Monday, August 08, 2011

Corny Cole (1930-2011)

My favorite place on Earth is CalArts, and the embodiment of that creative institution is the animation department's long-time figure drawing instructor, Cornelius Cole III. Walt Disney may have founded and funded the school, but the culture there is much more of the free-spirited, rebellious, anti-Mouse nature that Corny encouraged. I shouldn't say Corny was anti-Mouse, I'm not sure he was anti-anything; he was just pro-individual and always cautioned his students against becoming a cog in a machine.

That is an especially daunting challenge nowadays when animators seem to be a dime a dozen. The animation industry is more competitive now than ever, and there is a huge pressure to fit into the studio system. To conform to the machine. True artists and craftsmen will always be rare, though, particularly sages like Corny. Pen Ward put it best when he said of Corny, "I hope to draw until my style develops into that awesome, awesome old wise man style."

Among the many loving tributes to Corny are these Producers Show intros from 2003 and 2005. Corny and his fellow figure drawing instructor, the late Mike Mitchell, made regular appearances in student films. Partly because of how much they inspired us, but mostly because it's fun to animate curmudgeons.

2003 intro by Scott Bromley, Ron Yavnieli, and Ken Perkins

2005 intro by Pen Ward 

The best way to honor Corny is to get out there and make your own art. Direct a film, take a figure-drawing class, or just "learn to draw with your left hand gawdammit" as Corny would growl. I said earlier that the embodiment of CalArts is Corny, not was, because as long as his art endures (and as long as we, his students, pass on his lessons), he will live on.

Here's to Corny, the animation industry's grumpy Yoda.


Stéphane Kardos said...

Well, I didn't know Corny, I didn't study at CalArts, but I have to say that I do agree with what he says and you say here. True that there is such a pressure to fit into the studio system, to conform also to a certain style of drawing or animation, and it is so good to know that an instructor like Corny was encouraging his students to be themselves and develop their style rather than trying to be another Mary Blair or Milt Kahl or anybody else.
To Corny.

Jeremy Bernstein said...

Love this post Austin. Thank you for writing it. I never really understood him until I worked in the industry. The studio system can really suck your soul dry and he really forced you to keep that soul fresh and remain a unique individual. RIP Corny. You were and still are the best.

Ron said...

Corny was always such an uplifting and encouraging teacher - and he was hilarious. He would share stories at your cubicle, help with a walk cycle, then later you'd hear his unmistakable voice saying "Where's my mocha?!" This of course was what he'd accidentally (or not) spill onto the butcher paper on the floor as he was teaching gesture sketching/life drawing, and then use a stick to get an even better artistic effect with the spilled mocha! He still defines my mid-90s CalArts experience, and I hope we can all continue to share his infectious enthusiasm for this crazy and wonderful art form. God bless you, Corny.

Austin Madison said...

Stephane-Thanks Stephane. Yeah, not only was he an inspiring artist, but a great guy and a generous teacher. To Corny!

Jeremy- Thanks man. Yeah, he could have easily been cynical about it, but he had much more of a pioneering rebellious spirit. I think he would have really dug our little Trickster event in San Diego this year.

Ron- Thanks for sharing, Ron. It's amazing to think how long Corny taught there, and how many amazing animators he must have shepherded along. Funny, too, that you're not the first person to mention his mochas!

Fufuria said...

RIP Mr. Corny Cole. I feel very unfortunate to not have had the chance to experience his teaching and wisdom for myself. I first read about him in Mario Furmanczyk's CalArts blogs, and came across your Interview on YouTube. Watching the interview all the more fueled my admiration and love for the craft.

I don't mean to impose but, can you please offer me some advice on how to prepare myself, portfolio and all for CalArts? I'm a prospective student(Character Animation) but I'm scared I may not be accepted. (Also, it worries me tremendously that I'm from a different country, the Philippines...) Thank you for inspiring me, even for miles away!

Khylov said...

End-of-the-year review, or whatever it was officially called; I remember he kept me there and talked to me for a good hour-and-a-half afterwards, mostly about art, but about whatever else in general.

He asked me where I'd lived before. "Oh yeah, I remember Pismo and Shell." Talked about how he and (I think) his brother used to ride horses down to the beach there in the morning when they were kids, when the pier and the hotel were the only things manmade for several miles around. I think he said that even then they were surfing. Lamented all the pre-fab housing he saw go up along the California coastline in the years after, from Ventura on up...

I remember the first time wandering back into his office, I think it was second-year, and seeing the photos on the wall in the vestibule just outside. One was a black-and-white with several guys looming over surfboards. I finally put 2 and 2 together and recognized him as the tallest of the group, classic California archetype of sunglasses and Superhero/Übermensch genetics. Was like a mix of James Dean and pre-Rolling Stone Hunter Thompson, with that confidence or elan that people seem to have had back then, whether they spoke, drove, or posed for photos. Probably the late 1950's or early 60's. Only thing missing was the Austen Healey parked in the sand in the background.

Was probably another time, but he talked about doing mural paintings at a bar somewhere off Highway 1 south of Monterey. Said Hell's Angels started frequenting the place, or had frequented it for some time while he was doing this. I think he said he earned his bar tab partly by doing these murals, but from how he described it, it seemed satisfying work to him.

One of the things he kept telling us was to always have reference material on hand, something like a massive scrap book with images from anywhere and everywhere, since you never knew when you had to draw any of it. (Have got two mega-chronicle binders of those so far.) He'd always have those hand-outs that had a ton of classical reference, impressionist or whatever, along with some of his own work. Was cool to see him sharing it, while at the same time always balancing it with "I was trying to achieve" thus-and-so. Always spoke in terms of wanting to do more with it, that it was never quite finished in his eyes.

...And always had something to talk about during life drawing, just free styling on whatever related with art or industry to the class in general. He had that way of doing it, kind of like how Pen describes it, wise old man, but with enough of an edge that you never knew when he'd break into "Now that's bullsh*t!" when something about industry standards or expectations would come up.

Always harassing folks when they'd be hanging around the hall leading away from the Palace; "Why the f*** aren't you drawing?"

Balanced with the smile of a 6 ft-plus wizard.

Michael Angelo Purcell said...

Corny was hired at Cal Arts on the same day as I was in the fall of 1992. I remember sitting outside with him talking about surfing and the future of computers in animation. He was so relaxed and had such a care free attitude during the interview process while I was a nervous wreck. It had such a calming effect.

Corny became the wise sage of the life drawing room. He would calmly wander over to you and with a short glance at your work give you the encouragement you needed to find the right path to become a successful artist.

Corny and I survived the earthquake of 1994 at Cal Arts and were the first two faculty members to get our classes up and running again despite the loss of the facility. We held the classes in our own homes. He was always there for his students and you could see it in his eyes that he loved teaching to the next generation of animators.
Corny Cole, the sage. He will be missed by all of us.