||The Man Who Created a Beast
Marriage Partnership, Spring 1992
by W. Terry Whalin
GLEN KEANE IS ONE of the most famous Hollywood actors you never heard of. He's the real person behind, among others, the Beast in the animated blockbuster Beauty and the Beast, Ariel in The Little Mermaid and the great eagle in The Rescuers Down Under. No, he's not the voice behind these Disney stars--he's the guy who makes them come to life. Glen Keane is directing animator at Walt Disney Pictures, one of the creative talents who, some critics (and parents) say, is helping Disney move into a new golden age of animated film.
Keane, for his part, spends a lot of time thinking about his characters--why they do what they do, how they feel while they're doing it. "As an animator," he says, "you become that character. An actor never gets the chance to play some of the parts I can play."
It takes more than a year to finish a full-length film. Keane and his team of six animators are now working on a new animated feature, Aladdin, which will be released around Thanksgiving. The hours are long and the craft exacting, but Keane, a Christian, sees his work more broadly: "I look at animation as a gift from God. We're helping the public to see the beauty of God's creation."
Most people, he feels, take simple aspects of life for granted. For example, consider a dog walking across the street. To make an animated dog cross a street, animators have to study bone structure, movement and anatomy. "As artists," Keane says, "we see with new eyes and then reflect it to the public. Without these fresh experiences, my work would become stale." Those "experiences" include Linda, his wife of 17 years, and their children Claire, 13, and Max, 10. And Keane's father, Bil, is the creator of the popular "Family Circus" comic.
"Dad taught me that whatever I drew should be real to me. He does that and the sincerity shows in his work."
GLEN GREW UP in the Phoenix area, and it was there that he met Linda. They were both in line to see The Godfather--Linda, a Minnesota native, was vacationing with her parents. As Linda tells it, she noticed Glen and thought, "Hey, he's cute. What would it be like to be married to him?"
They started talking, hit it off, and for the next three days Glen showed Linda the sights around Phoenix. But because she had a steady boyfriend at home, nothing came of the relationship--then.
Glen didn't forget the girl from Minnesota, however--especially when Roberta Flack's hit "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" came on the radio. Nor did Linda forget Glen. Three years after they met at the Phoenix cinema, Linda sent Glen a birthday card, rekindling the relationship. Eventually Linda flew out to California to visit Glen, who by then was working for Disney. Their first day was spent at (where else?) Disneyland.
"I wanted to make sure Linda liked kids," Glen said jokingly. That evening he proposed, and they were married two-and-a-half months later.
"I expected marriage to be like the Cleavers'," Linda says. But, the Keanes found, the reality was far from the storybook images Glen worked with every day. "We had immediate problems," Linda says. "We didn't know each other."
Nor did they share a faith tradition. Raised Lutheran, Linda decided to convert to Glen's Roman Catholicism. When she asked the priest for marriage counsel, he advised seeking an annulment. At the same time, Glen's coworkers were saying, "Just get a divorce." But Glen refused the easy way out: "My commitment was based on the fact that I knew it was God's will for us to be married and not to divorce."
During his first years at Disney, Glen had been searching for a deeper understanding of life. "One of my coworkers, Ron Husband, had been studying with the Jehovah's Witnesses and was beginning to question their teaching. He gave me a Gideon Bible." Reading John 3:16, Glen believed the words and trusted Christ. Husband left the Jehovah's Witnesses study and began meeting with Glen for prayer and Bible study during breaks at work. And both Glen and Linda began to glimpse the truth of Christ working in their lives.
They both broke with their heritage and started attending an Evangelical Free church. One night their pastor, Don Botsford, dropped by. Glen wanted to talk about his marriage but felt awkward about introducing the topic. Finally, just as Botsford was leaving around 11, Glen said, "There is one thing ..." The pastor wound up staying another two hours, during which he explained to the Keanes what it really means to commit a marriage to the lordship of Christ. Linda and Glen had never thought of marriage in quite that way before, and Botsford's words helped turn their relationship around.
TODAY, NOT ONLY has the foundation of Christ anchored the Keanes firmly at home, it has also provided a safe harbor from the intense pressures that accompany Glen's efforts to turn out cinematic works of artistic merit--while still keeping the world's most profitable entertainment conglomerate in the black. How does Glen bring his faith to bear on his work?
"My attitude has been that I don't work for Disney, I work for the Lord in whatever I do. Sometimes even when I disagree with an idea, I'll throw my whole self into it and somewhere in the middle find a spark of inspiration. I try to invest in other members of my team and get a sense of accomplishment watching them do well.
"The biggest challenge at work is loving your neighbor. We're a bunch of egos--artists working together. Can you submit to someone else's idea? Can you take their idea instead of yours?"
Recently Glen has expanded his creative horizons beyond the converted warehouse where Disney animated features are put together. He writes and illustrates the "Adam Raccoon" children's book series, available from Chariot Books. Geared for children ages 4-7, each book finds poor Adam in another misadventure, such as getting lost in the woods or trying to assemble a flying machine. Each story is based on one of Jesus' parables, and discussion questions help parents reinforce the books' themes.
Glen has tested his Adam Raccoon ideas on his own children; and, like dad Bil, he encourages them in their own artistic pursuits. "Claire could draw before she could talk," Linda says. "At age three, we took her to a speech therapist but she drew like an early elementary-age child." Max, too, has done some animation at home--bringing a shark to cartoon life.
Glen is one of the few veteran animators at Disney who have remained at the drawing board. Some of his colleagues have moved over to producing or directing. But, says Glen, such a change would "move me away from what I do best--drawing."
The fact that Glen has stayed put is something for which many children--as well as their parents--are grateful indeed.