Ken Harris was born on July 31st 1898. Were he still alive, today would be his 115th birthday. I met him when I was just a kid, and he was already a very old man, but still doing some of the very best work of his career. It was the mid-1970s, and Ken had come over from LA to London to work with my father at his Soho Square studio.
By the time he came to London, Ken had already had an extraordinary career in Hollywood. He worked at Warner Bros. Cartoons under the supervision of director Chuck Jones; an association which began in 1936 and lasted until 1962. Jones described him as "... a virtuoso. Ken Harris did it all."
Think of your favourite Bugs Bunny or Road Runner cartoons, and the chances are, Ken animated them. Check out his IMDB page - he animated literally hundreds of shorts at Warners. Among them, my personal favourite - "What's Opera, Doc?".
|Ken draws Bugs Bunny|
And he was fast too. Warner shorts were made on a shoestring budget, with hardly any time for revisions. Animators had to do 15 feet a week of finished animation to keep up. Working at Warners, Ken put in his 10,000 hours - and more. No wonder he got really good, and really fast.
|Soho Square in the 1970s: Ken is in the back row, to the left of Grim Natwick, creator of Betty Boop|
He and Dad had a very unusual relationship, since Ken was both my father's mentor as well as his employee. Dad would always defer to Ken as a master animator, and yet he would go over Ken's drawings as well, refining his key poses. It was a very special and flexible collaboration, one which I have never really seen replicated anywhere else.
In a documentary interview made in the early 1980s titled "The Animator Who Never Gave Up" (which you can find at YouTube), Dad describes the long, slow process of earning Ken's respect. In the end, after many years of collaboration, Ken said finally "you are an animator". As if to say: "You're the master now. There's not much left I can teach you".
|No 13 Soho Square.|
Many years later, in the early 1990s, I got to animate some of his shots on The Thief. I say "animate", but what I really doing was working as Ken's assistant animator, re-drawing his shots and putting them "on-model" (The Thief had changed a fair bit over the previous decade). I thought I was producing beautiful animation, but really I was just an assistant to the animator "who could do it all".
|Ken Harris rough of The Thief|
To my eternal regret.
(Editor's note: You can read more about Ken, and see examples of his work, at www.masteranimator.com)