July 2, 1999
By Dana Rosenfeld Gordon
Animators at The Walt Disney Studios have always enjoyed abundant recognition for their ground breaking work in animation. To be a part of the universal appeal of Disney's animated characters, captivating stories and Disney magic has been the ultimate goal of countless animators. For Leticia Lichtwardt and Jacquie Sanchez, becoming key assistant animators in the clean-up department at Disney represents the fulfillment of their own lifelong dreams. With the released of Disney's full-length animated feature "Tarzan," both Lichtward and Sanchez reflect fondly on their experience on the film as key assistant animators in the clean-up department.
Recalls Leticia Lichtwardt, a clean-up artist who helped define the look of "Tarzan," "I just loved working on this film. Each drawing had to be a piece of art-the line quality is much more detailed than in past films. I was so involved in this film, that I was really sorry when it was over. Being a part of the animation team behind `Tarzan' was an absolutely incredible experience."
Jacquie Sanchez agrees, "Working on this film was such a fun experience from beginning to end. This film has everything: adventure, an innocent love story, joy, sadness, family bonds and friendship. Everyone, young and old, will love this film."
Walt Disney Pictures' new animated adventure "Tarzan," is an innovative and entertaining exploration of the classic tale by Edgar Rice Burroughs. With music by Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Phil Collins, "Tarzan" combines breathtaking jungle action, humor, sensational music and powerful emotions. The film follows the extraordinary adventures of an orphaned human infant raised by a family of gorillas, who accept him as one of their own. As Tarzan matures, his life changes forever when he meets other humans.
The creative team drew inspiration from the original writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose legendary Tarzan character debuted in a 1912 magazine and went on to appear in 26 authorized novels. According to Thomas Schumacher, president of Walt Disney Feature Animation, "Burroughs created the perfect template for an animated film. Often we look at literature and say, `How can we make that animatable?' Here was a book that cried out to be animated. Yet, we're the first filmmakers to have ever taken Tarzan from page to screen and presented the character as Burroughs intended."
"The colors in the film are very rich," says Lichtwardt. With it set in the jungle, the predominant color is a deep green like you would imagine in the Rain Forest or the Congo. My job as a clean-up artist was to make sure that certain characters fit realistically into this incredible background."
Continues Lichtwardt, "It was my grandmother who encouraged me to paint. She knew how I always wanted to work in the movies. My grandmother suggested I take classes from an older lady in the village who taught oil painting. I loved learning from her.
"My family and I came to the U.S. in 1967 when I was a teenager, but I didn't have the luxury of attending an art school. Eventually, I did go to Otis Parsons to study air brush and color theory but that was much later in my life. Basically I received my art training on the job. There's a lot of pressure with that, but you really learn fast."
After years of hard work, Lichtwardt's dedication finally paid off when she was hired as a key assistant animator in the clean-up department at The Walt Disney Studios.
"My parents told me it was a waste of time to draw. They did everything possible to discourage me. I took four years of piano lessons, classes to learn shorthand, secretarial classes, beauty school, you name it; but all the while I didn't stop drawing. When I started getting paid to draw, my family said, `We guess you really like to draw' and they finally respected my drawing."
Her impressive tenure at Disney has spanned over twenty years and "Tarzan" marks her 17th film to date.
While Lichtwardt grew up with only her grandmother's support and personal motivation to pursue art, Jacquie Sanchez's family gave her practically no other choice than to pursue drawing as a career. "My brother got me started, remembers Sanchez. "I was a little Tom-girl following him around all the time. He was into comic books and monsters, so I became interested in monsters. How many girls drew monsters?" she says with a laugh. "I used to get in a lot of trouble at school drawing all day long in class. My parents would get notes saying, "Jacquie draws `monsters' instead of paying attention in class."
Having grown up getting in trouble for drawing in class was hardly grounds for punishment. "I grew up in Pico Rivera which, at the time, had a gang problem," explains Sanchez. "I was very lucky to have two parents who were really into education. My parents encouraged me to express myself through my love of drawing. It was through my art, my parents' encouragement and my brother's love that I was able to overcome the obstacles that most kids in that neighborhood succumbed to."
After her first semester at CalPoly Pomona, she enrolled in art classes whereupon a teacher told Sanchez that her talent for drawing was exceptional and that she could enroll at The Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. At the age of 22, she embraced the possibility that she could make a living as an artist. After two years at the Art Center, she was hired as an in-betweener at The Walt Disney Studios and began work on her first animated film, "The Prince and the Pauper."
In a very short time, Sanchez has worked her way up to a key assistant position and has worked on such films as "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin," "The Lion King," "Pocahontas," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "Hercules."
For her involvement on "Tarzan," she was assigned to the character of Jane. "It's been so great working on Jane," beams Sanchez. "Jane is one of the best female characters since Snow White. She's adorable and sweet. She has a special personality. We tried to make her very British, very proper, yet warm and tender, too.
"I've loved being a part of `Tarzan.' It's really a story of discovery and about a relationship between a mother and a son. I get choked up in the scenes between Tarzan and his mother. She sacrificed everything for him. The story about him feeling different and turning to his mother reminds me so much of `Dumbo.' The film takes you on an emotional ride here and there. It is really a great story and I think everyone did a wonderful job."
For both Lichtwardt and Sanchez, becoming key assistant animators in the clean-up department at Disney has meant that childhood dreams really do come true.