Sunday, September 29, 2013

Geraldine Page is Madame Medusa

Frank Thomas considered her the best voice they ever had for an animated character. 
Animator Milt Kahl stated that he probably had more fun animating Madame Medusa than any other assignment at Disney. While working on the film he was also amazed to find out that a lot of her dialogue was only recorded once. Milt had been looking for an outtake of a certain line, but there weren't any. Many of her first and only readings became production dialogue instantly. 
Page had a strong instinct for who the character was and how eccentrically she should be played.
Milt said: "This actress was so good, she could make poorly written dialogue sound great!"
He watched some of her films to get an idea of her acting background, and he fond a particular acting moment useful for a scene he later animated. 
In the 1962 movie "Sweet Bird of Youth" Page is acting opposite Paul Newman. At one point Newman tries to get to the telephone she is holding. To keep him from getting closer, she kicks  him in the gut and pushes him away with her foot.
Medusa would repeat this moment when she tries to keep Penny away from the Teddy Bear, she grabbed earlier from the girl's arms. "Medusa kicks the little girl away with her boot, which is an awful thing to do and right in character," Milt explained.

A few years ago I had the he chance to listen to an old voice recording with Page as Medusa.
She started out by quietly asking the director a few questions, but then when it was time to record, she bursted her lines into the microphone as loud as she could, like: "PEEEEENNY DEAR, AUNTIE MEDUSA WANTS TO TALK TO YOUUUU!! Then very quietly to the director: "How was that?"

These are a few sketches Ken Anderson made while Geraldine Page was working on The Rescuers.

A pre-production design sketch by Milt Kahl, showing a sort of sensual quality.

To me this is the scariest drawing Milt did of Medusa. Her eyes, the way she points into camera, this woman means business.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Chicken Little 1943

This beautifully produced Disney short film takes some liberties from the original popular story in order to drive home its anti Nazi message. IMDb has this to say about the film:

"Produced as a propaganda short during WWII, warning audiences not to believe anti-American propaganda. Originally the film was to have had more direct references to the war: Foxy Loxy would have read from "Mein Kampf"; and the chicken's graves would have been marked by swastikas. But Walt Disney decided to keep the film generic so that it would not become dated after the war".

The film's concept is brilliant, and the animation is top notch. 
I don't know who drew the model sheets, but the animators used those exact designs, no adjustments were made.

Milt Kahl focused on the main character, who is playful, not very smart and likely to believe anything he is told.
Here is the rough model sheet for Chicken Little followed by Milt's design explorations.

More character model sheets, including the villain Foxy Loxy, animated brilliantly by Ward Kimball.

A very brief version of the storyboard.

Watch the film right here:

You can purchase the complete Disney Wartime DVD set here:

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Walt Disney Family Museum

There is no place like the Walt Disney Family Museum anywhere.
It opened its doors almost four years ago in San Francisco, and from the moment you walk inside, you know that you are in for a special experience. Amazingly designed showrooms are filled with animation art, objects, documents and interactive screens that help to tell the story of Walt Disney.
During my first visit I was literally overwhelmed by the magnitude, the beauty, but also by its integrity. 
This is a labor of love only the Disney family could have championed.
I had the privilege to play a part in several presentations at the museum, just last Saturday art director Carol Police and myself gave a demonstration on the visual development for the classic film "Bambi".
It really is difficult to justly describe the vibe and the magic of this place. You just have to go, see it for yourself and get inspired. Become a member and receive their lovely WDFM magazine.

To find out more, here is the link to the museum's home page:

The following images are from the internet, the copyright is with their respective owners.

Tom Hanks stopped by the museum to get a better idea of who Walt Disney was, the man he would play in the upcoming movie "Saving Mr. Banks".
Here he is chatting with Walt's daughter Diane Disney Miller.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Oscar, Corrina & Co

I just returned from a trip to San Francisco. The fabulous Walt Disney Family Museum invited me to co present the visual development of the classic film "Bambi". It was a lot of fun.
I want to give you some information about this beautiful museum in my next post.

In the meantime, here are a few character designs I did just a few years ago at Disney for a project that was eventually shelved. 
The story was set in London, and house pets were the main characters. I don't recall all that much about the story, but a neighborhood pet went missing, and so a large cat named Oscar and a cockatoo named Corrina went on a mission to solve the mystery. On their quest they would encounter a variety of animals, some of which would offer some help to those two, others not so much.
I enjoyed exploring these animal types.

UPDATE: Check out Hans Bacher's fantastic color environment studies for this film:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Lady & the Tramp Doll Houses

Well, not quite.
These three dimensional models were built to help Disney layout artists visualize the perspective for specific interior scenes. Look how detailed they were put together, with furniture, props , even wallpaper design. It makes total sense to offer this kind of visual reference to the layout department.
I just wonder why there were no models like these made for films like Snow White, Pinocchio or Peter Pan.
Even the movies that followed Lady & the Tramp didn't have this kind of reference. As far as I know 101 Dalmatians and The Sword in the Stone were all laid out without the benefit of miniature sets.

Final frames from the film show the result of all the research that went into creating believable environments.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Sebastian Cabot as Bagheera

That's character actor Sebastian Cabot in the photo, standing in front of story sketches by Vance Gerry.
Cabot voiced the black panther Bagheera in The Jungle Book. And beautifully so!
Bagheera is one of my favorite animated characters, for three reasons:
-I love his ernest personality, which strongly contrasts Baloo, who just wants to have a good time.
-The way Milt Kahl designed him with an ultimate economy of lines. Pure feline elegance!
-Most of his personality scenes were animated by Milt ( Bagheera pushing Mowgli up a tree) and Ollie Johnston (the night time conversation between the panther and Baloo about how to get Mowgli back to the man village).

Bagheera is like your dad, always sensible and concerned, while Baloo is like your crazy uncle. It is obvious why Mowgli wants to hang out with the bear. 

Bill Peet scribbled these terrific early character concepts, before eventually leaving not only the project, but the studio.

Story artist Vance Gerry continued working on sequences that involved Bagheera.
Here are a couple of his story sketches.

Milt Kahl researches design possibilities that would work with Sebastian Cabot's voice recordings.
At one point Bagheera apparently had colored pupils, and his upper jawline was defined. The final design doesn't show that jaw/ cheek line. As I said, simplified to perfection.

A few key drawings, done by Milt for Ollie Johnston scenes.

After Baloo got Mowgli into trouble, he screams for help. This rough Kahl scene represents Bagheera's initial reaction: "Well, it happened!"
Simple, full of personality, gorgeously drawn and animated!