Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Ken Southworth 1918-2007♦

I found out today that my friend Ken Southworth passed away, so I immediately passed the news along to some of my friends in the animation community. Jerry has graciously shared my message on Cartoon Brew.

I thought I would post a few details on how I got to know Ken over the years. I first got to know who Ken was through his work, unknowingly by seeing films that he worked on, such as Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, etc...and then more intimately while I was working as an animator with Steve Stanchfield in 1997. We were working on a CD-rom title called Tonka Garage, and Steve told me he got an animation veteran named Ken Southworth to key out a scene for us, which I would be cleaning up and in-betweening. When Steve told me who he was, I was blown away that I would get to work with someone with that kind of experience on my first job!

Later in Spring 1998, we traveled to Los Angeles for the World Animation Celebration and made some time to visit him and his wife Carol at their home in Anaheim. Unfortunately, we didn't get to stay long because he arrived much later than we said we would, after driving around to pick up some other friends of ours who wanted to meet him! He was a bit disappointed that he only had about 20 minutes to spare with us, as he had to leave to pick up his daughter soon. But nevertheless, we got to have a nice visit and see the miniature train set that travelled around his swimming pool!

The following summer while I was studying at VanArts, I found the ironic twist of fate that Ken would be coming there as a guest instructor for the summer program, which I was also assistant-teaching. So it was great to see him again and spend more time with him.

(Ken & Ken, summer 1999)
In 2002, Janet & I went on our belated honeymoon to Arizona and Disneyland. We both paid Ken & Carol a visit and had a lovely dinner with them. Ken showed us his train again and played piano for us. Ken came to VanArts for a couple of summers afterwards, until recent years when his health made it too difficult.

My favorite quote from him was his description of what an animator is: "one-third artist, one-third actor, and one-third engineer." I use this description often to my students and find again & again that it rings true. I feel blessed to have known Ken and to have heard stories of his experience in animation. I deeply regret that I didn't try harder to keep in better touch with him for the past year or so. I need to remember to nurture the relationships I have with these animation legends.

Here is another link to my page about Ken featured on my old abandoned animation history website.

I'm proud to present here my collection of mementos from knowing and working with Ken Southworth over the years.

These are key drawings he did for Hasbro Interactive's Tonka Garage title, produced by Media Station in Ann Arbor, MI in 1997. Part of my job was to clean-up these keys and in-between them. Ken had a very methodical way of planning out his animation due to his many years organizing limited animation at Hanna-Barbera, and he really seemed to like 'stagger' movements.

I think this is one of my clean-ups for a key pose by Ken...I like the 'Scooby-Doo' quality in the design and posing.

For helping him teach his first summer course at VanArts, Ken gave me a copy of this classic book which had served as a guide for the early animators at Disney and other studios in the 1920s-30s. It was sort-of the preamble "Animation Bible" before the Preston Blair book came along. This is one of my prized possessions, even more so now.

In those days I was toying with using my middle name 'Ambrose' as a stage name, but it didn't really stick.

A few years later, on another visit to VanArts, he drew this for my wife, who was also a student there.

I also asked him to autograph my copy of this rare Disney book I had picked up at a used book store (Powell's in Portland, I think!)

(The same page is also autographed by Disney veteran Bill Matthews, so it's pretty special to me.)

Ken faxed over to us folks in the 2D animation department of VanArts these notes and photocopies of Mickey Mouse drawings, pointing out they were drawn by Freddie Moore and making reference to the fact that he had succeeded in drawing Mickey's ears more natural instead of round, apparently "behind Walt's back."

One year while tending to students in the classroom, Ken sketched out an animation scene, either for demonstration purposes or just for fun. He left the drawings behind so I kept them. These are just a few key poses and notes, followed by the resulting animation pencil test which I shot to the best of my ability based on his notes and timing chart.

Thanks Ken!


Chris Sobieniak said...

I got sad after finding out myself today (after having to think about my mother's passing earlier in the week). Being reminded of noticing he worked on He-Man (having been glued to the set seeing that show constantly 25 years ago) as well as "The Book of Virtues" on PBS (one of the few animated stuff I could watch on PBS without feeling sick over it). I'm still rather bad I never got around to buying those tapes that Ray offered years ago, and feel rather too interesting in asking for DVD-R copies if it came to that!

Incidentally, did you get that "It's Tough To Be A Bird" from me (noticed someone posted "Daddy, Can I Borrow The Car" for over a year on YouTube and just had to remind myself of this)? :-)

Anonymous said...

I saw this over on Cartoon Brew and commented. I met Ken at the 1998 Animation Celebration and he was a swell guy. I got his training tapes and had since lost them - do you know where I cold buy them?

G-man said...

Bob, I believe you can get them from ebay.