(Paris) From the genius of Aladdin to “mini Maui” in Moana, Éric Goldberg has been putting his pencil to use for Disney for more than 30 years. For this artist, traditional animation, which is his field, and 3D, however, “do not have to be in competition”.
“3D and 2D are not the Sharks and the Jets”, summarizes the 68-year-old creator to AFP during the Annecy festival, in central-eastern France, in reference to the two clans West Side Story rivals.
On the occasion of its hundredth anniversary, the studio with big ears unveiled a short film on Sunday paying tribute to its key characters. The genius of Aladdin being in the game, Eric Goldberg was asked.
On Wednesday, he delivers a lesson in cinema by diving into scenes from Aladdin and Hercules, where we owe the character of Phil, and by showing how traditional animation can be applied to more recent techniques.
Since its last hand-drawn feature, The Princess and the Frog in 2009, Disney has only released CGI films, helped by the takeover of industry pioneer Pixar in 2006.
Not enough to put Eric Goldberg out of work: he animated “mini Maui”, a living tattoo and kind of consciousness of Maui in the 3D film Vaiana (2016).
“Mini Maui doesn’t talk, but you always know what he’s thinking, that’s one of the powers of animation,” says Eric Goldberg about his “Jiminy Cricket”.
For Vaiana, the “hand-drawn animators” worked “arm-in-arm” with the digital animators. We had to do our scenes together, it was great. It felt like, for the first time in years, the whole studio was making the same movie.”
It was in 1992 that Eric Goldberg, a longtime producer of television commercials, joined Disney for Aladdin.
“It was absolutely wonderful and a lot of it had to do with Robin Williams.” The comedian, who died in 2014, not only lent his voice to the blue character who grants wishes in the English version, his sketches also inspired all his gags and makeovers.
“It was like eating too much candy. It was always funny, we burst out laughing all the time,” says the cartoonist with a frank laugh under his mustache, dressed in a shirt decorated with characters from the Mickey strip designed by his wife Susan, also an animator at Disney.
The experience was “very different” for Pocahontas (1995), co-directed entirely with Mike Gabriel.
Already because the film followed people who really existed. Also because Disney wanted this feature film to “win the Oscar” for best film that escaped Beauty and the Beast in 1992 in favor of Silence of the Lambs.
Asked about the cardboard in 2009 of Avatar by James Cameron, Éric Goldberg is more mocking.
“Passing me in a hallway at the studio, (Disney’s favorite songwriter) Alan Menken asked me, ‘Have you seen Avatar? I said, do you mean Pocahontas with Smurfs? You could predict all the lines with my wife, it’s very similar,” although “I wish Pocahontas made that much money,” he jokes.
If Éric Goldberg does not comment on a possible return of Disney films in 2D to the cinema, he points out that the creative director of the animation studios since 2018, Jennifer Lee, has “encouraged hand drawing a lot. It’s a relief because the previous managements didn’t care that much.”
It was she who allowed him to create three 2D short films, How to Stay Home with Goofy, during the pandemic, giving him “the fastest green light” of his career.