Thursday, February 27, 2014

Gaston's Chest Hair

That's talented French actor Alexis Loizon in the photo, who currently plays Gaston in Paris in the stage production of Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et La Bete). As you can see, Gaston still uses antlers in all of his decorating, and his chest hair is as predominant as ever.
When we were animating Gaston's song way back, one of his lines stuck out:
 "…and every last inch of me 's covered with hair! " I did not have the time to do that scene, so one of my animators in the Gaston unit gave it a shot.
The animation turned out to be fine, but when Gaston stretched his shirt to reveal his chest, the design of his chest hair looked a little odd to me. It seemed to have been combed from the center outward. I suggested we try a different look for the chest hair, and guess what…everybody had a different take on what the hair should look like. I encouraged my colleagues to submit a drawing that showed their idea of appropriate Gaston chest hair. After a while we had at least twenty different designs to look at. 
These are just some of them. 

Eventually I worked with an effects animator to create the final look, a mix of stubble and curls.

Probably the most unusual design issue I ever came across at Disney.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Dramatic Dragon

Eric Cleworth animated Sleeping Beauty's  breathtaking dragon in pursuit of Prince Phillip. Woolie Reitherman directed this sequence, and both artists were able to infuse high drama into the film's climactic finish. I have the feeling that Marc Davis had something to do with the dragon's final design, since it it based on Maleficent, the character he animated. It is interesting to see that early designs were influenced by the anatomy of a dinosaur. (This might have been Woolie's idea, who had animated a dinosaur fight in Fantasia). 
I am not sure if these are Cleworth's drawings, but they sure are powerful and show a great sense for design and animal body structure. 

The widescreen format was perfect for this type of a battle, you could actually show the entire dragon on the screen. And those sound effects are just incredible.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Best Snake Gag Ever

Frank and Ollie talk about this Ken Anderson sketch in their book The Illusion of Life.
It shows Sir Hiss sulking in his basket, after some verbal abuse from Prince John. 
Ollie Johnston saw the comic potential for his animation right away, and he ended up using Ken's drawing for the final pose of the scene. 
I remember laughing out loud in the theatre, when I watched this moment in the film Robin Hood. The idea that the snake would get into this casual, human pose was surprising and came out of nowhere. The situation is funny, because of Ken's concept, but also because of Ollie's animation.
As Sir Hiss lifts up parts of his body, they land on the basket's edge with real overlap and weight.

These are a few of Ollie's quick thumbnail sketches that show how he approached the scene.

Four main key drawings, combined with the layout.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ollie had a cranky Assistant...

…while he was working on a few close up scenes featuring the centaurettes from Fantasia's Pastoral sequence. Further down are Ollie's original rough drawings that were handed out to an assistant to be in-betweened. (Unfortunately I don't have the animation of the two cherubs, who create this sort of hat from a piece of bark and flowers.)

The designs for the centaurettes were created by Fed Moore, who had been a mentor to Ollie when he first joined the studio. These animation drawings show a complete understanding of Freddie's way to draw girls' faces. Full cheeks, a round nose and eyes with long, almost straight lashes.
I am sure Ollie animated scenes like this one very quickly, he re-numbered  the drawings several times until the right timing was achieved. I should say he also re-numbered them very quickly, making them a little hard to read for anyone else down the production pipeline.

The last drawing includes a note to Ollie from a very upset assistant, who was either fearless…or naive.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Earliest Wire Sculptures

These wire sculpture go way back to 1985. I had a small exhibition in the library of the old animation building on the second floor. It was a bitter sweet event, because the staff was in the middle of being relocated to a new building in Glendale. Needless to say, most of us thought that this move would be the beginning of the end for Disney Animation, including our mentor Eric Larson. Luckily we were wrong, big time.
As for my sculptures, people seemed to like them, which encouraged me to do many more over the coming years. Eventually I'd like to get back into it, but this animated film with a tiger and a girl takes absolute precedence. Hmm…I think when the film is finished I'll do a couple of sculptures with the two main characters.

Just a few years later I had another exhibit at Disney with these pieces:

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Ollie & Frank on Pinocchio

Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas talk about animating Pinocchio in this clip from a 1988 UK TV show on the life of Walt Disney. They discuss acting issues as well as technical challenges.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine Greetings from Milt Kahl

Somehow this wedding scene with Robin Hood and Maid Marian reminds me of Milt and his late wife Julie. When I met Milt for the first time in Marin County near San Francisco he had just gotten married to Julie. He was very much in love with her, and even told me how they met in a library, love at first sight. Here was this titan of an artist showing his tender side. Originally Julie had no knowledge of Milt's background at all, she just loved him for who he was. 
They both enjoyed going to the San Francisco ballet, as well as watching movies including the Disney classics in theatrical re-runs. Julie was unfamiliar with most of them. During one of my visits  she mentioned that they had just watched 101 Dalmatians, and how much she enjoyed Marc's Cruella De Vil. Milt responded with a smile: "Now, honey, you haven't seen Medusa from The Rescuers yet."

The two would spend ten happy years together before Milt passed away in April of 1987.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Bambi Lollipop Story

This is young Frank Thomas showing an animation sketch to an onlooker, who I believe worked at the studio as well.
They both look very serious, yet in those early days at Disney the working atmosphere was pretty casual with plenty of time for practical jokes and silly activities.

Animator Milt Kahl remembers this episode (from an early 1980s interview):

"Frank had one of these big candy suckers with a big piece of doweling for the stick. It was wrapped in cellophane with a ribbon. And I told him that I would just love to smash that thing down on his work table and find out what would happen to it, you know.
It might be disappointing where it would just break up inside the cellophane or what ?
And so when we finished with Bambi we decided that I could break his sucker. And I took this thing, and his work table was just the right height, and I swung this thing down with a lot of force. It must have hit it absolutely perfectly flat, because a sharp, loud report…and there was nothing there but the stick. And actually this thing, it was back in all of the shelves. There was a drawing thumb-tacked on a wall, it looked like one of these transparent easter eggs. Sugar coating like on glass, you know, the drawing was just coated…and it was back in the drawers and in the cuffs of Frank's trousers, and mine.
Then when you walked on the carpet, when you lifted your foot, it would go klack- klack- klack.
It was hard candy, but it was amazing , this stuff is just like glue, and it was just terrible.
It took a long time to get that all out of there. We had the janitors busy for a while, because it really just disintegrated, it was like an atom bomb."