Jules Engel, a man who was and still is very influential in the animation world, created an array of things from paintings to experimental animation films. From Disney, to the UPA, Jules Engel was involved with a variety of studios. Engel worked in many styles beyond just the abstract but most of his work had at least one thing in common. The smooth, graceful lines that danced across the page.
Engel was born in Budapest in 1909 but he actually grew up in outside of Chicago. He later moved to Los Angele. Originally, Engel had planned on gaining an athletic scholarship to UCLA but instead held dual careers as an abstract artist and an experimental filmmaker. Eventually he moved to Hollywood to complete his education at Chouinard Art Institute. He went on to become an animator and layout artist for Charles Mintz. His ability as a animator, painter and sculptor all helped to boost Jules Engel to receive a job with Disney.
While working with Disney, Jules Engel helped to create scenes for Fantasia and Bambi. For Fantasia, Jules Engel helped to select the choreography, specifically for the Russian Sprite and Chinese Dance sequences. The timing of the figures with the music allow them to glide across the screen gracefully. The contrast between the dark and light colors in the Russian Sprite sequence emphasizes Engel’s knowledge on not just choreography but also art in general. Engel’s growing knowledge of choreography had helped land him the job of helping to create said sequences. He continues to use choreography as a part of his art, visually as opposed to using music to begin with. For Bambi, Engel’s talent with colors was called for. He also helped with the timing when Bambi meets Faline. Engel’s work with Disney stopped with the Disney’s animator strike unfortunately, although he went on with other animators to create the UPA.
One such artist was Bobe Cannon; Canon and Engel worked with others in the UPA to create such cartoons as “Gerald Mcboing Boing” and “Mr.Magoo”. These cartoon were created in a minimalistic animated style as opposed to Disney’s style that included complex backgrounds, coloring and characters. Instead, cycles were combined with limited animation; for example, the doctor in “Gerald Mcboing Boing” has a body that does not move whereas his hands and legs do. This style of animating cut down on money. The characters and settings are also essentially black outlines with few colors. Engel’s career did not just stop with studios or companies though; he went on to be the founder of a program at the California Institute of Arts.
Engel mentored students for around thirty years as the Founding Director of the Experimental Animation Department. As a teacher, he was influential for his students. He was able to take a step back and allow his students breathing room to explore their ideas and experiments. Some of his students went on to create well-known shows or to assist with various movies and projects of others. To name a few, Adam Becket was the optical effects artist for Star Wars, Henry Selick directed The Nightmare Before Christmas, Mark Kirkland as the director of The Simpsons, and Ellen Woodbury as a lead animator for The Lion King.
One thing that allowed Engel to be such a great teacher was his own experience with experimental animation. It is apparent in Engel’s work that choreography was a major inspiration for him. He created art with motion, something he identified as not being visual music. The art was not created to go with the music. Rather, it was the other way around. That is why Jules Engel’s work has a looser relationship with the music. For example, in Villa Rospigliosi, created in 1988, has many different shapes and lines that move fluidly through the scene, accented by the music. Even the flying doves are enhanced by the music. In other words, the music is working for the animator and not the other way around.
In my own animation that Villa Rospigliosi is my inspiration. I attempted to mimic Jules Engel’s style but through purely cut outs and one hand drawn piece. I feel that my animation is too choppy in comparison to his. However, the music I selected has a similar relationship to my animation that Engel’s had. The difference being the music is not from someone I hired. Engel’s music is perhaps tighter to his animation than mine is.
Jules Engel is a pioneer of the animation world. With experimental animation, through the use of choreography and other fine art skills, he has influenced many well known animators and artists today.
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