How to Draw the Future

According to Chuck Jones, Don Graham was the patron saint of animation.

But before we get to Mr. Graham, a word on Mr. Jones.

If you don’t recognize his name, you’ll recognize his animation: Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, Marvin Martian, Pepe le Pew. Not to mention Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig. Mr. Jones was one of the world’s finest animators. And it was from Don Graham that he learned some of his craft.

Mr. Graham was an engineer turned artist who paid his way through art school by working as a janitor and sleeping in the school bathtub. He would go on to teach the philosophy of movement and drawing at Disney. But before that, he taught figure drawing classes at Chouinard Art Institute on South Grand View Street in LA.

And in those classes, his objective wasn’t to create Don Graham proteges. So, he didn’t teach style.

Instead, he taught animators what they had to know to create the future of animation: “How to think drawing,” as Mr. Jones wrote in his autobiography. And, perhaps most importantly, “how to follow your natural bent with confidence.”

While you could measure a student’s success by line control or perspective or depth, Mr. Graham used a simpler indicator.

“Looks like you’re having fun,” he’d say if a student’s drawing was going well. And it was the closest he came to a compliment. Because if you’re having fun, according to the man who trained some of America’s best animators, it means something’s working.

And years into the future, after Mr. Graham had died and Wile E. Coyote and Pepe le Pew were household names, anytime Mr. Jones was in the middle of a drawing that was working well, he would hear Mr. Graham’s voice in his head: “Having fun?”

To which Mr. Jones’ answer to the patron saint of animation would be, “Yes. Yes, indeed.”

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