Saturday, December 20, 2014


 When you take the time to study classic Disney production art up close you begin to realize just how enormously talented and dedicated the animation staff was. The studio's background painters were all fine artists on weekends on their own time. And it shows. I am endlessly impressed by their understanding of light, and its application in a simply and convincing manner. You can freeze frame almost any frame from a Walt Disney movie and feel astonished at the artistry and craftsmanship.

Realism was not the name of the game in those days, but believable stylization was. They created worlds that were different from ours, they took us to imaginary places that were far removed from photo realistic imagery. Walt's films are like dreams, the kind we don't want to wake up from.
Here is a short line up of final production images, some of them are holiday related.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Animal Sketchbook 1991

It is not very wise to follow a post featuring Busch drawings with samples of your own work. But here it is, since I had nothing else prepared.
When Disney announced the production of The Lion King way back, the animators were encouraged to start sketching at zoos and wildlife parks. These drawings are from a sketchbook dating back to that time.
I had then just found out about brush pens and was eager to try them out. The fluid lines coming out of the pen's tip almost eliminate any stiff drawing on the page, on the other hand bad drawings are still possible. You can still come up with wrong proportions or weak poses. The brush pen is only a drawing tool, but a very cool one. The thick and thin contours seem to add a little life, and by smudging the ink on paper you can achieve some rough rendering, which sometimes helps to define volumes.
Just a technique, the main thing of course should be focused observation and the attempt to put down specific poses that define the animal.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Busch Circus Elephant Sketches

Wilhelm M. Busch drew these scenes of circus elephants, performers and handlers in the early 1980s.
He loved drawing animals and visited circus performances regularly. I am fascinated by this elegant sketch above, and the one below, they both point out the differences between an Asian and an African elephant. The size of the ears, two bumps on the top of the head versus no bump, etc.
For the first time Busch drawings actually remind me of Toulouse Lautrec, who also sketched at the circus. One more famous than the other, both masters of capturing a moment in time within seconds.
Most inspiring stuff!! Drawings on cheap paper...the best!!

These two pachyderms look like completely different animals.

These two have a relationship.  

Wonderful pose as these ladies balance themselves on top of the elephant.

Toulouse Lautrec

Sunday, December 14, 2014

What's up with Ward's Hair?

Furthermore...why is Ward drawing Smee from the Disney film Peter Pan in this publicity photo?
Story sketch artist/Mousketeer Roy Williams doesn't seem to be too impressed looking over Ward's shoulder. Kimball is actually referencing a rough animation drawing by Ollie Johnston, placed above his sketch. Perhaps Ollie was out that day, when a photographer went around the studio taking pictures of animators, who worked on Peter Pan. Most of you know that Ward didn't do any animation with Smee, instead he brought the Indian Chief to life (a character that taught me how to have fun with animating dialogue scenes).
I feel lucky to own this complete rough scene of Ollie's. Smee, a little buzzed from drinking wine, is encouraging Captain Hook to leave Neverland.
The drawings will be published in my upcoming Focal Press book on the work of Disney's Nine Old Men.

Friday, December 12, 2014


The development of the Mermaids in Disney's Peter Pan involved several artistic hands. This cel set-up was made to announce the later arrival of the film during the holiday season of 1952. The background is lovely, but the quality of the drawing and inking leaves a lot to be desired. I suppose the top artists were busy finishing the film, which was released in February of 1953.

One of Mary Blair's many concept sketches featuring stylized mermaids with short bodies.

An experimental cel set-up. The background  shows an exploratory painting technique, and the character pose is inspired by a drawing from the model sheet below.

The original Mermaids designs were the work of Fred Moore, but this model sheet looks like Milt Kahl might have worked over Fred's drawings.

Another preliminary cel set-up, which combines the above- and the under water world in an interesting way.

This live action reference frame clearly shows how the actresses' poses influenced the final animation, as can be seen in the artwork below. The mermaid with the harp is Margaret Kerry (who also posed for scenes with Tinker Bell) and the one holding a horn is the one and only June Foray.

More on Peter Pan and the Mermaids here:

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Verna Felton

Verna Felton is one of my favorite voice actresses in animation. Her rich vocal performances for Disney span decades. Unfortunately I never had the chance of meeting her, she died one day before Walt Disney passed away on Dec. 14, 1966.
Felton was responsible for characters like The Elephant Matriarch in Dumbo, she also did those few dialogue lines for his mother. In Cinderella she became the warm hearted Fairy Godmother, by contrast for the film Alice in Wonderland she voiced the ueber eccentric Queen of Hearts.
Verna Felton was Aunt Sarah in Lady and the Tramp, the bossy Fairy Flora in Sleeping Beauty and Winifred, another elephant in Jungle Book.
I remember years ago listening to part of a recording session for Sleeping Beauty. She had a hard time with a particular line of dialogue for Flora. After a couple of failed attempts, she burst at the director: "I can't pronounce that sentence, who on earth wrote this?!"

Here are a few images from various stages of production, featuring Disney characters Verna Felton helped shape and define for generations to come. Love this woman.

Images: Disney, Heritage Auctions, Howard Lowery

For previous posts on Verna Felton's characters, go here: