Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Alice and the Queen

A great Frank Thomas drawing of the Queen of Hearts which was recently offered at auction, and is now available on Ebay. Classic Disney villains are often portrayed in a subtle manner, like the Queen in Snow White, Cinderella's Stepmother or Maleficent.
But this bad lady is cartoony, and Frank loved working on scenes with her. He liked playing off the contrast between dainty expressions followed by over the top emotional outbursts. Actress Verna Felton gave him plenty explosive voice recordings that helped define her personality.
It's amazing to realize that she also voiced the kind Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, the movie preceding Alice. Which speaks for Verna Felton's acting range.

Below a magazine article from Silver Screen, May 1951. One of many to promote the release of Disney's Alice in Wonderland.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Anatomy and Structure

Animator Bill Justice drew this scene with the character of John from Peter Pan.
Without thorough knowledge of the human body via life drawing this type of animation would fall apart. Spine, shoulders, rip cage, hip bones etc. are things that you need to know about. 
You need to know how they connect, and of course how they look in motion. Tracing live action reference is simply not an option. Your knowledge of human anatomy is key.
Bill Justice did his homework. He might be known as the animator who brought Chip and Dale to life, but he was also capable of handling complex realism.

I don't know who drew these pose of Pluto, but I really like them. Here you find anatomical structure as well, just applied in a much looser manner. Pluto is a very cartoony dog, but dog anatomy is evident nevertheless. There are definitive elbows, knees, shoulders and hips. 
This earlier style of Disney drawing allowed for greater flexibility and cheats. 
Disney's animators always knew how to handle a character based on the degree of realism. They went far out with Pluto and Donald Duck, but were holding back effectively on characters like Bambi or Lady and the Tramp.

John drawings/Howard Lowery

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Fabulous Fantasia

A collection of amazing model sheets are being offered at Heritage Auctions. Created by Disney's character model department they show a versatility of styles and artistic approaches, depending on the individual artist who drew them. The Bacchus sheet consists of sketches by Ward Kimball. He did not enjoy this assignment, he phoned it in, as you might say today. Ward had his eyes on the Dance of the Hours sequence, but didn't end up working on it.
Zeus, Vulcan, Apollo and his horses are portrayed in an exaggerated 1940s art deco style with intriguing anatomy.
And the two Pegasus sheets just kill me. The volume in line drawing, the perspective, unbelievable!
Stylized realism, yet animatable.
Stuff for the ages.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Ollie's Birthday

Ollie Johnston's birthday is on Halloween. Next week would be his 106th. He was the longest living member of the Nine Old Men.
I love this photo of him (by Mark Kirkland), because this is just how I remember him. When reminiscing about his career at Disney, he said:"I was lucky to be at the right place at the right time."
Ollie was kind to everybody, he loved talking to young artists who shared his passion. He was full of stories and anecdotes from decades he spent animating at Disney.
He would tell things like what a ball he had working on the film Robin Hood. "I was probably one of the few artists who enjoyed animating on that movie because they gave me Prince John and Sir Hiss."
Milt Kahl didn't care for Robin Hood, and Frank Thomas is known to list his assignments as his least favorites.
Ollie's work continues to inspire, I still can't figure out how he animated Baloo and Mowgli during the Bare Necessities number. The rhythm, the choreography and the sheer joy in the animation still blows my mind.
Here are just a few reminders of his genius.

Jock and Alice/Howard Lowery

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Prince & the Pauper

This is a cel from one of my scenes from Disney's 1990 featurette The Prince & the Pauper.
I remember working very hard to distinguish the TWO Mickeys. One is a prince, one is a pauper. 
Same look, different personalities and behavior. 
I tried to portray the Pauper with submissive acting, while the Prince is confident and in charge. He's the authority. 
This turned out to be a fun assignment, even though the film's overall story is somewhat scattered.
Thinking back, I just remember how much I enjoyed animating Mickey Mouse.

Monday, October 22, 2018

More of my Black Cauldron Designs

It's so interesting to see drawings you haven't looked at in decades. Heritage Auctions is again offering concept art from The Black Cauldron (from the film's producer's estate.) These are from another lifetime of mine.
Some were drawn in Germany, when I found out that Disney planned to produce this film. I read the books by Lloyd Alexander and got inspired. I do remember the sketches of Taran above, the witches as well as Taran with "big" Hen Wen were sketched out in my little cubby hole of a student place in Essen/Werden Germany. The others I did when I started at Disney in 1980.

This is an early version of Creeper, the Horned King's sidekick.

More designs for for the monster birds, called the Gwythaints.

And again the three witches. By the way I used the design of the witch on the right for my assignment in the Disney Animation training program. Eric Larson asked me wether I wanted to do some animation on a classic Disney character or on a character designed by my own. So I chose this witch, who is really a mix of Madame Medusa and Madame Mim.
What mattered is that the scenes I animated seemed good enough for employment on actual production.

The L. Alexander books described Hen Wen as a pig having oracular powers. To me this had to be an old pig...sort of a gypsy type,

The "cuter" version of Hen Wen trying to escape the claws of a giant Gwythaint.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

More on Milt's Duchess

Milt Kahl rarely had his animation re-drawn, after all he was authority on the the Disney style. Most animators at the studio at one time or another asked Milt for "drawing help". Just one or two of his "draw-overs" would improve a whole scene in the way the character appeared on the screen.
I've said this before, Milt represented the drawing police at Disney for a few decades.

Here is a rare case where director Woolie Reitherman asked a clean up artist to alter Milt's animation drawings slightly during the production of The Aristocats. Duchess just met the alley cat Thomas O'Malley, who is trying to impress her by presenting himself as a man of the world during a song number. "Bravo, very good, you are a great talent" she responds. 

There are subtle changes that were made from Milt's original animation. Duchess' eyes got smaller and more cheek hair was added. 
I think she still looks attractive in the final version, but that "Milt Kahl graphic bite" got lost.

Even more on Milt's Duchess here:

and here: