Glen Keane is one of the best animators working today. He has stated that he doesn’t draw characters but rather gives life to characters, and everyone he animates feels real and you can indeed see life in their eyes.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and raised in Paradise Valley, Arizona, Glen Keane’s interest in art came from his dad, who was the creator of the comic strip The Family Circus, Bil Keane. When Glen showed an interest in art, his dad gave him a book by Burne Hogarth called Dynamic Anatomy so that Glen could analyze the human form and study life drawing.
After studying animation at CalArts, Keane joined the Disney studio in 1974 and worked on The Rescuers with Ollie Johnston, one of Walt’s Nine Old Men, where he helped bring life to Bernard and Penny. From there Keane showed off his talent at Disney until he went freelance in 1983, but he came back to the studio for all of their animated projects throughout the eighties, often animating memorable characters.
After Who Framed Roger Rabbit kicked off the Disney Renaissance in 1988, Glen Keane has mostly been a supervising animator for lead characters in Disney’s films. Ariel from The Little Mermaid was the most important character in that film and Keane’s animation along with the memorable melody and lyrics of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s Part of Your World helped me empathize with her more than any other Disney character up to that point.
His most famous and perhaps most difficult character to bring to life was the Beast from Beauty and the Beast. To not only animate a monster but decide how much of him to make animal and how much to make human while at the same time making him both frightening and lovable was not an ordinary animation assignment. And yet, the Beast remains one of the highlights of Keane’s animation career. He is probably one of Disney’s most memorable characters.
His last assignment at Disney was directing the film Tangled, which he made to try and bring the warmth of traditional animation to computer animation, which he succeeded at – in addition to helping resurrect the animated musical, Tangled has some of Disney’s best character animation since the studio’s work in the nineties. Keane didn’t end up directing the feature but he remained on as an executive producer and as a directing animator for the character of Rapunzel.
Keane and Disney went their seperate ways in 2012 when Keane went out to answer the “siren call” of new animation experiences. Keane is currently freelance and doing his own thing but I hope he returns to feature animation one day, the artform where I first fell in love with his work.