by Edwin L.
Carpenter, Editor of Film Reviews
Tom and Tony Bancroft are both former Disney animators. They have a lot in common in addition to being twin brothers
and animators. Tom currently resides in Nashville and spoke with us shortly
before his brother did. With the new Blu-ray release of Disney’s Mulan and Mulan
II we were excited for the opportunity to speak with this dynamic duo.
Dove: You must be pleased about the Blu-ray release of Mulan.
Tom: “Yeah, yeah, we’re very excited. It’s kind of about time. We were
waiting for this one.” (The disc was released on March 12).
Dove: What’s your background and how did you get into animation?
Tom: “I had a twin brother and we used to draw together all the time and we
kind of fell into it. Our love has always centered around three things: comic
strips, comic books and animation. We grew up on the Ray Harryhausen stop-motion
live-action film Jason and the Argonauts but we didn't realize that that was
animation too. Those skeletons were all stop-motion animation and since
we loved comic strips we were drawing all the time and doing our own comic
strips in the High School paper. Then in junior college we met a friend of
ours, a fellow comic strip artist, and he had done some stop-motion clay animation with a Super 8 camera.
When we saw that and saw
that he could just, out of his bedroom, make a short animated movie, we just
couldn’t believe it. We were shocked because we thought you had to have big
equipment and a whole production studio to be able to pull off any kind of
animation. So we just thought, it’s not impossible, this is it. I think that’s what gave us the
Tom and Tony went on to take advantage of the following summer and made their
own clay-animated short film.
“By that time, we were hooked. Seeing your characters come to life—there was
nothing that could kind of compare to that.”
This led to the twins finding out about the California Institute of the Arts
which features character animation as one of the focal points of the education
program. It was one of the only schools at the time in the United States that
taught animation. Walt Disney was the founder of the school. Tom and Tony
attended a year and a half and were both offered an internship at Disney. They
arrived at the time of the making of The Little Mermaid and although they didn’t
work on that title they got their feet wet and learned to work on clean-up and
to hone their skills. The brothers landed a job in 1989 and transferred to
Disney Studios in Florida to staff the new animation studio. After about a year
the brothers’ careers shifted a bit and Tony became engaged to a young woman and
went back to California where he has lived ever since. Tom stayed in Florida,
working for Disney, for twelve years. After about six or seven feature films Tom
said Mulan came along. Tom added that, despite Tony being three thousand miles
away in California, they still worked on different parts of several Disney
films. Tom remembers a portion of The Lion King being sent to him and his staff
in Florida to work on.
Dove: It must be rewarding to look back at Disney films and see your work in
these classic movies.
Tom: “You never forget. I look at the scenes now and some of them I go, ‘Awe,
I wish I could do that over again or do it even better’ but, especially with
Mulan-- Mushu, the character I did, I still look at some of that and go, ‘Wow;
that turned out pretty good. I’m surprised I still like it!’”
Tony came back to Florida to co-direct
Mulan with Barry Cook and for a
year or so he and Tom worked in the same studio again. Tom moved up in the ranks
and became a Supervising Animator, meaning he was in charge of his own
characters which featured Mushu. He was pleased he got to meet the man that
voiced Mushu, Eddie Murphy.
The brothers have now formed their own companies. Tony’s business is in
California and Tom has a Tennessee-based company with a partner. Tom has done a
lot of children’s book illustrations as well as character designs and has written a
couple of how-to books on character design. Currently he is designing a TV program. In
addition he worked on Superbook and Brother Bear. The brothers do have a Facebook page together called simply
“The Bancroft Brothers.”
Tony joined us by phone right after our conversation with his brother Tom.
Dove: We just spoke with your brother. So you are twins?
Tony: “We are--we’re identical twins. He’s three minutes older than me.” Tony
joked that even though he came along second, he was Tom’s boss on Mulan.
Dove: So what transpired to move you to California?
Tony: “I was engaged at the time to my now-wife, Renee. So we were dating
kind of long distance there for a while. We met out here in Southern California
and then I went to Florida with Tom and we were both there for a year; two
things—one was my girlfriend at the time and wanting to see her more but the
other thing was that I felt there were more opportunities career-wise. I really
wanted to animate and I really wanted to animate at Disney. I was at the Disney
Florida studio with Tom and we were both in the clean-up department which is
kind of a notch down from animator. I really wanted to get that promotion. I
felt like there was more opportunity back at the Southern California Disney
studio. I applied and I put in my portfolio to the big Whigs over here at
Disney, Burkbank, and they accepted me as a full-fledged animator on Beauty and
the Beast. I ended up getting married about six months later.”
“I worked on Cogsworth the Clock. Animators are kind of cast like live-action
actors are in movies. It's usually based on their skill sets and some guys
are better with drawing the girls and the princesses and some guys are better
with comedy characters or villains. I was always kind of type-cast if you will
as a comedy guy. So I did Iago in Aladdin, Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast, Pumbaa in
The Lion King and Kronk in The Emperor’s New Groove among others.”
Dove: And eventually you directed Mulan?
Tony: “I did, yeah. I had started with Tom out in the Florida studio
and then I spent another four or five years back at the Burbank studio, kind
of moving my way up slowly but surely. God had really given me a lot of great
opportunities early in my career. I really can’t take much credit for myself
because I kept getting promoted almost every film from Assistant Animator to
Animator to Supervising Animator and then I found myself being called into the top executive’s office one
Friday over at Feature Animation and they asked me to co-direct Mulan which was
the first feature that they were going to
do at the Florida studio.”
“Since I knew all the guys there, including my brother, it seemed like a
natural idea for Disney to promote me to director and have me go back to Florida
which is what I ended up doing. Now with my wife and my first child we went back
to Florida and spent another year and a half working on Mulan at the Florida
studio with Tom and his family so that was pretty great.”
Tony eventually went back to California as his parents and wife’s parents are
there. He’s been in Southern California ever since.
Dove: You got to work with some pretty impressive voice actors like Eddie
Murphy and Pat Morita.
Tony: “As director I was at all the voice recording sessions and even
directed the actors for the most part.”
Tony said Eddie Murphy did his recording for the movie from his house. Eddie
had his own recording studio in New Jersey in his home. His part was recorded in
his basement. He said Donny Osmond did the singing voice for Shang in Mulan and
Tony added, “He was just a really nice guy.”
Dove: You have to feel pretty good about the Blu-ray release of Mulan.
Tony: “I do because when we made the movie back in 1998, fifteen years ago,
seeing it now on Blu-ray is as good an image as what we were approving, what
we were seeing on the monitors; we had very high-end monitors at the time and so
when we were approving all the final color to be put on the film we were seeing
it at its best. But when it gets put to film the resolution quality is actually lower than what those HD monitors were back then. So it
actually kind of went down a generation on film and then on video a step down
from there. With the Blu-ray, it’s never looked as good as when I saw it in
1998. So I’m really excited about it because it just looks and sounds better
than it did in the theaters when it first came out.”
Tony added that the challenge in making Mulan was in the fact it was the
first Disney feature made in Florida with a young group of artists. The question
was: can this team pull off this amazing feat? “Not only did they pull it off
but I’m happy to say I really feel like they did a better job than what the more
seasoned Burbank studio would have done because they had that feeling of not
knowing what they couldn’t do.”
Tony eventually felt like God called him to move on from Disney. He had been
the youngest director in Disney history with Mulan but now he has been a driving
force behind several independent faith-based projects which he believes has
glorified God. He currently teaches an animation class at Azusa Pacific
University, a Christian university. He said the students come up to him almost
every day and will say, “Oh, you remember that scene you did in The Lion King”
or, “I just love Mulan, she was just a heroine I looked up to and that movie was
the reason I wanted to get into art or animation.”
“To have that kind of impact in the movies that I worked on and to see the
impact they’ve had, it’s very rewarding.”
Pick up your copy of Mulan and Mulan II today on Blu-ray and when you do, think for a
moment about the twin brothers who helped make this wonderful movie, Tom and
Read Dove's Review of Mulan |
Read Dove's Review of Mulan II