Thursday, August 21, 2014

Greek Mythology

I just got back from a screening of Disney's Hercules, a film I had not seen since it came out in 1997.
And I have to admit, that I had forgotten how funny it was. Way back in 1997 the movie's satirical humor and its graphic styling might not have been everybody's cup of tea, but watching it today with an enthusiastic audience was a lot of fun.
I'll have more on Hercules in the near future, some material (my pencil tests) I thought was lost just resurfaced. So stay tooned.

In the meantime here are a few beautiful book illustrations depicting Greek Mythology. The artist is Wilhelm M. Busch, and the 1968 book is called "Olympische Liebesspiele" (Olympic Love Games).
I love everyone of these drawings, and if I could draw like this in my next life, that would be ok with me.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Exploring the Possibilities

Milt Kahl used those words when he tried to explain his process for starting a new scene.
Most of you know that Milt and many other Disney animators produced a number of thumbnail sketches in preparation for the actual animation. This research can center around finding certain expressions, an acting pattern or -like in this case- a simple pose.

In this scene Robin is stirring the soup while daydreaming about Maid Marian. 
The image above is a frame from that scene, but check out how much work Milt put into finding this one pose. He came up with a ton of variations, until he sold himself on one position that looked natural to him. 
I think that Milt actually struggled a little to get to a satisfying result. But remember what he said one time: “I actually don’t draw that well, I have to work like hell to make a drawing look good!” (At the same time he thought that he drew better than anybody else at the studio.)

It’s fascinating to see his mind in action, exploring the possibilities.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Victory Through Air Power II

I really didn’t think I would ever do another post on this unusual Disney feature from 1943, but I want to share these terrific design sketches by Marc Davis for the film. Marc is researching animatable versions of the eagle and the octopus, who face off during the film’s climax. It is a short but dramatic sequence, animated by Bill Tytla.
These studies show Marc’s unwavering belief that you need to know and understand an animal’s internal anatomy before you can animate it convincingly. The motion range of wings, neck and claws are thoroughly studied. Marc was a “no nonsense” artist, know your stuff from the inside out before you make it move. Wether cortoony or realistic, Marc always insisted on figuring out the character’s 
inner workings first. 

I remember Marc talking about drawing snakes. He mentioned that many artists draw them by using curved lines only, which results in weak looking images. “There are plenty opportunities to add straight lines to show strength and power”. 
The same can be said about these octopus studies. Whenever a tentacle stretches, it shows tension and stress. Magnificent drawings.

To revisit my first post on Marc’s story sketches for Victory Through Air Power, go here:

It’s time to -highly- recommend this new book on the art of Marc Davis. It gives you great insight into the creative mind of this multi-talented artist, whose career covered character animation, theme park attractions and fine art. Various chapters also describe Marc as a teacher, traveller and husband.
I was honored to write about his animal studies at the zoo.
(The drawings above are not included in the book.)
The book is already available in Disney parks, the Amazon link is here:

Friday, August 15, 2014

Kley's Pastoral Kiss

I always thought that most of Heinrich Kley’s nudes have an innocence about them, sort of like Freddie Moore girls. There might be a light sensual quality in some of his illustrations, but Kley stayed away from showing truly sexual content. 
This image is very different. 
The woman is drawn delicately with a pale skin tone. By contrast her lover -a centaur- is depicted with bold ink lines. This passionate embrace represents the only Kley sketch I would call erotic.
There are parts of the composition like the shapes of the trees that support symbolically the nature of the theme. 
When I saw this piece for the first time. I was startled to see how far Kley went in drawing this intimate, amorous moment of fantasy.

Compare this illustration to to Kley’s “Centaur Family Portrait” from an earlier post:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Frank's Baloo & Mowgli

For the film The Jungle Book Ollie Johnston animated the introduction of Baloo and his first encounter with Mowgli, the man cub. Frank Thomas took both characters over, starting with the scene above.
Mowgli has just ran away from Bagheera, and all he wants right now is to be left alone.
But Baloo is too interested in getting to know this unusual jungle creature. He wants to have some fun and challenges Mowgli to a boxing match. After a while he let’s the kid hit him in the jaw and pretends to be on the loosing end of this game. 
This sequence is beautifully written and brilliantly animated by Frank. Since there is a lot of motion involved (broad as well as subtle) with both characters as they circle each other in this mock fight, Frank ended up doing ALL of the rough drawings himself. There are no in-betweens. 
This is actually not that unusual, since Frank usually contributed most or all of the drawings for any of his scenes. Other animators would often use a moving hold for calm moments, which involved only two key drawings with lots of in-betweens provided by the assistant. But Frank seems to always have something going on, even in the most subtle acting patterns. Something is always moving, things don’t come to a stop. 
As a result of producing so many drawings for a given scene, Frank could not focus on gorgeously designed poses or expressions. So his drawings by themselves might not look too intimidating to an animation student or professional, but watching them in motion is a whole other potato. The characters come to life in such a believable way, they breath, they move with weight, and they have real thoughts.
In other words, they have a soul.

Here are a few moments from Frank’s scenes, in which Baloo tries to cheer up Mowgli and win his affection. 

To watch some of these scenes in motion, go here:

Sunday, August 10, 2014


Working on short films has always been a fun but brief experience, and “The Ballad of Nessie” from 2011 was no exception. (For some reason it feels like only yesterday that we made the film.)
Each animator gets just a few scenes to animate, and the project is done. Nessie (under six minutes long) was animated by Ruben Aquino, Dale Baer, Randy Haycock, Mark Henn and myself.
Stevie Wermers-Skelton came up with film’s concept, and Kevin Deters joined her to co-direct.
We enjoyed working on simple, cartoony material again that was inspired by some of the Disney shorts from the 1950s. 
The color image above is a still from one of my scenes. 

A few of my exploratory sketches based on Stevie’s design.

This is a pre-production test scene I did which shows Nessie during a sad moment, all alone with her only friend MacQuack, a rubber duck.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Milt's Tigger

Way back on the original Winnie The Pooh shorts, Tigger was the last character to be translated from a book illustration into an animation design. His transformation was more substantial than any of the other personalities. Luckily it was Milt Kahl who was in charge of Tigger’s final appearance in the Disney films. 
Illustrator Ernest H. Shepard’s original concept looked like this.

A cel from one of Milt’s scenes.

Milt just went to town with this assignment. Pooh and most of the other characters behave in subtle ways, and their acting is underplayed. Tigger adds a much needed contrast with Paul Winchell’s voice and Milt’s energetic, boisterous performances.
Here are a few of his original, first-pass roughs, which were tossed out because a pose or an expression needed to be altered. They are from a variety of scenes.

Shepard drew this charming sketch in which Tigger is contemplating about helping himself to some of Pooh’s honey.

Milt’s Tigger bursts into the scene and grabs a honey pot with a lot of gusto.
Just looking at these drawings in sequence makes me insanely happy!