Home » Spotlight on Eric Goldberg: Animation Superstar & Al Hirschfeld Devotee

Spotlight on Eric Goldberg: Animation Superstar & Al Hirschfeld Devotee

If you love the Genie from the 1992 animated feature Aladdin, Phil from Hercules, Louis from The Princess and the Frog, or enjoyed 1995’s Pocahontas, you love the work of Disney animator Eric Goldberg. He co-directed Pocahontas and was responsible for some of the best character designs in the New Golden Age of Disney. The artist knew he wanted to be an animator by the age of 4, started making flip books at 6, and began making films at 13, after he got a super-8 camera for his bar mitzvah. His most important mentor was Roger Rabbit director Richard Williams, who offered him his first professional job animating on Raggedy Ann and Andy, then invited him to come to London and work at his studio. Goldberg’s diverse illustration and art training at Pratt came in handy working with Williams, whose projects required being well-versed in many artistic styles. 

Goldberg was also a fan of caricature artist Al Hirschfeld from childhood, and Hirschfeld’s influence can be seen in his art from the very beginning of his tenure at Disney. It is once again in evidence on his new Disney project, coming soon to Disney+. 

ERIC GOLDBERG GIFTS US NEW GOOFY SHORTS

Goldberg is the director of a new series of 3 HAND-DRAWN shorts releasing on DisneyPlus in August, Walt Disney Animation Studios Presents Goofy in How to Stay At Home, featuring ‘everyman’ (or should I say ‘everydog’?) Goofy in “How to Wear a Mask”, “Learning to Cook” and “Binge Watching”. Goldberg pitched the cartoons to Disney execs Jennifer Lee and Clark Spencer in the fall of 2020, and they loved the idea. While he directed all three shorts and was the supervising animator on “How to Wear a Mask”, he enlisted two other longtime colleagues in traditional animation, Mark Henn and Randy Haycock, to act as supervising animators, Henn on Binge Watching and Haycock on Learning to Cook. They’ll play on Disney+ beginning on August 11th. Of course Disney Legend Bill Farmer, who has voiced Goofy since 1987 will bring the character to life with his delightful vocal stylings. 

It’s a well-balanced mix of the classic look Goofy had in the ‘How To’ shorts of the 40s and 50s and the more modern style of contemporary animation. There are also some homages to older Disney shorts. In How to Wear a Mask, there’s sampled music from 1942’s How to Play Baseball. In Learning to Cook, Goofy is wearing the outfit he wore in 1942’s MIckey’s Birthday Party, and the new short uses the same score as the classic short. In Binge Watching, the use of squash and stretch, one of the basic building blocks of Disney’s classic traditional 2D animation, is essential to making the humor work and the story hold together.  

Can you see Hirschfeld’s influence in the new Goofy shorts? Goldberg himself would say you can see the power of line in all great animation, but specifically in these new cartoons, he wanted a thicker yet crisp line and great flow that would give the character an updated look, but, perhaps not coincidentally, harkens back to the style for which Hirschfeld is so famous.  

ALL HAIL HIRSCHFELD 

Goldberg has long had a fascination with and was highly influenced by the work of caricaturist and illustrator Al Hirschfeld, whose work he’d followed since high school. Hirschfeld was inspiration for many of the character designs in Aladdin, especially Goldberg’s Genie, which was created with flowing lines, based on the curvilinear drawings for which Hirschfeld was known. Animating Genie was a completely different experience from the norm, in that the film’s directors and co-writers Ron Clemens and John Musker created the character with Robin Williams in mind. 

To pitch Robin Williams on doing Aladdin, Goldberg, at the suggestion of Musker and Clements, took some lines from Robin Williams comedy albums and animated Genie to them. One day after he had a few scenes done, Jeffrey Katzenberg walked in with Robin Williams, and they showed him Goldberg’s work. He had animated from the famed Williams routine talking about schizophrenia. He had created a second head for Genie to talk to himself. He made him laugh and it helped persuade Williams to play the character. Much of his scenes were ad-libbed. Goldberg would review his recorded dialogue, then select the best lines and animated the character around them for each scene. 

Musker and Clements loved the Hirschfeld-ian design of Genie, so they decided to have all the roles drawn in the same style. Glenn Keane was animating Aladdin, and Goldberg partnered with all the other animators to create a cohesive look in all the characters, making this unified cast. When Hirschfeld saw Aladdin, he gave the team of artists the ultimate compliment and confirmed they were successful by saying, “It all looks like it was drawn with the same hand.”

For Fantasia 2000, Eric directed and wrote two traditionally animated sequences, “Rhapsody in Blue” and “The Carnival of the Animals”, aided by and his wife Susan, who took on the role of art director.  Rhapsody in Blue, chosen by Goldberg because it’s his favorite piece of classical music, was a complete artistic love letter to both New York and Al Hirschfeld, and the artist actually came onto the short as official artistic consultant. As part of his desire to be true to his hero’s style and aesthetic, Goldberg actually hid Hirschfeld’s daughter Nina’s name, just as the artist himself did in hundreds of drawings, in various locations in the short, like in Duke’s toothpaste tube and Margaret’s collar. 

GOLDBERG DISNEY-FIES HIRSCHFELD FOR SHANGHAI DISNEYLAND

When Shanghai Disneyland was being developed and built, Imagineering wanted to build a Brown Derby or Sardi’s style eatery decorated with Hirschfeld style drawings of Disney characters. Dave Bossart, head of special projects at Disney at the time, looked to Goldberg to create the over 200 drawings. They made a book of all the images called “An Animator’s Gallery: Eric Goldberg Draws the Disney Characters, and displayed some of the original drawings in person at D23 in 2015. If you ever go to Shanghai Disneyland, you can see his finished work at Mickey and Pals Market Cafe. 

Eric Goldberg gives the Hirschfeld treatment to Disney characters for Shanghai DIsneyland’s Mickey and Pals Cafe

Goldberg himself explained what makes Hirschfeld such a remarkable artist. “Hirschfeld’s poses were always very strong, very clear, very readable. And my favorites of his work are the ones that are very simple. I think those were his favorites as well. He used to say, ‘When I don’t have the time I make a complex, fussy drawing and when I do I make a simple one.’ Because it does take some effort to boil things down to their essence and Hirschfeld was a master at that. It’s just amazing.”

Goldberg got to spend time with his hero when they had become genuine friends. The studio had him out to Disney a year after Aladdin was released. Eric and Susan Goldberg got to take Al and his wife Dolly to Disneyland. Over the years he was able to get to know the artist very well personally, and the man didn’t diminish, but rather enhanced the legend. Eric and Susan requested Hirschfeld to allow them to use his style for a new short, and after some contemplation and time, he gave permission to use any and all characters he’d drawn in his career. Ultimately, Hirschfeld worked as artistic consultant on what became Rhapsody in Blue, which was one of the best sequences in Fantasia 2000. 

GOLDBERG, HIRSCHFELD, AND JONES

To allow Goldberg to express his love for the Hirschfeld line, the folks working with Warner Brothers and the Chuck Jones family engaged him to do his treatment on the classic characters of Chuck Jones. They’ve turned them into limited editions signed by Eric Goldberg himself. In each drawing, he has captured not only the characters but the Hirschfeld style. It’s not easy to encapsulate Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, or Marvin Martian and K-9 with such simplicity. We now have all Eric’s Chuck Jones images from the Fine Line series available for purchase on our site.  

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