Sunday, July 21, 2013

Disney Owls

There have been so many owls over the years in Disney animation that I can't list them all in this post. Their personalities range from warm paternal to comedic types. Some of them took on the role of a teacher, educating other characters or the audience on a certain subject matter.

A lot of photographic research went into Bambi, to inspire styles for the environments but also the characters. The picture above is part of that research. Walt sent a couple of cameramen on a seven-month trip through the Katahdin county of Maine state, with instructions to photograph and film as many sceneries and animals as possible.
Beautiful realistic studies were made based on that material, and Joe Grant's department produced  wonderful preliminary model sheets. 
It looks like Friend Owl used to be a mom.

Great owl studies that are starting to show personality. The second sheet is a Marc Davis  story sketch. The animation of Friend Owl was done by Eric Larson and Preston Blair.

Wise Old Owl appeared in the 1949 animation/live action film So Dear to My Heart. 
The storyline might be a bit too corny for some of you, but let me tell you, the animated sequences are worth the purchase of the DVD (which is a beautiful transfer of the film).
Milt Kahl did some outstanding scenes with the owl character lecturing Danny, the black lamb.
Worth studying frame by frame!!

The "Accordion Owl" from Alice in Wonderland.

This is Professor Owl from Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom, 1953. Milt Kahl didn't animate on the short, but he drew these design poses of the character. 
(Previously posted on 365 Days of Ward Kimball)  I actually prefer these proportions over the final version.

The owl in Sleeping Beauty was designed by Kahl based on rough sketches by Tom Oreb.
By now the owl's appearance is a variation of an older theme. Fantastic stylization though.

Archimedes was mostly animated by Ollie Johnston, Milt did a few scenes with a more graphic approach, as you can see in his model sheet.

John Lounsbery supervised the animation of Owl for the three Winnie the Pooh featurettes.
By now a very familiar design formula, but Lounsbery brought the character to life with unique character animation as the pseudo-intellectual type.

A model sheet by Dale Baer, who animated Owl for Winnie the Pooh's most recent feature. Dale trained under John Lounsbery in the 1970s, so he was perfectly cast on this character. Beautiful job, Dale!

Guess what! I animated one scene with Owl interacting with Tigger in the film. It was so much fun to do, but articulating wings as hands is not as easy as it might seem.


  1. BEautifull drawings! Owls are so great birds, so expressives :)

  2. Milt Kahl's early Prof Owl designs are, if you'll pardon the pun, a "hoot."

  3. Great to see all the different versions of one bird – could you post about other Disney animals in this format? :D

  4. Its truly inspiring to see how much variety can come from just one concept!

  5. Great model sheets, but...I sure don't think So Dear to My Heart is too corny!!

  6. Dale Baer is one of the best of all time!! love his work on Yzma.

    i like so much the sleeping beauty owl design,its so sophisticated till these days.and i think this kind of design inspired the style lines of the characters on Home on the range and the emperos new groove.

    thank you always,Andreas.i never had a mentor.and like a lot of guys around the world animation is in my blood,is my life since i was a kid a dreamed to be a disney animator.thanks for being our mentor now,its simply a dream come true because im an animator now and im working for commercials and im very very happy doing 2d frame by frame and cut out cartoons!!!!!!


  7. I never realized how many there were. My Fave has gotta be the twitterpated speech from Bambi. The funny walks and the slow sneek forward. So much appeal in all of these designs.
    As always, thanks fer takin the time for our benefit. I'm still flippin Medusa from last week....

  8. Oh good gracious the owlets are so cute and funny-looking! Also, I do believe Disney artists were the ones who perfected "feather fingers." There has been some debate about whether feather fingers add good expression to a character, and I'm on the side that votes yes. It's difficult for a character to express his or herself without hands, and the natural thing to do with birds and bats is to use their wings. I personally think it's an aesthetically pleasing and creative solution. Looking at all these pictures fascinates me, because this was where the technique was established. Kinda like cave paintings, in a way. Thanks for posting these!

  9. Thank you so much for posting, Andreas. I learn so much from your blog! Very inspiring!

  10. "articulating wings as hands is not as easy as it might seem."

    It hasn't gotten any easier with CG either! Animating on Rio and with all the birds has been a test of patience. So many feathers to pose and track.

    This Disney work served as a great source of inspiration. Thanks for the post!

  11. Awkwardly enough, with CGI, everything's easy to animate the birds now instead of good old 2D animation. I am pleased to say that 2D is better than 3D.

  12. So Dear to My Heart has some great animation! Do you know who did the dragon attacking Columbus's ships, by any chance?

    1. I believe that it was John Lounsbery since that dragon reminds me of Ben Ali Gator from "Fantasia" and the wolf from "Make Mine Music", both characters animated by Lounsbery.

  13. I like owls so much!
    Thank you for posting! :)

  14. I have been researching owl characters in Disney and I reached your blog, great posts, thank you! Just found out that you studied in Folkwang Univ, thrilled! Because I am having a residency program by Museum Folkwang, Essen, my studio is next to Folkwang Univ :)