Monday, August 26, 2013

Bill Peet's Dumbo

A young Bill Peet sketches elephants at a circus, backstage around 1940.
He ended up doing story work on critically important personality sequences like those playful scenes with Dumbo and his mother. Bill Tytla saw the potential in these storyboards and turned them into animated gold. In the hands of lesser artists, emotional story material like this could have turned saccharine very quickly, but both men approached this assignment with such sincerity that you can't help but fall in love with these characters.

The circus moves during a rainstorm at night. I love this sketch, you can feel the elephant using its weight to push the tiger cage up the ramp on to the train.

Peet came up with the final character design for Dumbo, those are his drawings on the model sheet.

Bill Peet at work at the studio. It's fun to study all the research he assembled.
That's an early model sheet by J.P.Miller on his left.

Peet was brilliant at handling elephants in his story work. That's probably why he chose them so often as main characters in his many children's' books.


  1. Beautiful sketches! I especially like the one where Dumbo is hiding behind his mothers foot. Nice contrast.

  2. Aw, that was my favorite movie as a child. Probably because the elephants seemed so real, yet so full of human characteristics. Maybe those characteristics are just 'mammal' characteristics! I'm so glad to see that the artist was actually in the presence of elephants when he planned his drawings!

  3. Beautiful sketches! What an asset he must have been to the studio. Thanks for sharing.

  4. This is so cool--I just finished a report on Peet. He was something else! His books were my favorites as a child and it wasn't until I was older that I learned he also contributed to my favorite Disney films in such an essential way. Thanks for posting these! I didn't realize he could draw in the "Disney style" so perfectly. These are beautiful!