Saturday, February 6, 2016

A Blast from the Past

I was surprised to see some of my earliest character designs for The Black Cauldron being offered at Van Eaton Galleries. I haven't seen these sketches since I made them, around 1981.
Boy, if this doesn't take me back to my early days at Disney. I loved working with felt pen and magic marker colors.
Other things come to mind: LA was very smoggy in those days during summer, my English wasn't very good,  and I rode a bicycle to the studio from my apartment in North Hollywood. (Didn't have a driver's license yet.) I remember ignoring a traffic light and making a swift turn from Magnolia Blvd. on to Buena Vista St. without stopping. A policeman saw this and yelled after me. I thought, this is it, I am going to get deported.
Funny, the things you remember..

Here is the link to Van Eaton Galleries:

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Madame Medusa Outtakes

These unfinished Medusa drawings by Milt Kahl were a Christmas gift to myself. Heritage Auctions offered them recently, and there are certain things just have to have.
It doesn't get any better than this: Milt Kahl's rough thoughts on paper. Sharp, thin pencil lines searching for the best way to express the character's emotions. What's crazy about Milt's rough pass at a scene is the fact that he defines certain things very roughly and others extremely delicately, in the same drawing!!
And the pencil just seems to dance on the surface of the sheet of paper.
A once in a century kind of talent!

More Medusa roughs here:

and here:

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Clock Cleaners

Clock Cleaners from 1937 is one of my favorite Disney shorts. The story provides plenty of great gags, and the character animation is incredible. The layouts involve dramatic down shots, which can leave you with a fear for heights.
I remember that as a kid I had a shortened Super-8 film copy of the film, and during a home screening my father mentioned that several shots made him feel dizzy.

These beautiful cels show their age and some damage, but it amazes me they survived at all after so many decades. Look at those colors!
Heritage Auctions offered these treasures a while ago.

What never fails to impress me is that the world these cartoon characters inhabited was logically and realistically depicted. The backgrounds are believable renderings of skyscrapers.
For some reason more recent versions of a "cartoon" world, wether Toon Town or TV episodes featuring cartoony characters all show wacky perspectives, crooked buildings, horizon lines that make no sense etc.
The reason my dad felt dizzy watching Clock Cleaners is due to the fact that Disney's worlds might be fantasy, but they sure have a way of getting you involved, acrophobia and all.


Check out this previously posted interview with Clock Cleaners layout artist Ken O'Connor about cheating perspective to get a certain effect across:

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Lady & the Tramp Art

An animation colleague of mine said this about the film Lady & the Tramp: "Oh, it's just a soup opera with dogs. Boy gets girl, boy looses girl, boy gets girl in the end."
Be that as it may, I think the movie's story is compelling and in support of rich characters. I remember listening to a Walt Disney interview, in which he said this about the film: "Lady & the Tramp turned out well. We felt it, we felt the personalities."
Milt Kahl was equally fond of the film: "L & T is a good movie, I did a lot (of animation) in that. Of course the best thing in it is Eric Larson's dog, the one with the Veronica Lake hairdo...I forget her name now."
Publicity illustrations like the one above are a hit and miss, when it comes to Disney advertising art. Fully rendered, painterly versions of the characters can look cheesy when in the hands if the wrong artist. But this one is on model, and the dogs' fur is skillfully rendered. It looks charming.

Frank Thomas roughed out this composition of Lady and Jock, as they react to Tramp's presence. Their emotions couldn't be more different: Jock is annoyed with the intruder, while Lady is still reflecting on the way she was treated by Mrs Darling.
On the surface this is a very sketchy drawing, but it is very clear nonetheless. Frank's feelings on paper.

This cel represents an early version of Lady's facial appearance. Her eyes are surrounded by a lightly painted area, which was dropped for the final version. (I do recall seeing this scene as a stand out in a screening of the film way back.)

The corrected version as seen in most prints of the film.

Milt Kahl took "realistic" squash and stretch to a whole new level when he animated dialogue scenes with Trusty. His huge muzzle gave Milt the opportunity to exaggerate follow through motion as well.
You can tell, he had a ball animating this character.

Joe Grant came up with this intriguing sketch, depicting Lady and the film's evil cats Si and Am.

These cats presented a real design/animation problem. Ward Kimball started animation, but the footage turned out too zany for the film's style. Milt Kahl reset the felines' design, and animators like John Sibley, Bill Justice and Bob Carlson took care of the final animation.

A clean up model sheet of Peg (whose name escaped Milt), comprised of drawings by then clean up artist Burny Mattinson.

Animator  Ed Aardal had his hands full animating this action scene toward the end of he film. Realistic horses freaking out, beautifully executed.

A color study for the romantic sequence by Eyvind Earle.

And a gorgeous background from the opening sequence, I believe painted by Claude Coats.
Movies like Lady & the Tamp seem to age beautifully, there is a degree of love and dedication missing from today's animated output.

Previous posts you might like about Lady & the Tramp:

Some Images Heritage Auctions, Howard Lowery

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Mary Costa

Disney background painter and imagineer Frank Armitage died recently at the age of 91. I remember meeting him briefly once or twice when still working at Disney. He was soft-spoken, and like all of the old-timers had high standards and was judgmental for all the right reasons.
There were several reports in the media, most write ups focused on his contributions to Sleeping Beauty and his work for Imagineering. A few wonderful photos, taken during production of Sleeping Beauty, accompanied the tributes. I am re-posting them here.
Mary Costa is a living Legend in the truest sense of the word. First of all she defies nature by looking decades younger than her actual age. I have had the pleasure of spending time with her on several social occasions. She is as lovely as you might imagine, and as the voice of Aurora,  Mary exuberates a passion for life. For those of you who don't know, Mary has has had a prodigious career as an internationally celebrated opera singer.
She talks about having to loose her southern accent for her role in Sleeping Beauty, and that she gets a kick out of the character of Charlette in The Princess and the Frog, since they are both Southern Belles.
Look at these fascinating photos, they take you back to the late 1950s at Disney in HD.

I like this illustration, which appeared on some of the film's posters, and was also used as a record cover for the movies's songs and score. 

The film's program from 1959. It includes most of the credits.

A pic from just a few years ago with friends at the Tam O 'Shanter, an LA  restaurant Walt Disney and staff used to patronize. Walt's table is still kept in the same place.
Mary, me, Kathryn Beaumont Levine, Richard  and Elisabeth Sherman and Alice Davis.
And yes, I was pinching myself, Disney Royalty all around.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Fantasia Art

Development Art for Fantasia, done in a variety of techniques, amazes me. These artists were thinking outside of the box, they were doing stuff never attempted before. And they were thinking BIG. Classical music, abstractions, a poem by Goethe, the creation of the earth and Walpurgis Night among other themes. Fearless!