Google & Glen Keane - a Duet For the Ages
July 4, 2014 9:02 PM   Subscribe

In March 2012, legendary animator Glen Keane sent out a letter to his colleagues at Walt Disney Animation Studios that outlined his resignation from the House of Mouse, where he'd worked for over 38 years on beloved Disney characters like Ariel, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Tarzan, and the Beast. His departure left many Disney fans wondering what was going to happen to the great master, whom many believe is one of the greatest character animators alive today, and for a while it seemed that his retirement might be permanent. Last week, however, Keane debuted his first hand-drawn animated short, Duet, which he produced with Google's Advanced Technology and Projects group in San Francisco. As you might expect, it's an absolutely breathtaking artistic and technical achievement. And it hasn't even been released in its final interactive mobile format yet.

The short was revealed at Google’s I/O conference for developers, mostly because it will be installed on select Android devices as the third installment in Google’s innovative Spotlight Stories campaign. Each Spotlight Story is an interactive film that uses the device’s gyroscope and accelerometer to create interactive narrative experiences, allowing the viewer to “pan” around a virtual set as the movie plays out. (via and Cartoon Brew)

Reviews have been mostly positive, though a very interesting discussion about the gender norms portrayed is going on over in the comments section at the Observation Deck on io9.


Need more Glen Keane? Check out these great galleries by Keane fans (and gain access to some of the sublime art his daughter Claire does, too).

KeaneArt (Tumblr)
The Art of Glen Keane (Tumblr)
Glen Keane Gallery (Pinterest)
posted by Hermione Granger (53 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
One thing I thought that was really neat with all this was to see how certain Disney characters' mannerisms show up in the short. I personally thought I saw glimpses of Tarzan, Rapunzel, and Aladdin. Very lovely and expressive.

also the first time I tried to post this my browser closed and I lost all the links I'd collected and I'm pretty sure the sound I made as a result freaked my neighbor lady out as she opened her window for some fresh air
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:06 PM on July 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

I kinda like how she brings his mouth to hers for the payoff.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:10 PM on July 4, 2014

Thanks, HG. This roomful of kids thought it was awesome.
posted by BinGregory at 9:57 PM on July 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Saved you a Click: The "very interesting discussion" is one person in the comments going "FAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAART" and a handful of folks rising to the bait.
posted by jscott at 11:24 PM on July 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Well it's not quite that bad, but..

The animation is absolutely beautiful. Really, really masterful.

But the story is thin and saccharine and the music made me angry. Like, stabby angry.

Given the context of how it will ultimately be consumed (with someone frantically spinning around with their phone like an idiot as they try to watch the whole thing) I don't expect there to be much happening, and it may work better that way.

You might want to mute your phone though.
posted by louche mustachio at 12:21 AM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Really? I thought the music was the best thing about it.
posted by empath at 12:39 AM on July 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also, it's not really clear from the post, but a couple of things:

1) This is actually meant to be viewed on a phone, and you actually track the action as it moves around you by moving the phone. That version of it is coming out later this year.

2) It's only going to be on android.
posted by empath at 12:44 AM on July 5, 2014

But the story is thin and saccharine and the music made me angry. Like, stabby angry.

Sometimes, stories should be thin and music should be saccharine. Sometimes thin and saccharine is just right.

Also, can someone get louche some pot or something?
posted by zardoz at 1:21 AM on July 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I loved every bit of this. Every squiggly little bit. Thank you for sharing it with us.
posted by disclaimer at 1:44 AM on July 5, 2014

Also, can someone get louche some pot or something?

It won't make me like the music any more.

Believe me. I know.
posted by louche mustachio at 2:09 AM on July 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

The son of cartoonist Bil Keane, creator of the The Family Circus... (Glen's younger self is represented in his father's comic strip as the character of "Billy").
posted by fairmettle at 2:27 AM on July 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

One of the greatest things about growing up in our time is that, as the old ways of doing things fray and come apart with computers, I get to watch the people behind the masterpieces and systems that shaped me come out from behind their art and expose their humanity. I know this is a process that every generation goes through, but today I think this happens on such a scale that for the majority of humanity, it's impossible to idolize without humanizing anymore. I can't look at anything anymore without thinking "someone did that, and I should look for the making-of video". I don't know if this is the future, or just a unique moment in history, but it's something I really enjoy about being alive today.
posted by saysthis at 2:41 AM on July 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

The son of cartoonist Bil Keane, creator of the The Family Circus... (Glen's younger self is represented in his father's comic strip as the character of "Billy").

You'll know where you're at on the interactive version by following the dotted line.
posted by hal9k at 2:47 AM on July 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

So boy and girl meet and boy runs in the opposite direction to climb a tree?

Yeah, they need to work on the story a bit more.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:07 AM on July 5, 2014

I'm with you on this one, louche. Did not like the music. Also, I found myself going "aw, heck, does he HAVE to make the girl a damned ballerina?" The boy and girl kinda felt like 50s throwbacks.

The animation itself was lovely but this reminded me of "Bunny," a short by an old classmate which set him up for the Ice Age franchise. It won an Oscar for effects but my elderly mother and I found the plot horrifying.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:24 AM on July 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Jesus that was horrible. Truely awful schlock.... kitschy, schmaltzy, overbearing music and innocuous nostalgia.

make's me want to vomit over small children
posted by mary8nne at 5:26 AM on July 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

Interesting. What I've come to think of as Disney (Ariel, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Tarzan, and the Beast.) is actually Keane, based on this animation style. Or perhaps someone who understands the medium better can explain if this is his unique style, or if there is a house style that he's particularly the master of?
posted by cell divide at 5:34 AM on July 5, 2014

I knew I shouldn't have watched that. That 90s Disney style gives me the rage. Dude can draw for sure, and there are some cute moments, but that thing ain't for me.
posted by threecheesetrees at 6:00 AM on July 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I really liked this and am surprised to see all the negative reactions. Yes, the heteronormativity and gender stereotypes are a bit backwards, but the animation and music are beautiful.
posted by Librarypt at 6:20 AM on July 5, 2014

So boy and girl meet and boy runs in the opposite direction to climb a tree?

In the interactive version, I think you have to choose which to follow.
posted by empath at 6:22 AM on July 5, 2014

Can I follow the dog?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:23 AM on July 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

My overwhelming concern was that the dog was going to age and die as part of the story. More coffee.
posted by korej at 6:24 AM on July 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

How come the dog doesn't find love (and sex)?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:29 AM on July 5, 2014

Yeah that duet was a trio (Team The Dog).
posted by penduluum at 6:36 AM on July 5, 2014

Man, I remember before the days of ubiquitous everything being on the internet, those thick stacks of photocopied Glen Keane pencil tests being passed around animation schools and studios like samizdat (I still have them!). It was a complete revelation.

> Or perhaps someone who understands the medium better can explain if this is his unique style, or if there is a house style that he's particularly the master of?

In a sense it's straight-up mastery of classical animation as it was worked out in Disney in the '30s and '40s, but it's hard to overestimate the impact Keane had on the generation of animators that came up in the '90s. Partly because of his technique and partly because he's such a great and generous teacher (never worked with him myself, sadly, but worked with people who have, and in turn taught me).

The main thing is his emphasis on the rough pass and on expressivity-- if you look at his pencil tests, they're an instinctive swirl of movement, drawing with a super-thick grease pencil and flipping the pages constantly. Mainstream animation before Keane had become an ossified, stiff thing (speaking specifically about the drawing and animation itself), partly because most people were training for television and partly because they were mostly learning by copying model sheets, this being the only way most people knew to learn.

Allowing yourself to just feel the motion in an abstract way, and putting the primacy on performance and feeling over model, that lifted everyone's work, even if they didn't follow his particular style. It was incredibly liberating. I remember coming to my desk as a student, and after wrestling in misery trying to get 'nice' drawings, flipping one of his photocopied Mermaid sequences, and just letting myself tear away and go nuts and just feel the action. You can actually see that breath of fresh air sweep in in the last section of Fox and the Hound-- he basically re-storyboarded the whole scene, and suddenly after all these static stiff shots and careful drawing there's an explosion of movement and sensation and the camera's moving and WOW!

I mean, okay, his sensibilities are very very middle America. But that's who he is. He's been such a tremendous asset and teacher to the whole artform, and given a lot of people the tools to express who they are. I've never in my life heard anything but love for the guy from anyone.

Here's a great little 15-minute docco on character animation, with Glenn Keane, and also Joanna Quinn who also brought this sweeping feeling of motion and draftsmanship a bit later on, though as an independent artist.

Anyone curious about how this process actually works, Glen Keane lectures on animating getting up from a chair.
posted by Erasmouse at 6:55 AM on July 5, 2014 [19 favorites]

What a sad story. Clearly the girl contracts a wasting disease with the onset of puberty and as she fades away she is left with nothing but her childhood dreams of becoming a ballerina and marrying some beefcake she just met.
posted by annekate at 6:57 AM on July 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

2) It's only going to be on android.

It's too bad nobody is going to see it.
posted by entropicamericana at 6:59 AM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

As I was watching this, I kept thinking about something I've always found fascinating about love--that we grow up and are these independent people on our own trajectories, and then at some point we join trajectories with someone, for a little while or a long while. I thought this 'illustrated' that quite well.

(And a small rant about hate-hate-hating: At some point you take what you can and leave what you don't want. In my life, cynicism served no purpose but to kill all my impulses for creativity while giving me a hollow, barely sustainable sense of superiority. It stopped my ability to thrive dead in its tracks. I KNOW this thing is schmaltzy, but there is a place for schmaltz in this world. There is something so liberating about choosing to look at the flaws of something, acknowledge them, and then find what is valuable there. There is always SOMETHING that you can take away, or learn. Baby, bathwater, all that.)
posted by whimsicalnymph at 7:20 AM on July 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

That's a fantastic set of context comments, Erasmouse. Thank you.

What I like about this is Keane represents a very old school of animation production, actually drawing stuff frame by frame, and he's a master at it. And so Google works with him to take that dying analog technique and then re-animate it, put it in a digital interactive on a mobile phone. It's provocative and interesting and I'd love to see the final piece.

Yeah, the story in the short is schlocky, but it's just a foil. Really this is animation masterwork on display, a bunch of insane motion and fluidity that no mo-cap system could ever produce. Keane is showing off. When the master shows off you applaud.
posted by Nelson at 9:01 AM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a total nut about Glen Keane's work, his approach, his draftsmanship and the unique heft that his work has always had.

But I hated this too. I'm just sick of this aesthetic. I'm sick of the emptiness of the work that seems to be coming out of the most talented people in the medium. Is there some reason that an artist like Keane and his proteges (he has many) can't delve into anything, I guess? Once you're a master of the medium, you're supposed to create something worthy of your talents.

One potential factor is that Keane, like his father, is a pretty devout Christian. There's a (I don't know if this is quite the right term, I apologize) subculture of born-again Christians and conservative Mormons in the animation industry these days. I think that has a result of sanitizing and even censoring what is considered acceptable expression. The kitschiest, sappiest stuff is endlessly retreaded. Even old-school Disney was never this tame! There's no satire, nothing with a devilish sense of humor like what produced some of the characters that Disney fans love.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 9:06 AM on July 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

I wouldn't dismiss this work as bloodless. It seemed fairly erotic to me, the focus on the girl's buttocks and the boy's chest and shoulders. I don't mean porny, but it seemed like a fairly joyful representation of the beauty of youth.
posted by Nelson at 10:01 AM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't get it. I know it's tedious to be the hurf durf naysayer of charming things. I just...

Okay, so it almost had something. At the beginning I started to see this idea, of two people separately exploring the world and developing their passions (and okay, the girl's passion is wearing pink and being a ballerina, and the boy likes playing with his dog and exploring nature, seriously? Ugh, fine.) They'd see each other in passing, not paying attention because they were consumed with their passions, and only later would get together and we'd understand that it was by separately following their own paths that they became wonderfully compatible, and that sitting around waiting for someone to complete you is silly. I was waiting for this story. This story could be interesting, maybe.

But, nope. Actually it's just about two pretty people kissing. When did they get together? I dunno. I mean, he helped her up in a park once? So they're together now? Who knows. I think they're together because they're both hot. I barely even care.

Paperman was also a retro boy-meets-girl, and it was a lot better than this.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:13 AM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Its a tech-demo of creating a traditionally animated scene in a virtual space. Could they have made a better story? Sure, but that wasn't the point.
posted by empath at 10:24 AM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Criticism isn't merely hate or cynicism. I didn't watch it just so i could "hate-hate-hate" it.

I watched it because I know who Glen Keane is and I know his work and his reputation, and was hoping to be very much swept away by his virtuosity. And I was - to a point.

This is why I found it frustrating, and why I was so irritated by the score in particular; if there had been something more bracing as a counterpoint, it might have added some tension, something to attach an emotion to instead of "LOOK THIS IS SO UPLIFTING YOU WILL BE UPLIFTED NOW."

I appreciated Erasmouse's comment, and the documentary on character animation (which is very good) but now I am comparing Glen Keane with Joanna Quinn, and wondering what Quinn would have done with the interactive rotating phone concept - one of the hallmarks of her work are these very distinctive, dynamic POV shots, which would be aces in this application.
posted by louche mustachio at 10:26 AM on July 5, 2014

Its a tech-demo of creating a traditionally animated scene in a virtual space. Could they have made a better story? Sure, but that wasn't the point.

What do you have against dogs finding love?!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:28 AM on July 5, 2014

Fellow liberals:

Displaying a bizarre knee-jerk reaction to perfectly decent and normal things and sneering that they are "heteronormative," as if their wholesome facade masks some sort of malice or moral failure, makes us all sound like a bunch of paranoid idiots. I'm sorry that this isn't about two boys kissing and falling in love. If it was, i'd still like it. It'd be more brave, more contrarian, whatever. And you'd be screaming at the top of your lungs how this was the greatest thing ever and anyone who didn't like it was evil. But it isn't. Artists make the shit they like, deal with it.

-goes and makes a totally bourgeois and non-cisgendered Ruben sandwich for dinner-
posted by ELF Radio at 10:33 AM on July 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

non-cisgendered Ruben sandwich
posted by jscott at 10:50 AM on July 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

While googlin' around on the geeky topic of his preferred pencil, I stumbled across these Keane illustrations of women with bones and muscle. It's interesting to see how intentional his stylization is.

Duet got dust in my eyes, but I was groaning inside all the while.. I don't see malice, but I do see a failure to create work without character traits that relate to my world in the slightest, and an almost willful ignorance of contemporary success in moving beyond archetype and fairy tale.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 10:50 AM on July 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

non-cisgendered Ruben sandwich

*goes to profile; changes gender*
posted by louche mustachio at 11:02 AM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Right there with ya, my golden toasted sista.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:04 AM on July 5, 2014

I, for one, will no longer be constrained by society's retrograde notions of heterosaurkrautivity.
posted by louche mustachio at 11:21 AM on July 5, 2014

posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:23 AM on July 5, 2014

I was going to say a lot of what Erasmouse said, from a position of significantly less authority, just a lot of interested research into the nature of animation, which is high black magic to me. You take a simple trick (show a lot of drawings/pictures fast and they appear to move) and a whole other range of craft takes over. A few people just seem to have this knack that's far beyond others, and the history of a lot of industrial process of animation is to beat things back so that a larger set of people can do "the work" and while you lose all the skills and breathtaking moments possible in animation, "the product" ships on time.

I kickstarted and was able to see the rough cut of a documentary on the making of The Thief and the Cobbler called Persistence of Vision and one of the sequences which I hope made it into the final is some of the real giants of the 40s-50s in animation giving salon classes at Richard Wiliams' studio in the 1970s. This was something (the film says) that Williams really pushed for, this passing of knowledge to next generations, and which comes off as one of the true accomplishments of his studio.

Without a doubt, you can see Keane's influence throughout the movies he was part of, partially because he's one of these craftspeople, and Disney has always been very big on shared talents among the animators.
posted by jscott at 12:22 PM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Regarding all the resulting harbingle regarding the "story"....'s quite obvious this is a tech demo first and an animated work second. It strikes of such incredible, deep plot epics as "Andre and Wally B", "Luxo, Jr.", and "Unreal Engine 4 Gameplay Video".

The thing to be excited about by all the "OH BARF THE GIRL IS A BALLERINA" people is that as this technology and toolset filters down over time, people with very, very small (relatively) potential audiences for their work can make pretty amazing stuff that previously would require a studio and prostrating themselves in front of management for years on end. Gone Home is a good example off the top of my head.

Disney (and Keane has been steeped in Disney for decades) did not get where it was by being edgy. Edgy wasn't ever in the playbook. Sometimes people snuck in edginess, but that's what they've always been - safe and enjoyable and something you can leave with your kids and walk away from and not get surprised. I am, therefore, unsurprised the story of Duet is similar.
posted by jscott at 12:42 PM on July 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Haters gonna hate. It's best to judge art on what it is, not on what it is not.
posted by zardoz at 1:57 PM on July 5, 2014

Keane was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of cartoonist Bil Keane, creator of the The Family Circus, and Australian-born Thelma "Thel" Carne Keane.

Cool. Them big eyes on the characters put me in mind of Walter and Margaret Keane.
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 2:57 PM on July 5, 2014

Thank you so much for sharing that extra info, erasmouse!
posted by Hermione Granger at 4:23 PM on July 5, 2014

You don't want the story to be distracting from the virtuosity of the actual art here ( and this is why bland and nonedgy makes sense here.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:45 PM on July 5, 2014's quite obvious this is a tech demo first and an animated work second.

I appreciate it as a demonstration of what technology can do, but if the animation is not the thing, then why commission one of the most highly regarded animators in the world for the work?

I'm not asking that a tech demo, or even a short of this length, be a grand and sweeping epic, but I want to be drawn in and intrigued. If I am to follow a character, which is what I would be doing were this delivered to my device, I want a reason to do so.

As it is, I am quite certain that these two perfect blonde babies will become two perfect blonde children and do perfect blonde things and become perfect blonde adolescents with no zits and then they will be perfect blonde adults who will kiss perfectly and fall perfectly in love and live perfectly ever after with their mysteriously immortal dog. There is zero chance that it will turn out any other way.

It's a bit like the uncanny valley; if a character is too superficially perfect, he or she triggers an automatic sense of distrust or unease. Contrary to popular belief, it's not merely a case of haterade being chiefly comprised of damn you jealous - it is very difficult to believe a character that hews so closely to the ideal of the slender beautiful athletic blonde, who never encounters adversity beyond a little stumble, is fully human, no matter how masterfully their every motion is rendered.

It's not even a sense that something sinister is happening beneath the surface that is disturbing - malice would be interesting - it's that NOTHING is happening beneath the surface, just a ...void. There is no tension, no mystery, nothing to connect with.

And a lot of people will like it, and obviously do. A lot of people will find it comforting. Hopefully they will take note of the animation, because it's incredible. Hopefully this paves the way for more interesting works, which Keane would be the first person to encourage, I am sure, and that is good.

But no piece is beyond critique, and the continued refrain about philistines and haters is insulting. I'm not an expert, nor am I part of the industry, but animation is a subject about which I am passionate . I have a great deal of respect for Keane and his work. I fully understand the context in which the piece is meant to be viewed. I didn't just come here to shit on something "nice" because of cynicism or some kind of paranoid straw feminist anti-ballerina agenda.

I was disappointed, and I put a lot of thought, probably too much thought, into why - much more so than if I had enjoyed it. My reasons for disliking it are reasonable and valid and I will not be dismissed.
posted by louche mustachio at 6:36 PM on July 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

So, as is my wont, I read the comments here first. Then I watched the video. I actually liked it (for the most part). The animation was exquisite! I loved the sense of bodies in motion and the sense of two separate lives in trajectory. The music didn't bother me too much. But. But...

I kind of agree with Solon and louche here. I mean, putting asides the fact that they're both white and blond... he's a rock climber and she's a ballerina!? I know it's only a tech-demo/short, but there's something so depressingly reactionary about the gender roles in this. (He's an astronaut and she's a nurse! He's a brave surgeon and she's a florist! He's a lumberjack and she's a fashion designer!) If Keane had made her a hip-hop dancer, that would have been an interesting twist, but I suppose that couldn't happen because it's not white enough.

As Jack Karaoke said, it was so beautifully done, but there was absolutely nothing in it that related to my world-- indeed, it seemed to have a willful ignorance of anything remotely contemporary. I'm not looking for edgy here, just some acknowledgement of the world as it exists.

It doesn't surprise me, really, to find out that Keane is a conservative Christian. I went to art school with a lot of guys like that, and it seemed that they never wanted to really involve themselves in the actual world-- they wanted to hide, I think, in an idealized, sanitized version of the world scrubbed free of color and texture.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 12:13 AM on July 6, 2014

.I was disappointed, and I put a lot of thought, probably too much thought, into why - much more so than if I had enjoyed it. My reasons for disliking it are reasonable and valid and I will not be dismissed.

Fight the power.

I'm done with the thread.
posted by jscott at 1:07 AM on July 6, 2014

Me too.

posted by louche mustachio at 1:18 AM on July 6, 2014

I'm an ex-animator. I just sat back and watched the beautiful, flowing motion. The narrative was maudlin as hell, but whatever. It made my eyes happy to watch these shapes flow and change, even if it made it pretty clear that Keane's strengths as a creator are not in story.

There's a lot of freaks and weirdos in animation, and there's a lot of kids from Middle America who were dragged out to the West Coast by the power of their passion for making things to move. There are masters of the craft from both sides of that political divide.

I mean, my roomie in animation school was from rural Pennsylvania. I'm not sure he'd ever even seen anyone who wasn't white before he moved to LA. I ended up being a queer transwoman. We are still friends; we bonded over our shared love of cartoons, video games, and TMBG. I dunno who he votes for in elections and I'll probably never ask.
posted by egypturnash at 1:12 PM on July 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

« Older Eichler, Cliff May and the invention of the...   |   Knit me a nest Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments