Ralph Breaks the Internet supervising animator Mark Henn talks about universality of Disney films and more

Devki Nehra

November 21, 2018 17:10:00 IST

Disney’s Ralph Breaks the Internet, sequel to Wreck It Ralph (2012), will open in Indian theatres on 23 November. Firstpost had the opportunity to interact with the film’s 2D supervising animator, Mark Henn, who contributed to the sequence, which brought all iconic Disney princesses together at the same time. Henn spoke about the nature of his profession, the universal messages of Disney films, and his artistic influences.

For a layperson, the role of a supervising animator is fairly mysterious. In Henn’s words, they are a group of animators who work with other artists to help ensure a consistent look and style of animation throughout a film. They are often assigned specific characters but their duties can also extend to overseeing specific sequences.

Mark Henn. Disney

Mark Henn. Disney

Delivering an element of realism to the characters, giving their mannerisms a human-like quality is a craft in itself and requires a careful eye for detail. For this, animators usually have a live-action reference, which helps them form movements for particular characters or scenes.

“If you think of it, animators are more like actors. From the acting point of view, it’s our job to create a performance, find out what makes a character unique and all of that. But one of the tools that is used often for a lot of our characters, not all, but some characters is shooting a live action reference, which guides the animators to help craft their performance.”

He shared that the team devoted about four to five years on Ralph Breaks the Internet from the initial idea to completion. The process had to be stalled as directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnson were asked to come on board to help with Zootopia, which kept them occupied for almost a year or two.

This brought up the obvious question, how does one stay invested in a single film or character for years? “Every scene is unique and presents unique opportunities to create a performance with the character that they’re working on. These kinds of challenges keep animators going.”

Attached to every Disney film are bits of wisdom for the audience to take away. Whether it is the importance of friendship, inclusiveness, equality or standing up for what you believe in, the films have always had an element of universality to them.

Henn said that the stories they choose to tell onscreen are selected keeping in mind that the studio’s audience is now a global one.

He further explained that Disney does not make films targeting just the younger crowd. “We don’t just make children’s films, we make films as Walt (Disney) used to say, ‘For the child and the child in us.’ For adults and their child-like qualities.’”

Henn also shared that his favorite animated films, besides the ones he worked on, include the ones he grew up watching, like Cinderella and Peter Pan.

Talking about his influences, Henn named the ‘Nine Old Men’ (Les Clark, Mac Davis, Ollie Johnston, Milt Kahl, Ward Kimball, Eric Larson, John Lounsbery, Wolfgang Reitherman and Frank Thomas), which were the animators who worked with Walt.

Besides, the works of American illustrators from the 1800s up till the 1950s like Norman Rockwell have also impacted him. “The way they work is very similar to what an animator does except their work doesn’t move and mine does.”

Henn has previously served as supervising animator for Ariel in The Little Mermaid, Belle in Beauty and the Beast, Jasmine in Aladdin, and Young Simba in The Lion King, as well as for title characters of Mulan, Pocahontas and The Princess and the Frog.

He also has Big Hero 6 and Frozen to his credits. In 2000, he donned the director’s cap and helmed an award winning short, John Henry, based on the African-American folk legend.

Updated Date: Nov 21, 2018 17:10 PM