Saturday, February 9, 2013

Milt Kahl's Black Cauldron



These are the last drawings Milt Kahl ever did for Disney.
He had already left the studio and moved to Marin County in Northern California.
The film The Fox and the Hound was being produced without any input from Kahl, but the management team that would head up the next animated project The Black Cauldron felt, it couldn't hurt to ask the old virtuoso to help out with a few character designs.
So they sent him the Lloyd Alexander books and told him that the movie would be based on story elements from these fantasy novels. Milt liked the material and went to work.

There is one problem with this scenario:
The studio neglected to also send along any rough design sketches that would stimulate Milt's imagination. When designing characters Milt had always relied on 
Vis Dev sketches from artists like Bill Peet, Ken Anderson, Tom Oreb and others.
Milt himself admitted that he sees himself more of a refiner when it comes to setting the look of Disney characters for a new film.
So by not having any fresh visual material in front of him, Milt couldn't help but recycle some of his own design elements from earlier movies. 

All of these are BEAUTIFUL drawings, but ...Taran looks like a mix of Peter Pan and Mowgli, Princess Eilonwy resembles Alice and Tigerlilly, and Fflewddur Fflam could be the brother of Roger from 101Dalmatians (Gurgi is a more interesting invention).
The costume designs lack spark as well. All of this would look so much more inspired, had the studio supplied Milt with inspirational sketches from Disney artists like Mel Shaw, Vance Gerry or Peet Young, who all worked on Cauldron. 







The Gwythaints are distant relatives of the vaultures from Jungle Book.



The Horned King should have been a menace like Fantasia's Chernabog.





The Witches of Morva are variations of Medusa and Madam Mim, gorgeously drawn though.





In the end our animation team did change some of these character concepts, except for Taran and Eilonwy. We were asked to basically use Milt's models, but we sure weren't ready to take on that kind of realism. 
It's fun though to think that Milt's career and mine overlapped just a little bit. And by the end of production of The Black Cauldron I felt like I had learned how to walk, and it was time to move on to new projects with a tiny bit of experience under my belt.

19 comments:

  1. I'm wondering whether Mr Kahl would have worked with more far-out designs à la Tim Burton. To have the very definition of the Disney style clash and mingle with a style that was back then so unusual and fresh ... I think it would at the very least have been interesting.

    Kahl's gwythaints' heads also remind me of the vultures from Snow White.

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  2. I think you hit the nail on the head Andreas, about Milt needing to work over someone elses design concepts. He could plus any style I bet!

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  3. Wonderful drawings! I have one question that make look silly. Do you design the final model of Gurgi or was Glenn Keane? Also, did you take inspiration in Milt Kahl's design or start over? Thanks for the post, I remember you mention those drawings in a podcast interview and I always wanted to see them.

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    1. Gurgi's final design is by Hendel Butoy, who also animated him.
      Milt's designs survived only for Taran and Eilonwy...sort of.

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  4. Thank you so much for sharing all those stuff !!!!

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  5. This stuff is incredible never seen it before. Amazing to know now that he designed Taran and Eilonwy I always loved there design as a kid. Its hard to believe how much Milt's drawings look like the Don Bluth style reminds me so much of Dragons lair.

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  6. Hi Andras !.

    I was rewatching the Kahl's family album show again after seing this amazing drawings and at the begining, arround 3:15 they show some vintage posters drawings, nothing to do with disney. Are those milt's drawings to ?. Do you have by any chance drawings fromt milt or any other of the nine, that where before they come into disney ? I always wonder how do those guys drew in art school, or before they discover animation.

    Now that I think of it Ollie shows some of his early life drawing in his family album program. I would love to see more of them !

    Sorry for my bad writing !. Greetings from Argentina !!
    Agustin.

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    1. Those advertisement drawing are Milt's. He did this kind of work before joining Disney.
      I have a copy of one early Kahl illustration, which I will post sometime.

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  7. Gurgi looks like a cross between King Louie and the old lawyer from Aristocats.

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  8. As a fan of the original books, I much prefer these character designs, no matter how derivitive they are of Milt's previous work. His Fflewder Flam and Gurgie are so much more as they are described in Alexander's book and I like the Baron Samadi take on the Horned King - who was never quite as supernatural in the book as he was in the film.

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  9. Thanks for putting up Black Cauldron drawings. Though not a perfect film, I do enjoy it and wish it received more recognition.

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  10. Even though the two leads have familiar character designs, these are some truly beautiful drawings. Which reminds me, have you seen the concept art for the female lead from Frozen? She looks awfully similar to Rapunzel from Tangled.

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    1. It's easy to fall back on to formulas. I have done it myself in the past, but it's always worth trying something fresh and unexpected.

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    2. Expecially when you have such a wonderful concept by Marc Davis. http://img148.imageshack.us/img148/7407/snowqueenmarcdavis.jpg

      I don't know nothing about "Frozen" and I need to see the movie before say anything about it. Still this concept would look great in 3D, I think it would be the perfect medium for make it move (and the style is so different from the Disney ladies we saw in the past)...

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  11. What a great example of the influence of vis dev on the character design stage. Or rather in this case, the absence of vis dev.

    On a side note, his Horned King sketches remind me of another great character designer, Alex Toth.

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  12. Thank you for these priceless posts Andreas.

    On one of the sketches for Taran, Milt wrote a "NO" pointing the beautifully drawn over the shoulder drawing.

    I know that as matter of keeping the character "animatable" or maintaining its graphic appeal, it's just not a good idea to draw the character from certain angles.

    That drawing is beautiful far as I'm concerned. Any insight as to why Milt noted a NO for that drawing?

    In the smaller preview photo before enlarging, it's is not as easily readable as Taran as the others are.....does that have something to do with it?

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  13. Hey Andreas, when I looked you up on Wikipedia it says that you were credited for working on Gurgi on The Black Cauldron. I'm curious to know what your involvement was with the character or if that's just a mistake.

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    1. I was just involved with Gurgi's design. that's all.

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  14. The witches resembles Madam Min from The Sword in the Stone

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