This past Friday, October 1, I was lucky enough to attend a lecture at the Museum of Modern Art by John Canemaker, author of Two Guys Named Joe: Master Animation Storytellers Joe Grant & Joe Ranft. The Disney Editions book takes a look at the lives of Pixar animator Joe Ranft and Disney storyteller Joe Grant.
The lecture began at 7 P.M., with Canemaker briefly speaking about Grant and Ranft’s notable pieces of work before diving into each individual in-depth. Similar to the format of Two Guys, the talk was broken up into two portions, with each half focusing on a ‘Joe’. First up was Joe Ranft, who in his life faced a difficult childhood before he learned to channel his creativity into creating art.
Breaking through at Disney, working on Brave Little Toaster and Nightmare Before Christmas, before ultimately ending up at Pixar, Ranft became one of the best storyboard artists in animation. His memorable Toy Story army men sequence (in which Woody sends army toys to surveil Andy’s birthday party) made it into the film practically unchanged. For those who know how much Pixar likes to tweak story and sequences, that is remarkable.
Canemaker’s narrative was accompanied by a plethora of photos, artwork, and stills (some of which were not in the book), providing a visual element to Ranft’s life. To cap off the Ranft part of the lecture, we were treated to a 10-minute reel of Ranft’s work, consisting of scenes from Brave Little Toaster, Toy Story, and Cars, among others. Viewing his completed work after learning about his life was exhilarating but also heartbreaking, knowing he tragically died in a car accident at the young age of 45.
The lecture then shifted to Joe Grant, who became the right-hand-man of Walt Disney. Wanting to break out of the shadow of his father (who was also an illustrator), Grant dramatically altered his style in order to develop a different personality for his artwork. At Disney, he worked on beloved classics such as Snow White and Dumbo. Due to disagreements with Walt, Grant left Disney to work independently before being brought back into the animation studio powerhouse for films such as Beauty and the Beast, Pocahantas, and Mulan.
Viewing photos of Joe Grant, his artwork, followed by a 10-minute reel of his work, made drawing seem simple. Conveying action and emotion through a piece of artwork is not an easy thing to do, but Grant’s uncanny ability of expression through art shows that his work had a hint of ‘magic’ not seen often. While Joe Grant died at the age of 96, I think Canemaker summed it up best when he said that it feels as if both Grant and Ranft left before their time, as if by some chance they happened to be immortal, they would have continued to contribute astounding pieces of art.
Knowing that John Canemaker has written many books on animation and Disney, it was great to be in the presence of someone who clearly knows and loves his line of work. After one hour, which unfortunately came too fast, he ended his fascinating talk by thanking those that had helped bring the book and lecture into fruition. Afterwards, we were all invited to meet him and get our copy of the book signed.
Emerging from the theater brimming with knowledge of the ‘two Joes’, I felt as if I needed to rub my eyes to accommodate my altered vision of their lives as well as their work and animation as a whole. I joined the line to have my copy signed, watching as many lined up behind me. When it was my turn, I approached Canemaker and learned that he is as kind as he is intelligent. I was taken aback and humbled when I learned that he had read the review I wrote for his book. I thanked him for putting together the book, and reluctantly walked away, wanting to continue our conversation at-length.
As I walked towards the escalator, I saw the long line of audience members who now wanted to purchase the title. Realizing that now many more people would get to enjoy Two Guys Named Joe, like I did, I grinned to myself.
If you would like to check out Two Guys Named Joe, which I heartily recommend, it is on sale now!