Meeting Eric Goldberg is one of the highlights of my blogging career. He’s an animator, film director and voice actor (he did his Tweety impersonation for me!). He is also a husband and father to two daughters who are also artists. Eric Goldberg had a hand in creating one of Disney’s great characters, the beloved Genie from Aladdin. He spoke to us at a recent event about creating the Genie, working with the Robin Williams, how Al Hirshfeld influenced his design and plus Eric managed to give our group a drawing lesson! What an honor!
Genie went through a lot of different iterations, there were other visual development artists who had been working on the Genie before Eric got on the show. Once Eric joined he started doing Genies with horns, turbines, vests and all shorts of trappings. What Eric found was the more stripped down the genie was, the better he got because then animators had complete freedom of movement. Genie could morph into anything with the less junk he had on.
Eric did not make Genie blue, production designer Richard Vander Wende did. Richard decided that the genie was blue because he had a whole color script for the film. If you go through the film, all the good characters are shades of cool blue. Aladdin has a purple vest, the Genie is blue, Jasmine’s outfit was turquoise-its all in the cool color zone. All the bad characters are reds and darks. It’s a subliminal key that causes you react to these characters.
Richard Vander Wedne also painted background designs in a style that Eric would call Hollywood-Arabian. In other words, they were beautifully rendered with lit backgrounds but with very exaggerated S curves to step up the arabic influence. As the first animator on the show, Eric (everybody else was working on Beauty and the Beast) thought about the kind of character that would fit in curvy environments. He turned to one of his artistic heroes Al Hirschfeld for inspiration on the film, “I loved his work for many years. I always wanted to animate something with that kind style. You can see how beautiful it is. How organic it is. How one curve leads all the way around. We really try to suffuse our characters with that.” Al Hirschfeld attended the premiere of Aladdin and when the lights came up he gave Eric his best compliment, “It all looks like it was drawn with one hand.” There were 500 animators trying to draw the same thing. This was a huge compliment for Eric.
John Musker and Ron Clements had written the script and they have a talent for being able to write in the voice of the actor they want to cast. Robin hadn’t signed on as Robin yet but they wrote the script with him in mind. They asked Eric to animate the genie to some of Robin’s comedy routines. They brought Robin in and we showed it to him. Eric remembers it fondly, “It was one of the great honors of my life to make Robin Williams laugh.” This pencil test sequence made Robin immediately sign on the dotted line.
Eric is always critical of his work, “I can look at my stuff and cringe. That’s good because if I ever stopped learning I’d hang up the pencil.” Eric continues, “I think we all have to continue learning and challenging ourselves. That’s one of the nice things about being an animator, you can take any new assignment and it will have challenges in it full of things you’ve never done before. I’ve never animated an alligator playing the trumpet but I did it in Princess and the Frog. So I had to learn about alligators and playing the trumpet. Each character has it’s own pocket of interest that keeps your ideas fresh.”
Who is Eric’s favorite character? He admits that choosing is kind of like saying, “Who’s your favorite child”. Eirc gets connected to all of them. “I wouldn’t tell a lie, I think I have the warmest place in my heart for the Genie for a lot of different reasons first of all it was my first Disney gig!”
His favorite scene is when the Genie dances with his hands in “Friend Like Me”, with the top hat and tails. Eric loves doing dance animation and musical animation and to be able to have the genie Strut his stuff like that was amazing. Eric did a lot of research to make this scene come alive. He wanted Genie to dance like Cab Calloway so he took a look at Cab Hallway live action footage and made thumbnails for the way he would dance and characterized that for the Genie.
Eric knew that he was interested in drawing when he was four. His brother Elliot taught him how to draw Woody Woodpecker. At the age of six he was creating flip books for hours upon hours. “I just new that I wanted to do it and it always bought me so much joy.”
When we animated a “Friend Like Me” (Genie’s song), they took it to a preview audience and one of the executives came back and said, “Guys, we’re not getting any applause at the end of Friend Like Me. You gotta do something!” So I put an applause sign on his back and it stayed in the movie!
Aladdin was probably the most improvisational animation film he’s ever worked on. He was consistently shifting to accommodate all the different twists and turns Robin gave them along with so much material. He did about 1 hour sessions and Robin is not what you would think. Eric shared, “He doesn’t bouncy off the walls all the time, he’s actually quite. When the mike is open, he gives it a 198%. He gave enormous warmth to the character.”
John Musker, Ron Clements and Eric wanted to do something in memory of Robin. Eric when through 16 hours of material from Robin Williams and plucked the funniest Genie takes. He then story boarded them which wound up as a bonus feature called Genie Outtakes on the Aladdin Diamond Edition Blu-Ray.
Eric believes in giving back. He’s often been asked to draw things for burn victims or for families who will tour the studio with Make a Wish Foundation. He will also teach the kids to animate. He feels that he was very fortunate to learn rom some of the greatest animators. Animators who invented this medium. He feel it’s his duty to give it back wherever I can because, “They gave it to me.”
Look out for Eric’s book called, “An Animator’s Gallery: Eric Goldberg Draws the Disney Characters”, it’s filled with 200 black and white ink caricature drawing