Sunday, January 10, 2016
In April of 2015 there was a reunion for the former Florida artists of Walt Disney Feature Animation. The reunion was held in an Elk Lodge down in Kissimmee. The Orlando, Florida based animation studio closed on Monday, January 12, 2004, putting approximately 250 artists, technicians and other personnel out of work. This followed the cancellation of the feature, A Few Good Ghosts, which was being developed by the studio. Artists scattered to the wind but many, myself included, stayed since Orlando had become home.
At Disney I got to work side by side with many of the best artists in the world. The reunion was an incredible experience because so many of these artists had re-invented themselves. Aaron Blaise who co-directed Brother Bear, had worked on a digital feature film about elephants, but that studio closed down as well before the film was completed. He has since moved back to Central Florida and now instructs Creature Teacher courses online. I've looked at several of his instructional videos and always pick up something new. He also had a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise money for another animated feature film called Art Story.
Christine Lawrence Finney, who had been the head of the clean-up animation department at the studio, gave me a warm hug and smiled as she said "I thought you would have changed the world by now." She had an amazing gift for making people around her want to live up to their full potential. Her eternal smile reminded me of all the things the were great about working at Disney Feature Animation, a sense of family, friends and pride in making some amazing films.
On a table in the front of the room were seven photos of Disney artists who had passed away. One was Kevin Proctor who had been in my intern group when we first started at the studio. He went into the layout department which drew the backgrounds for the films. At lunch time I would often sneak in a sketch of my co-workers, and I caught a sketch of Kevin as he worked on a drawing of Lilo's kitchen for the film Lilo and Stitch. Pres Romanillos had been the lead animator for Shan Yu in Mulan. Christine was the lead of the team of clean up animation artists who created the final drawings that went up on the big screen for this character. As she said "Drawing in his shadow was one of the highlights of my Disney career! He was extraordinary!! His passion was contagious...forever an inspiration."
I danced for one song at the reunion, but spent most of my time in the back room finding out what artists were doing now as well as adding a sketch to a memorial book that was for Bob's family. Christine and her husband Trey were now accomplished plein air painters. Photos were layered thick on tables and we could dig through to find the memories of a crew of artists who took pride in their work and knew how to celebrate as well.
Bob Walker who had co-directed Brother Bear with Aaron Blaise had passed away unexpectedly just before the reunion. Aaron related a story about the day Bob had been given a computer at Disney. Bob had a large stack of papers next to the computer, and he called Aaron in to ask a question. He pointed at the stack of papers and said, " How do I get this in there?" Laura Ashborne Sacks said a few words in Bod's memory, her voice cracked as she looked back, "The goal isn't to live forever, but to create something that will. Everyone in this room should be proud of the work we created." This heart felt sentiment got me choked up as well. I will always miss the intense collaboration with incredible artists but know that those films we created will live on for generations.
That brings me to the reason I started writing this article. Christine Lawrence Finney passed away suddenly on January 5, 2016. She was just 47 years old. I honestly can't wrap my head around this. She was so vibrant at the reunion. She was such a joy to work for. Terry remembered that when we moved to Orlando, we were invited to a Disney artist party in Winter Park and to this day she remembers how warm and welcoming Christine was. Photos of Christine keep getting posted online and each heightens the loss of an incredible artist and a shining personality. On the evening after I heard the news, I had to host an event called Orlando Drink and Draw. I had more wine than I should have to numb the thoughts in the back of my mind, and on the dive home, I cried for the first time when American Pie by Don McLean played on the radio. In my inebriated state, the song encapsulated my sense of loss. "Something touched me deep inside the day the music died." I pulled off the road to sing along, calm down, and sober up. The title of this site, Analog Artist Digital World, hints at the idea that traditional hand drawn animation might die because of the advent of computer animation. Christine's death makes me feel that the magic of hand drawn animation might indeed become a lost art. She inspired so many of us to push ourselves. Perhaps creating is the only way to eventually come to terms with the loss.
Christine always paid tribute to the special people in her life, "To all my family, friends, mentors, and supporters thanks for the safety net! You teach me how to fly." She taught everyone she met how to fly as well.
Soar on. Christine.