Sunday, July 20, 2014

Robin Hood Character Moments

Beautiful staging and drawing is evident in these animation drawings from the film Robin Hood.
Except for Prince John, who was brilliantly handled by Ollie Johnston, the images are from scenes by Milt Kahl. (Mother Church Mouse is a model sheet, drawn by Milt).
The animation doesn’t have the energy we see in the anthropomorphic animals from Song of the South, but these characters live in a different world, and the situations within the story call for more subtle acting. Milt recalled that even though Robin Hood is a fox, he is the equivalent of a handsome hero type, so his actions and expressions needed to reflect that. 
Ollie had a great time animating Prince John and Sir Hiss, two characters with rich vocals that helped to establish them as entertaining, comic villains.
My favorite character design from the film is probably Lady Kluck, Maid Marian’s lady-in-waiting. I love the simplicity of her silhouette, her sharp beak and the way her wings articulate human gestures. 
This is an appealing cast that deserved to be placed in a better story. 
When Ward Kimball (who was not involved with the film) saw an early screening of Robin Hood, he complained to Frank and Ollie: ”How on earth can you tell this story without having Robin Hood save Maid Marian from the clutches of Prince John?”

Nevertheless, as a much less critical kid I enjoyed watching this film a lot when it was first released in 1973.

There are many previous posts about Robin Hood, the most unique one would have to be this interview with Milt Kahl:

Friday, July 18, 2014

Lessons from Frank & Ollie

…about observation and personality. These clips are part of a program that helped promote their book The Illusion of Life. It aired in the early 1980s on the Disney channel. After reminiscing about their long careers at the studio, Frank and Ollie talk in front of students from Cal Arts a well as Rowland High School. Some of these kids went on to become big players in the animation industry. One young student is John Ramirez, who turned out to be the fastest inbetweener in the West, and I was lucky to have John help me meet my crazy deadlines for Lion King and Hercules.
Joe Ranft is in the audience as well.
It’s fun to watch Frank and Ollie in top form, as they communicate with a new generation of animation artists.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

TS Sullivant 11

Exactly one hundred years ago this Sullivant cartoon was publishes in Life magazine.
A whole century later he still stands alone as a master of caricature of not only animals, but people as well. 
The following illustrations show how inventive, unconventional and original he was when handling human types. If I was teaching a class on character design, I would have all of my students study these proportions, poses and expressions. This stuff is so way ahead of today’s animation designs. I don't mean that modern animated characters should look like Sullivant's work, it's just a level of excellence in general that I am missing in most productions.

Here is another selection of Mr Sullivant’s delicious drawings, to inspire and to remind everybody, who is interested, of a higher standard. 

My first post on Sullivant focused on his masterful animal designs:

Sunday, July 13, 2014


Obviously I need to have a post that celebrates the German team winning the World Cup. Yeeaaaahhhh…..
The soccer game in Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks was unbelievably popular in Germany when the film was released there in 1972. It was shown on TV over and over again, and when Disney released the sequence on Super 8 film as home entertainment, it became by far the best selling Disney clip.

Here are a few of Milt Kahl’s gorgeous designs for a few members of the infamous “Island of Naboombu” soccer match.

An earlier leaner warthog design.

All I remember when I saw the match for the first time on the screen, it gave me one of those Disney “highs”. And Kimball’s direction had a lot to do with it.

Did I mention Germany won…?

Links to previous posts on Bedknobs and Broomsticks:

Friday, July 11, 2014

Wendy and Peter's Shadow

I’ve always loved this section from the film Peter Pan’s opening sequence. 
The backgrounds look very soft and dreamlike, and the character situation is just wonderful. Wendy explains to Peter that he can’t attach his lost shadow using soap, it needs sewing (who knew?). What great cartoon logic!

Peter Pan obviously doesn’t know the proper shadow attachment technique yet.

Kathryn Beaumont acted these scenes out for animator Les Clark. Quite the contraption as a stand in for Peter’s leg.

A nice animation key drawing by Les Clark.

Can you believe this background from the sequence? What amazing lighting. The beauty of these backdrops is that they look a little deserted without the character level, like a gorgeous painting that is missing something. This little masterpiece is on screen for only a few seconds.

A frame from the scene.

The craftsmanship and care that went into making these Disney movies never ceases to amaze me.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Bambi and Thumper on Ice

As I mentioned in a recent post, each of Disney’s Nine Old Men had not only high standards, but also strong opinions about when it came to looking at a colleague’s work.
That doesn’t mean that they didn’t work closely together in an effort to get the absolute best result on the screen. Milt Kahl often discussed acting possibilities with Frank Thomas, and Frank got help from Milt when it came to improving a drawing.
While working on Bambi, Frank was looking forward to animating the sequence with Bambi having trouble moving on ice, while Thumper performed like a professional skater. Then word got around that Walt Disney was thinking about cutting this section from the film. To prove the entertainment possibilities in the sequence Frank quickly drew a series of sketches and had them put on to film.  The result convinced Walt that these character rich situations needed to be part of the movie.
Frank's beautiful sketch above is a publicity illustration, based on his exploratory story work. 
Years ago, when I came across the drawings below, I knew right away that Milt had also contributed to the sequence by helping Frank with staging certain poses and situations.
That kind of teamwork is one of the reasons why the studio was able to elevate animation to unimaginable heights.

So far I have not seen any of Frank’s own story sketches for the ice skating sequence yet. But you never know when and where these gems might surface.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

About Special Effects and Old Men

Do you ever get the feeling that a certain commercial project by somebody was actually made for you? 
There are a couple of items that fall into this category, and I’d like to bring them to your attention. Two significant milestones in documenting Disney Animation history.

John Canemaker just came out with a book that deals with the techniques and behind the scenes of Disney’s Golden Age. The title is “The Lost Notebook-Herman Schultheiss and the Secrets of Walt Disney’s Movie Magic”.
Amazon writes:
“Discover the secrets behind Fantasia, Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Bambi-all through the lens of early animation’s most enigmatic and fascinating character, Herman Schultheis.”
This is a coffee table book full of never before seen photos, artwork and technical charts that take your breath away. You find out about live action reference for “Dance of the Hours”, how the oversized snowflakes at the end of the “Nutcracker” made it to the screen, and so much more. Schultheis’ own life story, which took him from Germany to Burbank and beyond reads like a script for a Hollywood film. All I can say is: Must have!

Here is the Amazon link:

Next up is a terrific documentary by Frank Thomas’ son Ted, called “Growing up with Nine Old Men”.
It is included in the bonus material for the BluRay of Peter Pan (North America), and The Jungle Book (Europe and other terriories). During the 45 minutes film you find out what it was like to grow up having a top Disney animator as your dad. Ted’s previous feature film documentaries include “Frank and Ollie” and “Walt and El Groupo”. This film is very personal, we follow Ted’s journey to meet up with other children of the Nine Old Men, some he knew from childhood, others he had never met.
You’ll find out from Milt Kahl’s daughter Sybil, what her dad’s daily routine was after work. 
Who knew that John Lounsbery raised his kids in the country, and that he liked getting his hands dirty pouring cement and taking care of livestock? And wait to find out what life was like in the Kimball home. You get to know these giants of animation from a private angle. 
The film led me to invite the Nine Old Men’s kids to my last Christmas Party. And wouldn’t you know…most of them showed up. What an evening.
This is Miri Weible, the daughter of Les Clark.

Check out the film’s trailer:

An interview with Ted Thomas about his film:

To purchase the film as a part of the Peter Pan BluRay, go to: