Thursday, July 11, 2024

About Scar


The Lion King turned 30 last month, and I have been speaking frequently to people who had questions about what it was like to work on the film. 
As some of you might know, I had already animated two Disney villains, Gaston and Jafar. By the time the Lion King came around, I thought there would be little or no chance for me to do the villain again. Certainly it was time for someone else to handle the bad guy.

But let me back up a little bit. We were still in the process of finishing the movie Aladdin when a group of us had an important conversation in the hallway of the studio. As much as we loved working on Disney animated films (and it was really an honor), things had gotten a little dicey for the whole animation team. 
I need to point out that at that time there was only ONE animation team, the one that had produced The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast as well as the almost finished Aladdin. For each of those films we had been given 12 months to finish the animation. That was a very tight schedule to say the least. In order to meet the weekly deadlines, a ton of overtime was needed. Dinners were catered to the studio. Many artists took their work home over weekends, I know I did. 
Don't get me wrong, it was loads of fun to work on these films, and we were elated to see their boxoffice results. But people were getting exhausted, and some relationships suffered because we spent so many hours at the studio and very little at home. 
It was time to have a talk with management to discuss these issues. We ended up having a company retreat on the Queen Mary, an old ocean liner turned onto a hotel, located in Long Beach.

Those talks were difficult and straining, but Disney management took notice. The result:
After Aladdin our one animation team would be split into two. Each small unit would be enlarged by hiring additional artists to the studio. And the time to animate a new feature would now be around 18 months. 

The first two animated titles that went into production almost simultaneously were Pocahontas and King of the Jungle (which would go through a name change...).
In order to present pre-production work for both projects to the animators, a wine and cheese party was held. I remember gorgeous vis dev Illustrations by Mike Gabriel telling the story of Pocahontas and her unusual love interest. In essence this was a Romeo and Juliet concept. Everyone understood it and loved it.
King of the Jungle was supposed to be about a lion cub growing up, as he learns about what it takes to become...king of the jungle. 
Mel shaw had produced a few atmospheric pastel sketches showing African wildlife, but there wasn't much of a story at this point.

Disney gave us a choice regarding which film we would like to be a part of. I still find this stunning after all these years. They could have seriously suggested which animator they saw fit for any of the two titles, but they didn't. We really had a choice.
As much as I loved the visuals for Pocahontas, it was clear to me that I had to be a part of the "lion project". Perhaps because of my love for the Jungle Book and my general passion for wildlife.
All the way hoping that a good story for the film might emerge. 

So I started looking at early storyboards to figure out which of the "non villain" characters I might lean toward. Simba, Mufasa, Rafiki etc. 

Then word got around the studio that actor Jeremy Irons had just read a few lines for Scar. I listened to these early recordings, mind was blown. What a voice, what a concept, what a character!!
It might not have been my turn to animate another villain, but I just had to ask. 
I got lucky!

Monday, June 10, 2024

Shere Khan and Kaa II

I talked about this sequence from the Jungle Book before. Here Shere Khan interrogates Kaa, the python, about the man cub. The storyboards were drawn by Vance Gerry and Floyd Norman.

Again I am utterly impressed with Milt Kahl's staging of the two characters. He takes the main idea from the story sketch and draws them in a way that creates a strong visual connection between them. You can see in those rough lines of the tiger that weren't tied down (because those areas are off screen) how hard Milt worked to get the drawing, the shapes and the overall staging just right. Absolute perfection!

Here is the link to a previous post with more of tiger/snake staging masterpieces:

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Richard Sherman Interview

You all heard by now that Richard M Sherman passed away recently. He would have been 96 years old next week on June 12. 
Richard was amazing in so many ways. Everybody who met him has a Richard Sherman story. He was happy to meet anybody who wanted to meet him. You might have seen Richard in bonus material on some of Disney's home video discs. 
I just came across this fantastic interview with him on Youtube. It was conducted in 2011 by Scott Feinberg. Richard is very much at ease here at his home. He reflects on his songwriting career with his brother Robert, as well as working with Walt Disney, PL Travers and others. 
Great stories from someone who was a true genius, an entertainer and an optimist. He will be greatly missed.

So pour yourself a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and enjoy the story of Richard Sherman.

Here is the link:

Thursday, May 23, 2024

A Milt Kahl Sketch Explained


Recently I had the good fortune to purchase this beautiful sketch by Milt Kahl. It was part of the Marc Davis Auction at Heritage. So what the heck is going on here visually?

I remember seeing the drawing framed in Marc and Alice's home years ago. At that time Alice explained: The woman portrayed is Alice's mother Mildred. Marc and Milt Kahl had been colleagues as well as best friends for many years. Alice thought it was high time for her mother to meet Milt. But beforehand Alice warned her mom over the phone that this friend of the Davis' often used vulgar language in his conversations. During the actual visit everybody got along great. Then there was Mildred's poodle who exhibited "romantic feelings" toward one of Milt's legs. The next day Alice called her mom again, this time to apologize for some of Milt's profanities. She responded by saying that she thought he was perfectly charming... and if he couldn't use any bad language, he would not be able to speak at all. 

True story. So on her upcoming birthday Milt sent Mildred this sketch. After her passing Marc and Alice ended up with the drawing. 

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Indian Wildlife

A little while ago, while I was working on the Jungle Book exhibition for the WDFM, I had the idea to come up with sketches of the actual animals being portrayed in the film. The set is still not complete yet, but here are the first three.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Aristocats Art

People don't talk much about the art direction for The Aristocats. I think it is beautiful. After the conventional, painterly backgrounds for The Jungle Book the Disney team decided to go back to a more graphic look with black line work. Earlier 101 Dalmatians and The Sword in the Stone had started this trend. When you have amazing background artists like Al Dempster, Bill Layne and Ralp Hulett you can be assured to have terrific art no matter what the style may be. 

A Ken Anderson development sketch.

The human characters still blow me away. Milt Kahl designed and animated them realistically, but their anatomy shows sophisticated, simplified graphic designs.

John Lounsbery helped Milt with the animation of Edgar, the butler. as well as the old lawyer George Hautecourt.

I believe this is a Frank Thomas scene.

Currently there is no good version of The Aristocats to watch anywhere. The film looks unrecognizable in its over-restored state. The old DVD still has a somewhat authentic look.

Backgrounds Disney ARL, cels Heritage Auctions.


Monday, April 22, 2024

Earth Day/Marc Davis

Happy Earth Day! Today I hope we can all reflect and contemplate the importance of the natural world and its wildlife. One of its biggest champions was Marc Davis. He and his wife Alice supported several environmental and wildlife protection organizations. Of course we all know about Marc's immense talent for depicting animals. He was an expert in anatomy and motion study. This is evident in his animation, theme park designs and his personal fine art. Here are a few masterful pieces that were recently part of a big Marc Davis art auction at Heritage.