Dragon Con 2019: Tom Bancroft Talks Animation Past And Future

by Tito W. James

At Dragon Con 2019 I had the opportunity to speak with animation legend Tom Bancroft about art, animation, and the future.

Tito W. James you’ve had a very long career in animation working during the Disney Renaissance. You seen how the industry has shifted. What’s your take on the animation landscape right now both 2D and 3D?

Tom Bancroft: So, I come from the 2D world of the 80s and 90s. (That was when I started animating). I worked on all the Disney films like The Lion King, Mulan, Pocahontas, Tarzan, and Aladdin.

So right around 2005 is when CG animation came in. They became a big shift eventually. Then 2D pretty much went away, at least here in the US, and in feature films. 2D is still alive in TV animation. That seems to be where things have settled. TV still has a lot of 2D animation, but most of it done overseas unfortunately.

Now most of the US feature films are using CG animation. And that’s fine, I just evolved myself a little bit. Now I’m a character designer. So I do both.

TWJ: For those, like myself, who grew up in the 90s on 2D animation it’s incredible to see how the films have held up over time. Even the 2D films with lousy plots still look gorgeous and yet some of the early CG films with good stories look dated today.

Do you think that the rise of streaming and subscription based platforms will give way to a resurgence of hand drawn animation?

TB: I do think that Klaus, which is a new 2D animated film that’s about to hit Netflix, could be a real game changer. It’ll get people really excited about 2D animation again. It looks really good. I’ve seen clips and I know people who’ve worked on it.

TWJ: We’re also seeing a rise of genre-based storytelling on premium channels. With Game of Thrones over now networks are looking to shows like The Witcher, Carnival Row, and His Dark Materials to be the next big thing. Ironically it might be more cost effective just to have 2D animated shows because it cost about the same to render a dragon as a person.

What are your thoughts about utilizing 2D animation for genre storytelling.

TB: I think that’s a good angle. I think what we need to do is celebrate what makes 2D special. Creating really imaginative and stylized things is a lot easier to do in 2D than CG or live action. I think we need to be very careful about what kind of movies or TV series we do in 2D and that’ll make it more successful too. So genre and fantasy-type stories are probably a really good idea.

TWJ: I’m a fan of Blacksad. Which has a hand drawn esthetic deeply rooted in animation. There’s an audience for people who grew up on your work at Disney but are looking for something that might be more relevant to them in their adult lives.

What are your thoughts about combining a classic hand-drawn esthetic with mature animation?

TB: You’re right, a lot of people want it. I don’t know if I’d be that guy who would produce that. But I do know that there are plenty of people who would be happy to do that.

I might work on an adult animated show depending on how mature it was. Could there be an animated equivalent to Stranger Things? If it was that kind of mature, I’d be super excited about doing something like that!

TWJ: How do you communicate a solid iconic character through drawing?

TB: “Iconic,” is exactly what you want. It’s finding that thing about your character that stands out. If you see the silhouette of Bart Simpson or Spongebob you can still tell it’s them. You should be able to tell within a line up of characters who the star is.

I’d like to thank Tom Bancroft for this lengthy interview.

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