Interview with Pierre Lambert
by Didier Ghez
Paris, December 21, 1995
Pierre Lambert is the author of the most interesting and most lavish book ever published on a Disney movie: Pinocchio. This interview was conducted just after the French release of this masterpiece.
I had wished upon a star for 22 years before getting this book. The Blue Fairy - or rather French author, Pierre Lambert - finally granted my wish, producing the best art book on animation art ever.
Pinocchio is by far the most lavish, gorgeous, utterly perfect book on an animated movie's art to date.
It's a huge 13'x13' book containing no less than 320 full color documents over its 224 pages. Each document is reproduced with the best possible colors (again, this kind of quality had never been achieved before), each cel shown is covered by a special varnish, each page is in itself a work of art.
And, of course, the quality of the documents selected is simply spectacular. This book has no equivalent in the world of art. It marks a new era in terms of art books on animation.
A 500 copies leather bound limited edition has also been released, signed, numbered and containing a large lithograph of one of Claude Coats background studies.
I was lucky enough to meet its author, animation historian, artist and collector Pierre Lambert to talk about his passion for Pinocchio's art, the collectors that helped him and his future projects.
What were the steps that lead you to write this masterpiece of an art book ?
It all started with an idea I had when I was 14. I wanted to go into animation. I loved animation and looked for all the books on the subject. I found some that were more or less perfect, more or less beautiful. It was at the beginning of the '70s, when not much had been published about animation and its universe. There was The Art of Walt Disney by Christopher Finch (the big fat book about the Disney studios), there was the original Art of Animation by Bob Thomas that editor Hachette translated in French in 1960 and the book by Benayoun called Le Dessin Animé après Walt Disney (Animated Cartoons after Walt Disney). There was also an other book called Le Dessin Animé d'Amateurs (Animated Cartoons for Beginners) by Serge de Marchi and Roger Amiot which explained how to do animated cartoons with a rudimentary multiplane camera that was ridiculous and worked very badly. I built one, in fact, going to a DIY and buying all the needed stuff.
So, at that time I thought that it was a shame that no really nice art book existed about animation. Pinocchio was really the first idea. I thought: "There really ought to be a book about Pinocchio, someday." Of course, I did not imagine I could do it, but I hoped somebody would do an art book on Pinocchio, because I thought it was the most beautiful animated feature. When I finally discovered all the other animated features from Walt Disney, it confirmed this idea that Pinocchio was the most stunning, artistically speaking.
A few years later when I was doing public relations for the Walt Disney Company, in Paris - or even a little before that date - I started looking for Pinocchio documents. Little by little I gathered high quality photos, things that I could find among friends and collectors during my trips to the US. I started to think: "Maybe, one day I will do a book about Pinocchio."
Meanwhile, I did the travelling exhibit "Les Artistes de Disney" (Disney's Artists) and its catalog in 1987, then the book Le Cartoon à Hollywood (Cartoon in Hollywood) published by Séguier in 1988 and more recently the Tex Avery published by Démons et Merveilles in 1993.
But the idea of the Pinocchio book was still there. I lived with that idea, watching the picture, gathering information, never missing a document sold at an auction. It was an ongoing work, but without really working on the book, as it was still a dream.
And the Tex Avery book was released, allowing me to show the type of work I wanted to do on animation. Démons et Merveilles gave me the needed funding for an art book, trusting me all the way. The Tex Avery being very successful, the Pinocchio project was up and running.
So I went to meet Hyperion (Disney's art book publishing subsidiary) in New York and encountered Robert Miller to whom I explained my project. He answered with great enthusiasm. In three months the deal was closed. It has never been so simple as to work with Robert Miller. I am really grateful for the freedom and trust he gave me. It is really unusual, in the publishing business to get these to this degree. At the same time, those freedom and trust were also granted by Olivier Diolot from Démons et Merveilles.
The Tex Avery book helped me, of course. But to do a Pinocchio book was even riskier, you are not allowed any mistake, even a slight one.
It was really hoping during many years and then, the real work got done in two years, when I started seriously gathering animation art documents among collectors. Most of them helped me, except two. They will probably regret it, as "what is written stays", as they say.
I got 99% of the documents I wanted for the book, in fact.
What are the missing 1% ?
There is one document I did nor get that is owned by Steven Spielberg, which is a marvelous background of Jiminy in Geppetto's workshop, dancing on the violin. Unfortunately, I never got an answer to my letter. He did not refuse, but I never got an answer. Maybe, when he will see the book... for a future edition.
Then, there are a few minor pieces that were not lent to me but that are really insignificant pieces compared to what we have in the book. On 320 documents in the book, I miss perhaps 10 at the maximum, including the one that was sold for 120.000 dollars at Sotheby's last December: The key set up of Geppetto's workshop featuring Geppetto and Pinocchio as a puppet with strings.
What was the hardest work involved in the making of the book ?
There was a work that was very important about the content of the book. I dissected Pinocchio sequence by sequence, scene by scene in order to harmonise those documents that are still in the Disney Archives with those that stay in private collections. I started backward. I already knew what private collections contained and I chose in the Disney archives those documents that would complete those owned by collectors.
I knew that the Disney Archives had close to all the animation drawings. That is why almost all the drawings contained in the book come from the Archives. The most beautiful being in the Archives. The same was true for the storyboards and Gustaf Tenggren studies or the layouts. However, for the backgrounds and cels, a lot are scattered among private collectors.
I wanted to harmonize the Disney Archives and private collections. I wanted to find links between preparatory documents and final documents. Which means that you had the preliminary layout in the Disney Archives and then I knew that the key set-up was owned by that particular collector. Therefore, on the same page of the book you had both, which would have been impossible using only the help of the Archives or only the help of the collectors.
My work as an expert in animation has allowed me to meet and become good friend with the collectors that trust me because they know my work and my passion. Those collectors know that doing a book like this one is above all a labour of love, not a business, when one considers what is invested and the actual prospects. The publisher can not earn money with the first printing but only if the book is a real best seller. It is really a labour of love for the publisher and myself.
What are the documents from Pinocchio that no longer exist that you would have liked to get for your book ?
There are many, some being essentials. There are many from Geppetto's workshop with Jiminy Cricket. It is true that in the book there are a lot of beautiful key set-ups including the one with Jiminy sleeping in the violin. But in the sequence at night, when the Blue Fairy arrives, there are a series of extraordinary backgrounds, when Jiminy wakes up and run to hide behind the objects in the workshop. Those backgrounds by Claude Coats are amazing. One is in the book, as it is owned by John Basmajian, but it is not a key set-up as an overlay is missing. In reality a lot were destroyed or are still hidden in private "collections" of former Disney artists or Disney employees.
If the book is republished in a couple of years, I will complete it. Not by adding pages, which would unbalance it, but by replacing the 10 weakest documents by the 10 strongest documents.
A kind of Pinocchio Continued as there will be a Fantasia Continued.
Exactly. In fact, for the American edition of the book, that should be out in a year or a year and a half, I hope I will be able to include the key set-up that was sold last December at Sotheby's in place of the corresponding cel on Courvoisier background that we have in the book.
Maybe Steven Spielberg has never read my letter and will also agree to let me use the Jiminy document that I miss. In fact, its place was booked in the layout of the book till the last second. And eventually I put a cel on a Courvoisier background in its place, from the same scene. But I had awaited Spielberg's document till the end.
Before coming back to the book, could you tell us how you started collecting animation art ?
This is a very old story that goes back to when I was 13 or 14 and discovered the first books on animation. I went to visit the animation studios. I had found an article in which there were all the addresses of the French animation studios. It was at the time when Albert Uderzo and René Goscinny, the creators of Astérix the Gallic, had started working on their first animated feature: "Astérix's twelve tests" (Les 12 Travaux d'Astérix). I visited their studio, as I visited Grimault's, Albert Champeau's, not Jean Image's as I considered his films as really too weak. I visited all the French studios of the people whose work I loved and I was greeted with great enthusiasm as you can imagine. This kid passionated by animation was amazing for them.
So they gave me cels as examples. Those that were in trash cans. So I got my first documents that way. Not very valuable, financially speaking, but extremely dear to my heart, as I discovered my first layouts, conceptual art, cels and backgrounds.
A couple of years later I entered L'Ecole des Arts Appliqués Duperre (The Duperre School of Applied Arts) and before graduating, I organized my first exhibit on French animation art. It was done in my school.
Then I went to the US, bought my first cels, completing my collection, I wrote to some directors that sent me some documents. And the exhibit from a French one became a European one. Bruno Bozzetto, John Halas, Richard Williams and a few others sent me some documents, very kindly.
I bought documents, started trading, sold and bought. The collection grew and grew, exhibit after exhibit - as I have organized close to 140 exhibits to date. What I prefer is trading with friends as both of you become happy after the trade.
I have some fantastic memories of exchanges with Jerry Muller. I must say that Jerry Muller who had a Gallery in the US called Museum Graphics was my best source of documents for years in the US.
There was for example a background from Mr. Toad by Claude Coats that I got by trading with Jerry Muller as well as two pin-ups from Tex Avery that are really among my fondest memories. It was a couple of years ago. You almost no longer can do that, as the market is organised around auction houses.
Jeff Lotman is also a friend that greatly advised me for the Pinocchio. I hope we will trade some day together. Jeff is a fantastic collector. He does not lock up his collection in the bank as some collectors do, but displays it into his house which is a real museum. It's fantastic to enter someone's house and to experience The Museum of Animation that still does not exist anywhere else. And he has great taste.
Could you tell me now about the documents you prefer in the book ?
We can break this up into 3 parts.
There are the documents from the Archives. The layouts are fabulous. Especially those from Geppetto's workshop. A few backgrounds. But above all, the key animation drawings that were never seen before.
Concerning the animation drawings I really wanted to select only key ones, and that all of the biggest Disney artists that had worked on Pinocchio be represented in proportion with their importance in the movie. Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Ward Kimball and Milt Kahl had to be the most represented by the number of drawings and their variety. The same was true for Fred Moore who animated Lampwick, Eric Larson who animated Figaro or Art Babitt who animated Geppetto. Each one of them is in the book with 3 to 15 drawings.
We chose each and every drawing - with Gérard Pestarque who did the book layout - from an artistic point of view. The historical part is there, but above all is the esthetical part, as Pinocchio is first of all Esthetical.
The background I prefer, the most amazing, is the first background in the movie. The book is opened, Jiminy is singing. This background was presented in the Archives with a small, ugly Jiminy that did not match the document. So we photographed the art, including the Jiminy which we then eliminated with the computer. It would have been a shame to ruin this marvelous background with this Jiminy that had nothing to do there.
Then, there are a few panoramic backgrounds close to abstraction from streets and moods that are among my favourites. One with Jiminy hiding behind books, the layout of which we also have, for example, is truly extraordinary.
Within privately owned documents, there are two documents from Howard Lowery's collection that I love. One is a key set-up of Jiminy presenting the story at the beginning of the movie. And there is a study by Tenggren, very rare, where we see the back of Stromboli manipulating the puppets that never appears in the movie. Foulfellow is behind him. This image should have appeared in the movie but Disney suppressed it as he felt it would be more magic, more lively to see the animated puppets without seeing the puppeteer. This is very smart, I feel. Suggesting is stronger.
But the collector who has the best Pinocchio collection is without a doubt Jeff Lotman. He has the best set-ups from some sequences. He has one in the Red Lobster Inn featuring Foulfellow, Gideon and the Coachman that is extraordinary. He has Geppetto holding Pinocchio at the end of the movie. Above all, he has Lampwick scared to death when he looks at himself in the mirror while becoming a donkey. It may be the best Pinocchio key set-up in the world.
He also got from S/R Laboratories (Ron Stark's auction house) a marvellous set-up with Jiminy looking at the toys through the workshop window, also one of the three best in the world.
Finally, there is the document I offered myself: Jiminy sleeping in the violin, which summarises all of Pinocchio's mood. It is all that I love in Pinocchio: mood, backgrounds and the perfect integration of cartoon characters into the "real" world. I am not objective about that one, of course.
But if it was chosen to be reproduced as an actual cel at the beginning of the book, it was not my choice but the publisher's. It had to be Pinocchio or Jiminy, of course, and we did not have a perfect key set-up of Pinocchio. The publisher chose this one. He published a great poster of it in France also, a very heavy, beautiful poster.
What are you future projects ?
I always wanted to make books that do not already exist. I would not like, for example to publish yet an other book about the story of Walt Disney. It would bore me. It would be as if someone were doing a book on animation techniques after Illusion of Life by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. That is impossible. Anyone who loves animation, will tell you that it is The Bible, anyone, from Jeff Lotman to Roy Disney.
But other subjects were not covered or badly covered. For example Mickey Mouse movies. One has always wanted to mix Mickey's success in movies with his success in merchandising and comic books. This produced unclear books mixing Mickey's animated cartoons with his merchandise and comic book appearances.
I prefer animation, which does not mean I dislike merchandise or comics, but those subjects are so rich that they deserve separate books. I would like to do the one on Mickey's animated cartoons.
I would show all the original art that exists and has never been seen. I would treat equally the black and white era of the '30s and the color era of 1935 to 1940. Mickey Sorcerer Apprentice is essential in Mickey's history and I would dedicate a special chapter of the book to it. The less interesting films of the '40s and '50s would also appear, of course. Finally, a chapter will be dedicated to the current animation of Mickey and his official artist Andreas Déja who is passionated by Mickey, who fully invested himself in Mickey and managed to animate him almost exactly as Fred Moore did. It is marvelous to be lucky enough to have an artist today that can animate Mickey almost as Fred Moore did. Mickey did not have this luck between 1953 (the death of Fred Moore) and the '70s when Andreas entered the studio. It is very interesting for the future of Mickey as prove The Prince and The Pauper and Runaway Brain. This means we can have more shorts in the future and why not a full length feature.
So I hope to show the evolution of Mickey through his films, "Mickey through the centuries" in a way (which happens to be the title of a French comic book series drawn by Pierre Nicolas in Le Journal de Mickey - Mickey Magazine - that reached a cult status in the '50s and '60s among French Disney enthusiasts).
One detail, about this book I want to mention is that all the original documents from black and white Mickey shorts will be reproduced in full color. Because a black and white document is not really in black and white. It has a yellowish colour that gives it warmth and texture. It's the same thing with an engraving of Rembrandt. The paper at the time was white and dry. But the patina of the paper gives the engraving a warmth that you need to reproduce.
An other subject I would like to cover is The Jungle Book as it is the best Disney animated feature in forty years, since Lady and the Tramp. Many people love Sleeping Beauty. I do love Eyvind Earle art but there are things I hate in Sleeping Beauty. Maybe someday my friends, from Andreas Déja to Jeff Lotman will convince me to do a book on Sleeping Beauty.
The Jungle Book is a movie I consider as being perfect. Disney disappeared before the Jungle Book was released. Animators had a creative freedom they never had before. They almost animated the film all by themselves. Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston told me that the two of them animated close to 40 minutes of the movie. When you add Milt Kahl, Eric Larson and John Lounsbery, the film was animated by less than ten people. And hence, The Jungle Book has a unity that no other Disney movie has, for the animation, for the characters as well as for the backgrounds by Al Dempster that are stunning. It deserves, like Mickey or Snow White, a full book.
The last project is Snow White. Steve Ison did a marvelous book on his collection, that I love. He said almost everything, and it is true that after his book there is not much to be done, at least for a while. But I really would like to do a larger book, like the Pinocchio, with other documents, even if Steve Ison's collection is really unique. I would like to get some documents from the Archives, add some private documents. I wanted to do this book for 15 years. I have collected amazing documents on Snow White. But Steve Ison's book on Snow White is so good that mine is not for today. And, of course this future book will only be feasible with the agreement and help of Steve Ison, as he has the best collection of Snow White art in the world as well as excellent taste. Steve Ison and Jeff Lotman are the two collectors that have really great taste.
Could you tell us about the artists you know ?
I met Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston at La Truite Vagabonde, one of my favorite restaurants in Paris, where I invite all of my American friends. I also had a chance to talk a couple of times with Marc Davis at Annecy's Animation Festival.
Is there one document you dream you would possess ?
It would be a marvelous background with Pinocchio and Jiminy. But I looked at the film image by image and that does not exist.
But I would also like to get a beautiful Snow White key set-up with Snow White inside the house. That I would really like. But it is so expensive that I could buy it but I would have to re-sale it to buy a decent house.
You would have the choice between Snow White's house and yours !
You also met artists outside of Disney...
All of them, except Tex Avery. I was too young when he died. I met Chuck Jones, Mac Laren, Trnka, Grimault who was a good friend.
Chuck Jones is more interested by himself than anything else. Tex Avery was more interested by the people he worked with. It's hard to say, but it's true. However Chuck Jones is amazingly talented. He loves animation. I have one drawing from the Coyote that I will never sell. A marvel.
Frank and Ollie are so human, so generous. When you ask them: "Can you criticize Disney on some points ?" they answer: "We can't. He was so marvelous with us, he allowed us to give the best of ourselves."
Walt Disney had a light and a more somber part, I think. He could be terrible with the people that he despised or with the people that betrayed him by leaving him (even though they were not really betraying). With the people that were faithful, he had an everlasting friendship and generosity without a breach. That's why Frank, Ollie and Ward Kimball liked him so much. That's why Shamus Culhane or John Hubley hated him so much. They were both right, I think.
Talking about Shamus Culhane. One of my greatest prides is to have rehabilitated Shamus Culhane, not only by including drawings by him in the book, not only by talking about him in the book on a whole page, but most of all because I re-included him in the movie credits, along with Gustaf Tenggren. Two names I am proud to have added back. I hope he will be able to see this very quickly, as I know he will be extremely happy. He has stated in his book of memories that the worst frustration of his life was not to have seen his name in the credits while watching Pinocchio at the cinema. This is my greatest prides.
Do you have any anecdotes about the artists you met ?
Let us talk about Paul Grimault, who was the greatest French animation director ever. He was fantastic for me when I was 14. My mother called Paul Grimault. My father worked at American Express and sold plane tickets to great personalities (actors, singers,...). My mother was a state servant in Paris' Town Hall. She asked Paul Grimault if I really should go into animation. And Paul Grimault answered that I had such a passion for animated films that my mother would not be able to do anything against that because I would succeed in doing what I wanted to do. I would perhaps not animate but I would do something related to animation. He told her: "If you do not accept it, you will be a victim of it." And she was a victim of it.
All the old timers did the same thing with enthusiastic young artists and supported them. The first to benefit from that was Andreas Deja. He was born in Poland, raised in Germany, went to Disney in his '20s to succeed. What I did not achieve, by lack of talent, it was Andreas who achieved it. He had the talent.
Is there any funny anecdote you would like to add about Pinocchio ?
Yes. I have been smoking the cigar since I was 17. So, my best friend has nicknamed me Lampwick because I love cigars and playing pool. When he saw Lampwick smoking the cigar and playing pool he recognized me. I defend the cigar as Lampwick or Jose Carioca do. I'm Lampwick. Not Pinocchio, Jiminy, Monstro or the Coachman, no, really, I'm Lampwick.
I hope you won't turn into a donkey too soon. Thank you Pierre.
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