into one of them makes as much sense as dressing your kids for church and putting them in t-shirts with foul language on them.

    I have been in a lot of ‘high-level’ meetings over the years and I NEVER heard anything remotely associated with sneaking stuff like this into a film. I’ve never heard, “So, what are we doing in this sequence to subvert the children of America?”

    However, I heard hundreds of times, “How do we make this movie better?”

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