Eric Goldberg – Making Wacky Wonderful

“You ain’t never had a friend like me.”

– A pretty magical character

Animation has indeed matured as time as gone on, as we’re rightfully getting more stories with some excellent drama. However, it is important to remember that people have used animation for comedy for a reason, it works extremely well. One animator that has embraced the sillier and more “cartoony” side of animation is veteran Disney animator, Eric Goldberg.

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He made an alligator play the saxophone
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Created a satyr that sounds like that guy from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
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and most importantly, released an all-powerful genie

He’s also dabbled in directing some Disney animated films

And even animating iconic characters like these cartoon rabbits:

While most veteran Disney animators have left the Mouse House or have retired, Eric Goldberg is still working there and helping out with some of their recent projects.

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Plus, he’s written his own character animation instruction book

Before working at Disney, he was initially animating commercials in London, England with his studio. Disney was apparently really impressed with, his work, and they would constantly ask him to jump ship and work with them.

In the early 1990s, he finally accepted the offer and moved to Burbank to work with Disney as they were developing one of their next animated films, Aladdin. Once Goldberg had learned that were planning on getting legendary comedian Robin Williams to do the voice of the Genie character, he knew that was the character he wanted to animate.

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That worked out perfectly because the directors thought that Goldberg would be great to animate the Genie.

To convince Robin Williams to take part, Goldberg animated one of Williams’ stand up with the Genie speaking his lines. This impressed Williams was enough to take the job.

Here’s Goldberg showing the clip to animation students

For the design, he took two inspirations. The first was Robin Williams himself as he made the Genie kind of look like the famous comedian.

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Am I the only one who sees it?

The other inspiration was the famous caricaturist, Al Hirschfeld.

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Check out his stuff. It’s pretty impressive.

Goldberg thought the round and curvy buildings and environments of the Middle East lent itself to round and curvy character designs, and the one caricaturist who is full of round and curvy characters is Hirschfeld.

That ended up influencing all the character designs as most of them are more exaggerated and curvy than the typical Disney characters of the time.

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It also lent for each character to have their basic shapes for their designs.

Hirschfeld was such an influence on Goldberg that when Disney decided to make Fantasia 2000, Goldberg directed the Rhapsody Blue sequence and decided to have character designs in the style of Al Hirschfeld.

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In addition, he animated the entire Carnival of the Animals sequence in the film by himself.

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Granted the scene is only three minutes long, but that’s still a lot of work for just one guy to animate

While most other Disney animators prefer to animate more subtle, nuanced characters who move more like real people, Eric Goldberg seems to go in the opposite direction by animating characters who are more wacky, exaggerated, and over-the-top acting more like Looney Tunes characters.

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In fact, Robin Williams once described the Genie as “a Looney Tunes character in Disney drag.”

Though somehow, these cartoony characters seem to fit in these movies. How many times have you seen a character who is out of place by being way goofier and over-the-top than the mostly normal cast? I think I can name a few.

However, Goldberg finds a way to take characters who would otherwise be annoying or stupid, and make them hilarious and likable.

Although the writers do a good portion of that work by giving the characters funny things to say, Goldberg is the one who makes them come to life as his joke usually relies on visuals.

Goldberg also makes sure that his characters are not just there to make people laugh, but they have their own motivations and desires.

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Louis wants to be a professional trumpet player
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Phil wants to be the mentor of a hero
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and the Genie wants to be free

Eric Golberg has made a career out of making characters that are not only really funny, but beautifully animated, appealingly exaggerated, and surprisingly empathetic.

That empathy for his characters was also truly shown when he drew this after some depressing news regarding one of his characters:

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