Friday, June 17, 2011

Nero & Brutus

I want to show you a few images that demonstrate the development of Nero and Brutus from "The Rescuers".
Milt Kahl was responsible for their character design, and I think they look great.
To get started Milt drew realistic studies of alligators , probably from photographs.
The written note on the first sheet makes me laugh. Apparently Milt didn't know the answer to that question, I wonder if he ever found out.
The next step would be to add personality, as you can see in the beautiful
marker sketches. Wonderful heavy and bulgy animatable forms and shapes.

As usual Milt did a lot of exploring in forms of thumbnails and layout sketches.

The following two animation drawings show, that Milt treated them as a
real menace. Very scary expression on the second one.
Here's what's interesting : Frank Thomas animated the two characters playing the organ, as they try to get to the mice who are hiding in the pipes.
Milt very much disagreed with the way this sequence was handled. He thought
Nero and Brutus act too clowny, and that they loose their menace.
You can see the sequence here :

Frank Thomas had a similar issue with Milt's Medusa, he thought that SHE looses
HER  menace when she freaks out in front of the mice.
Interesting arguement. 

If you ask me, I think ALL characters come off well.
The organ sequence is funny, but it also has scary parts with  the two crocs acting as villains.
And Medusa doesn't loose her edge either, I think it's interesting when a villainess
shows a weakness.

So I think I am sort of disagreeing with both animators...lightning is about to hit me!
What do YOU think ?


  1. The organ sequence is easily the most loose and surreal sequence in the film. I don't think the film would be as satisfying without it, though.

  2. Great post Andreas,thanks!
    To me it always felt strange to see these alligators play the organ,especially as they were treated so typical animal-like in the rest of the film.
    Although the comic relief of the mouse chase works well,it feels like for instance if suddenly Bagheera in Jungle Book would stand up and play an instrument.(Perhaps Snoops could have played the organ while the crocs would go after the mice).
    Medusa on the other side,being afraid of the mice, contrast nicely against her evil side(just as Hook with the crocodile)and adds to her craziness.
    I like the heaviness and volume of the crocodiles, great design!

  3. Thanks for your comment, Wil.
    I hope to get more responses on this issue.

    1. Hi Andreas,
      Greetings from Belgium from Yves Boulanger and I ;-)
      I trying to contact you but I have a wrong mail.
      Here my email:
      I hope to read you soon.

  4. I think there's some truth to both sides of the argument. There's definitely an element of suspense to the sequence and I love it when action sequences trigger events that further the overall flow of things: the gators are playing the organ to catch their prey and just when they have managed they've annoyed Medusa enough to interfere and solve Bernard's dead-end situation. I also like how Bernard is trying to save both Bianca and her hat, making a life-threatening situation even more threatening for him,. Still, he somewhat manages to bumble his way out of it, very 'him'.

    What Mr Raymaker says makes sense, too. The gators are brutish beasts yet all out of a sudden they're 'smart' enough to understand the mechanics of a musical instrument and how to use it to get to their prey. Maybe if their efforts with the thing appeared less focused, they always seem to know pretty well what they're doing and what it will lead to. I think it's mostly their clumsiness that makes the sequence go on as long as it does.

  5. I think Medusa's overreaction to the mice played well into her bitchy high maintenance persona that goes along with her evil one. When you have someone who can keep pet gators but freaks over a little mouse you start thinking they need to get over themselves.

    As for the organ playing, it is really silly. The music doesn't help things. If they didn't end up getting one of the mice it would have taken away some of their menace.
    Then again The Rescuers is a rather dark movie, so the organ playing does give us a break from that.

  6. The two animation drawings of Brutus and Nero sniffing up is animated by Cliff Nordberg. He animated about all the scenes, with the crocodiles and the mice, fighting inside the curtains - before Frank Thomas takes over the organ sequence.

  7. Sorry, my mistake - the two drawings of Brutus was by Milt Kahl with the growling scenes. I got confused with Nordberg's scenes of the aligators sniffing Bianca's perfume.

  8. I love the designs! I especially love seeing volumes lock into one another, as is the case with the arms, shoulders and the neck area.

    As for the organ playing, I always wondered why the alligator didn't just hold the notes down :), trying to discern which pipe they were in by progressively moving along the organ, perhaps the sounds getting more menacing and loud as he got closer....but it is animation after all and so the logical thing isn't always the most entertaining! (If alligators playing the organ can be deemed logical!) And I do think the scene is very awesome as it is (as Jabberwocky pointed out, the 'Hat saving' is so funny)!
    Thank you for posting!

  9. The organ playing is a little strange, but the scene would be a lot darker without it, so I suppose in that respect we have to consider the audience that would be seeing this film. For kids maybe some comic relief is required so it doesn't get too scary. On the other hand there's nothing wrong with scaring them once in a while! Haha.

    I have more difficulty with the general clumsiness of the gators. I think that removes a lot of their menace. I see gators and crocs to be calculating creatures.

    As for Medusa, I simply think she's great! :P

    That development art is wonderful either way. I love those marker sketches.

  10. Beautiful xerox.
    Today's cubic stylization became too boring.

  11. Hi, Andreas - I'm a writer in LA and I've just discovered your blog. I've been a fan of your work for a long time... and I've been a fan specifically of your work to keep animation history alive, ever since I saw you speak with Ollie at the opening night panel for Cinderella at the El Cap DVD release screening. The tender way that you and Ollie described the animation really moved me.

    Each of these blog entries is so packed with imagery that it makes me want to say... SLOW DOWN! I am trying to absorb everything, and you're sharing it at such an alarming rate! Don't get me wrong, I love these entries - they're amazing. But I'm hoping you'll blog for a very long time and I don't want you to run out of materials! (But I suppose there's such an endless array of materials, there's probably no danger of that.)

    I agree wholeheartedly; a villain that doesn't have some chinks in the armor, and some complexity to the character, isn't the most satisfying villain. Medusa losing her cool doesn't make her less frightening - it makes her more frightening. If she'll flip out over that, what else will make her flip out - and how far will she go?

  12. Just beautiful! Thanks for sharing the art and history.

  13. I see what both animators were saying, but I have to side with Milt Kahl on this one.

    I have no problem with the crocs playing the organ (I actually think that it's a very funny place to stage a chase.) My problem with the sequence is that the mice are at such a disadvantage: they have absolutely no control, they are entirely out in the open for most of the scene, and most importantly they cannot escape the crocs on their own. Which means that even though Nero and Brutus are in full control, they have to mess up over and over. (when you have an audience asking the villain "...why don't you just hold down the key a little longer?" it's hard to make that villain scary)

    Furthermore, their performances do get a bit clowny. That "Aw Shucks!" gesture at 1:41 especially! In short, I wish that the mice were a bit harder to catch so that the crocs could have more scary claw-scratching and head-butting, and less "Aw shucks!" clowning.

  14. Yeesh....I think lightning might strike me too.

  15. We like to think of it as "agreeing with both animators." And we agree with you--we think both work. (Though it has been a while since we've seen The Rescuers, so maybe if we watched the whole movie it wouldn't work as well.) A lot of people are saying that the alligators seem goofy because if they were scary, they would be smart enough to hold the keys down longer and keep the mice in the air to catch them. But I think that a character doesn't have to be smart to be scary (just look at Gaston!).

    Some people are saying it's goofy, because suddenly the alligators are playing the organ, but that actually makes them more menacing, because the mice thought they were safe! But they're not after all! And there are definitely some scary parts to that scene.

    I also have to wonder if maybe the alligator playing the organ has a musician inside of him that has to stay locked up most of the time. Maybe he's a relative of Lewis?

  16. I agree with Milt that the scene would have played better with more menace, but don't think the fault lies with Frank's animation but is more a matter of the organ music and the score being kind of lackluster and the timing of the sequence itself being a bit off. Shadows on the crocs would have been nice too. Maybe a lack of menace was an executive decision not to scare small children - although Madame Medusa in and of herself is pretty terrifying so I don't know!

    This is my first time posting, I LOVE your blog!

  17. I think that Medusa being afraid of the mice makes her a little more human and therefore more menacing because she is making the choice to treat those around her cruelly and play on their fears when it shows that she knows what it is to feel that way. Evil.

    The lead into the organ playing is great, the crocs sniffing the mice out. It does get a little silly. Perhaps if the organ playing could have somehow involved Medusa playing the notes and the crocs trying to catch the mice? Guess that's just as surreal. It's very creative and well animated but perhaps goes on a bit too long.

  18. Ok so I watched that clip about 20 times and the only thing I found that could use fixing is a little bit of "hat-and-shoe-continuity", so I re-watched The Rescuers and then checked out both scenes some more. After long and carefull consideration I still find nothing wrong with either of them, especially now that all the characters are fresh in my mind.

    As for Brutus & Nero, there are 2 scenes in the movie where they do have menace, one is right after they fetch Penny and one of hem threatens Mr. Snoops, the other one is the organ scene. Granted in the first one they are scarier than in Frank's scene but than again it's much easier to be scared by a crocodile slowly crawling towards you than by one playing the organ. That's like having Freddie Krueger riding into the room on a unicycle while juggling rubberballs and then complaining that he lost his touch.

    And the scene where Medusa freaks out over the mice, I'd definately agree it makes her character less menacing, but I really think that storywise that's the whole point of it. Up to that point Medusa giving in to her negative emotions has always helped her along and gave her power over Snoops and those gators, but here for the first time it makes her totally helpless, helpless is also what Penny has been so far, for the same reason, but during the course of the movie she learns to find hope instead of giving in to her sadness, which makes things turn out okay for her in the end.

    Also there are two things I just picked up on when I rewatched the movie now:

    1.Medusa aka Miss semi-automatic shotgun has an NRA badge at her store counter.

    2.That litle scene where Penny does her Medusa impression... I don't know, it's just funnier after hearing just about everyone rave about how marvelous that attitude walk of Medusa is.

  19. Dustin, vielen dank fuer Deine Analyse!

  20. Courtney wrote:
    "Furthermore, their performances do get a bit clowny. That "Aw Shucks!" gesture at 1:41 especially!"
    I agree! I don't mind the crocs playing the organ but that gesture is way too much of a human gesture. It breaks the illusion that the crocs are animals. Would have worked better without that gesture IMO.

  21. Hi Andrea, I'm a Belgian fan of your work, and almost one year ago, I sent you a letter by mail witha request for a to my name signed sketch. A I never received any answer till now, I was wondering if my mail ever recahed you, did it? Would you be so kind to let me know something. Many thanks in advance. DOM (my email is:

  22. The menace of the characters doesn't fall apart, but the super serious tone sure does. I think it's a needed bit of liveliness that still stays tense. A nice break for the audience.

    I agree with Joakim's remark about the gesture of the alligator's arm. That part attracts my attention and distracts me from the scene. I wish I felt his disappointment more than noticed the gesture.

    I like that Medusa freaks out. It builds up a more complex, satisfying character with a simple moment.

    I didn't like the Rescuer's much when I was smaller because it was too tense and scary. The older I get, the more I like it though. Very strange!

  23. The organ playing is so well done that it's the momentary tonal shift in story that is jarring, not the animation. More bothersome to me when I saw "The Rescuers" on its initial theatrical release was the shifting size relationships of some of the animals in the broad slapstick chase near the end.

  24. I think the reason Nero and Brutus are non threatening in the piano sequence is because they are smiling through 90% of the scene. They seem so happy and playful as they are trying to catch the mice. Show some teeth boys! lol

  25. I'm a little late to the table but I just wanted to say thanks for the great article! And the nice blog, I'll be sure to follow it in the future.

    Interesting to see all the objections to this scene. To me everything about the scene is perfect, one of my absolute favourites.

    Ok, thanks!

  26. When Medusa says "Nero! Brutus, go get em boys!" is probably one of my favorite acting moments in animation of all time!

  27. Someone who worked on the film (who will remain nameless here) told me Frank got "lost" in the cutting of the pipe organ scene with the crocs vs mice. The screen directions and cutting was all over the place. He finally sought out John Lounsberry, who re-edited (without re-animating anything) and got it to work. That's how Louns wound up getting co-directing on the movie in addition to supervising younger animators and helping in editorial in other areas of the picture..

  28. Your Blog is Pure Gold! Thank you Mr Andreas Deja. I just cant stop reading. Rescuers is after I think 101 Dalmatians my favourite Disney movie. And I absolutly love those crocodile characters. Nice to finally knowing they stories. Why on almost all my favourite characters stands Milt Kahl I ask?Why on almost all my favourite characters stands Milt Kahl I ask?